Our critics weigh in on local theatre

Love, Chaos & Dinner: A blend of European cabaret, circus arts, and original music with a five-course gourmet dinner. Wed.-Sat., 6 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m., $99-125. Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.

Megan's Skin: In Belfast, Ireland, a community theater company deals with racism, sexism, and the tumult of its city. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 16, $10-15. Jon Sims Center for the Arts, 1519 Mission (at 11th St.), 554-0402.

Once in a Lifetime: American Conservatory Theater's comedy follows a trio who open up a speech school for Hollywood hopefuls. Starting Oct. 14, Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 31, $7.50-15. Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 777-2800.

Pageant: An all-male cast in drag lampoons the conventions of the all-American beauty contest. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 17, $20-40. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

The Persians: A revamp of Greek playwright Aeschylus' tales of the ancient Persian Wars. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. & 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 17, $28-45. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org.

Persistent Vegetative State: Robert C. Barker's new play explores personal and political inertia in California and New Hampshire during the Democratic primaries of 2008. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 20, $12-25, 510-235-3168. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477, www.offmarkettheater.com.

Quartet No. 1 for Three Characters and Cello: Dan Harder's experimental play uses text and music to tell the story of an interracial couple's mysterious vanishing. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 23, $17-20. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.

The Secret in the Wings: Mary Zimmerman's latest work is billed as a kind of surreal fairy tale for adults, inspired partly by "Beauty and the Beast." Tue.-Sun. Continues through Oct. 17, $39-55. Berkeley Repertory's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.

Shadow Over Innsmouth: The Hermetic Order of Arcana troupe recreates a classic radio play with a reading of the classic H.P. Lovecraft horror tale. Sat., Oct. 16, 8 p.m., free. Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia (at 19th St.), 824-8203, www.borderlands-books.com.

Single Spies: The purportedly true story of the Cambridge Spy Ring, the first modern scandal to rock the British royal family. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. & 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 17, $23-35. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079, www.therhino.org.

A Step Away: Berkeley playwright Myrna Holden's new play takes a critical look at love in modern times. Starting Oct. 16, Sundays, 5 p.m.; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 21, $8-20. Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

Story Swap With Madame Razz: Kids and their families can hear amazing tales culled from legends around the world. Starting Oct. 16, Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through Nov. 6, $8-10. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Tamsen Donner: A Woman's Journey: Based on the journals of a Donner Party member, this play describes the life of Tamsen Donner. Oct. 15-16, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 17, 2 p.m., $5-8. Calvary Presbyterian Church, 2515 Fillmore (at Jackson), 346-3832.

Un/dying/love: A diverse series of short plays by emerging Bay Area writers. Starting Oct. 14, Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 30, $10. Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 364-1411.

The Va Va Voom Room: A lavish variety show featuring pulchritudinous dames, mischievous magicians, sultry chanteuses, heartthrob tenors, and a live three-piece band in a new show every week with rotating headliners from around the country. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. & 11 p.m., $25-$29.75, www.vavavoomroom.com. Plush Room, York Hotel, 940 Sutter (at Hyde), 885-2800.

The Violet Hour: A Jazz-Age comedy about a publisher whose future depends on his next book who receives mysterious messages from the future. Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. & 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 23, $30-50. SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org.

"Welcome to the Hypnodrome": Each evening contains three short plays -- two horror yarns, one comic skit -- adapted from vintage Grand Guignol tales. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 20, $18-50. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900, www.hypnodrome.com.

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