"100 Years of Political Theatre, Series B." Eastenders' rotating festival of one-acts revives political theater from (mostly) the 20th century. "Series B," which alternates with "Series A" and "Series C," consists of '70s-era plays by Athol Fugard and Vaclav Havel. Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act is a searing but overlong piece about a white South African woman and her black lover, who get arrested midcoitus by government goons with flashlights and dogs. I love Fugard, but this play doesn't hold up in a time and place where cross-racial sex is legal. Too much of the script relies on the context of apartheid for its power; in spite of strong performances from Reg Clay and Craig Souza, the speeches are in dire need of editing. Audience, by Havel, is better. It's one of his famous "Vanek" plays, about a Havel alter ego, who in this case has lost his official (communist) position as a playwright. He has to work in a brewery, and the cranky lager-lout who calls himself Vanek's boss isn't sure what to say to an underling with such elegant and beautiful actress friends. So he resorts to offering a) advice, b) loud commonplaces, c) a lot of beer, and d) loutish tips on playwriting. Souza is a fine, blank-faced Vanek and John Hutchinson is hilariously deadpan as the unstable Brewmaster. Robert A. Zick Jr. has directed the piece with a clean sense of absurdist timing. All the one-acts feel long for the festival format, but I should mention that "Series C," which we can't review because of timing, includes an up-to-date monologue by Naomi Wallace -- narrated by an Iraqi who fought in the first Gulf War. "Series B" runs through Sept. 25 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), S.F. Tickets are $10-20; call (510) 568-4118 or visit www.eastenders.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Sept. 15.
The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets. Director Robert Wilson's "pop opera" deals with a German clerk who makes a pact with a diabolical Black Rider for seven magic bullets. The first six go anywhere the shooter aims; the seventh belongs to the devil. On his wedding day our hero gleefully aims at a bird in a tree, to prove himself as a marksman, but the devil redirects bullet No. 7 into the heart of the bride. On this bare frame Wilson hangs a German expressionist dream that comes alive in the score by Tom Waits more than in the dialogue by William S. Burroughs (who contributed his own dark legend of a wayward bullet). Marianne Faithfull, as the Black Rider, has a mannish, lyrical, whiskey-coarse voice that serves beautifully on songs like "Just the Right Bullets" and "The Last Rose of Summer." Hearing her sing those might be worth the price of admission alone, but other cast members, especially Matt McGrath, do well with the important ballads. Wilson's best shows are spacious dreams, and The Black Rider creates a dark German forest where your imagination can stand up, walk around, and find itself pleasantly lost. Through Oct. 10 at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $25-80; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Sept. 8.
Circumnavigator. Dan Hoyle circled the globe on a grant two years ago from the Chicago-based Circumnavigators Club, using its money to develop a piece of "journalistic theater" about globalism. If you've never heard of journalistic theater, don't worry: Hoyle may be its only living practitioner. In Circumnavigator he hops from Vietnam to India to Kenya to South Africa to Argentina, talking earnestly to everyone about labor issues. "In India, story is -- big country, small economy," says an editor of India Today. "Sex industry, mon. Mad cash," says a teenager in Kenya. "I'm from Durban, and I fucking rip waves," says a dangerously drunk pro surfer in South Africa, who's proud of his sponsorship by an American company. Many of these miniportraits are entertaining and vivid; Hoyle is a talented mimic. But as a writer he still has a weak sense of climaxes and shapely scenes. His story wanders; his set-pieces peter out. Apparently aware that he goes on too much about globalism, he says he's arrived in Kenya "to quit thinking about American companies and foreign investment." For most of us that wouldn't be hard. But the problem is not that Hoyle thinks too much about what is, after all, the topic of his show; the problem is that he never makes a discernible point. He circles his topic the way he circles the planet -- without quite arriving anywhere. Through Sept. 25 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (between 21st and 22nd streets), S.F. Tickets are $10-14; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Aug. 11.