Our critics weigh in on local theatre

Showdown at Crawford Gulch. A top-hatted, long-mustachioed stranger in a silly suit named Cyrus T. Bogspavin comes to the Wild West town of Crawford Gulch, Texas, to inform everyone that the Comanches roundabout are mighty dangerous. "We ain't had much trouble before," says the mayor, but Bogspavin insists that the Injuns have "arrows of mass destruction." The newspaper prints fearful stories faster than it can confirm them; the town grows paranoid; Parson Jones starts shooting up trees. The characters this year don't map neatly onto the Bush administration -- and there's far, far more to the plot than I can repeat here -- but director Keiko Shimosato and playwright Michael Gene Sullivan have trimmed the San Francisco Mime Troupe's annual Bush-bashing festival down to a swift-moving 90 minutes. With good songs! Velina Brown's performance as a new newspaper editor (in "Do I Really Have What It Takes?") and Ed Holmes' duet with Amos Glick as the mayor and Bogspavin (in "The Business of Progress") keep the show engaging even when the plot spins absurdly out of control. Yes, the troupe still takes easy, predictable potshots, but at least its aim is not as wild as it was last year, when it compared the invasion of Iraq to a mad invasion of Canada. This time the target is a national press that found itself distracted by Washington shysters; the satire is layered and subtle. A blend of country, roots rock, and schlock-western theme music from the three-piece resident band (Rob Broadhurst, Joel Fadness, Victor Toman) also helps. Previous Mime Troupe shows have been known to bore young children to death, but this year the verdict from a nearby kid was, "No, Daddy, I wanna stay." He was digging the tunes. Through Sept. 6 at (mostly) Bay Area parks. Admission is free; visit www.sfmt.org for a schedule and locations. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Aug. 11.

Also Playing

100 Years of Political Theatre: Eastenders Repertory Company's slate of six short politically themed plays by playwrights from Brecht to Havel. The series is divided into three series with two plays per evening; see www.eastenders.org for scheduling details. Sundays, 3 p.m.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 26, $10-20.

AfroSolo Arts Festival: The 11th edition of the annual arts festival features African-American artists and their visual arts exhibitions, dance, music, theater, spoken word, and performance art. Through Oct. 15, free-$50, www.afrosolo.org. Multiple locations, multiple addresses within San Francisco.

Are We Almost There?: Morris Bobrow's rollicking, long-running musical comedy about the trials and tribulations of travel. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m., $20-22. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

BATS: Sunday Players: Each week Bay Area Theatresports players pit their improv work against all comers as the audience votes them off one by one until the winner stands alone on the stage. Sundays, 8 p.m., $8, for more information call 474-6776. Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan.

Beach Blanket Babylon: This North Beach perennial features crazy hats, media personality caricatures, a splash of romance, and little substance. Wed., Thur., 8 p.m.; Fri., Sat., 7 p.m. & 10 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. & 7 p.m., $25-65. Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets: Robert Wilson, Tom Waits, and William Burroughs collaboratively penned this fantastical musical fable about a young man whose devilish bargain goes awry. Tue.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Sept. 26, $20-80. Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.

Couch: Celik Kayalar wrote and directs this comedy about the strange problems faced by patients and long-suffering mental health professionals. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 25, $10-20. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance: Ablaze with sequins, rhinestones, and 1950s-era cat-eyed specs, the drag queen deluxe provides counseling, psychic readings, brassy song, and a brand new wardrobe to die for. See www.bestofbroadway-sf.com for a schedule of performances. Tue.-Sun. Continues through Oct. 8, $40-72, 512-7770. Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.

Dog Act: The world premiere of Liz Duffy Adams' new comic fable about a post-apocalyptic vaudeville show. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 19, free, www.shotgunplayers.org. The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 587-4465.

Flower Drum Song: The owners of a venerable Chinese opera house in San Francisco worry about their future of their enterprise in this updated take on Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic play. Starting Sept. 3, Thur.-Sun., 8 p.m. Continues through Sept. 12, $19-31, 510-531-9597. Woodminster Amphitheater, 3300 Joaquin Miller Rd., Oakland.

Fluffy Bunnies in a Field of Daisies: Matt Chaffee's sex comedy looks at a group of old friends who dissect their erotic lives together. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 2, $10-15. La Val's Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid (at Hearst), Berkeley, 510-234-6046.

Improv at The Dark Room: Each week the best improv ensembles do their stuff. Sundays, 8 p.m., $5-10. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987.

A Little Princess: TheatreWorks launches a musical production of the classic play adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett's treasured children's novel. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Every other Saturday, 2 p.m.; Tue., Sept. 7, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sept. 18, $20-50. Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro (at Mercy), Mountain View, 650-903-6000.

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