Our critics weigh in on local theatre

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 Circumnavigatorhe 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 Nov. 13 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.

A Couple of Blaguards. Frank McCourt, in case you haven't heard, is Irish. So's his brother Malachy. By my distracted count, this revue is the second musical production a McCourt brother has written on the subject, following up their memoirs (Angela's Ashes and 'Tis by Frank, A Monk Swimming by Malachy). A Couple of Blaguards revisits their lives on a dirty lane in Limerick, where, as one of them says, "If ya live long enough, ya leave school at 13 an' get a job as a messenger boy." Howard Platt and Jarlath Conroy play Frank and Malachy, respectively, running through a variety show of songs, comedy skits, and old stories -- pints of Guinness in hand -- about the authors' hardscrabble boyhoods and subsequent lives in America. Conroy and Platt are thorough professionals, which is to say the songs are tight and felt, the comic timing seamless, and the Irish accents real. But the show also wallows in hoary Irish clichés, from priests and sadistic schoolmasters to village gossips and a grandiloquent mayor. It has the exact atmosphere of an Irish souvenir shop. One nostalgic song about the McCourts' past is even called "Barefoot Days" -- which might pass muster at an old boys' reunion but falls short as original theater. Through Oct. 17 at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $30-50; call 771-6900 or visit www.poststreettheatre.com. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Oct. 6.

The Designated Mourner. Jack, played manically well here by Matt Leshinskie, sits in a hotel room after a brutal revolution in some unspecified country. The underprivileged have risen up and executed everyone who reads John Donne. This elite group included Jack's wife and irritating father-in-law, Howard, a poet who returns in flashbacks whenever Jack needs to chat with him. (His wife, Judy, comes on, too, but the play revolves around Howard's untimely end.) Soon we realize that Jack is still alive for a pretty good reason: He's a philistine. The more he disintegrates onstage -- and his slow disintegration is the only real action in the play -- the more prone he becomes to saying offensive things. At the same time, he's the show's most likable and rounded character. Wallace Shawn has played the Jack role himself in New York; Jack is a bit like Shawn's poky autobiographical character in the movie My Dinner With Andre -- the comic schlub opposite the ethereal cultured snob -- except that the cultured types in Mourner have all been shot, and Jack feels more than a smallish dose of schadenfreude. Through Oct. 17 at the Last Planet Theatre, 351 Turk (between Hyde and Leavenworth), S.F. Tickets are $15-18; call 440-3505 or visit www.lastplanettheatre.com. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Oct. 6.

Joe Egg. The girl's name is Josephine, but her English parents call her Joe Egg after a saying of her very English, very suburban-provincial grandmother's: "Just sitting around like Joe Egg." Young Josephine does nothing but sit around; she has cerebral palsy. The parents, Sheila and Brian ("Bri"), made the decision about 10 years earlier to care for her, though she would never be, as Sheila puts it, more than "a kind of living parsnip." Peter Nichols' graceful and well-formed drama, based on his own experience raising a child with cerebral palsy, dates from the '60s, but it's been revived twice on Broadway, most recently last year with Eddie Izzard. TheatreFirst's small-scale production at its new Mills College home has a surprisingly intimate, real-life feel; director Clive Chafer -- with the energetic help of Simon Vance as Bri and Cynthia Bassham as Sheila -- has re-created the mood of 1960s London with touches as subtle as clothing (Bri's elbow-patched coat) and makeup (Sheila's blue eye shadow and straight hair). The show does lose momentum in the second act, in part because Howard Dillon and Jessica Powell, as a pair of snobbish upper-middle-class Londoners, put on broad caricature performances that might work in a middling BBC sitcom but seem out of place here. Wanda McCadden, though, as Bri's petty fussing mother (who uses the Joe Egg phrase), is brilliant, and so is the young Miranda Swain, who seems to have studied cerebral-palsied girls in order to play one with so much vivid sympathy. After almost four decades, Joe Egg has not lost its power to shock or entertain; it's a witty and nimble exploration of what even humanists mean by "human." Through Oct. 17 at Lisser Hall, Mills College, 5000 MacArthur (near Richards), Oakland. Tickets are $18-22; call (510) 436-5085 or visit www.theatrefirst.com. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Oct. 6.

The Lion King. How do you turn a decent cartoon about African wildlife into a lame Broadway musical? 1) Puzzle carefully about the problem of costumes and sets. Pour millions of dollars and hours of mental energy into making your actors look like lions, hyenas, elephants, wildebeests, giraffes, and birds. Solve the problem brilliantly. Hire Julie Taymor to design the magnificent costumes and masks (and to direct the show). Hire Garth Fagan to choreograph elegant, exciting, Afro-Caribbean dance routines. Make sure Donald Holder lights the stage with an eloquent feeling for African distances and sunshine. In general make the show a visual feast. Then, 2) squint in confusion at the script, and 3) carve it up to make room for appalling songs by Tim Rice and Elton John. You'll have a profitable bunch of nonsense with more than one God-soaked number that sounds indistinguishable from bad Whitney Houston. The only cast member who can transcend this mess and give a stirring performance is Thandazile Soni, as Rafiki the monkey shaman, who gets to sing songs like "Nants' Ingonyama," by Lebo M and other African chants originated by Tsidii Le Loka on Broadway. Bob Bouchard is also funny as Pumbaa the warthog, and Derek Smith plays a perfectly arrogant, sinister Scar, the pretender lion king. Otherwise the show is forced and childish. Adults looking for good theater will be happier when the performers dance instead of trying to act. Through Nov. 21 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1182 Market (at Eighth Street), S.F. Tickets are $26-160; call 512-7770 or visit www.bestofbroadway-sf.com. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Feb. 11.

Not a Genuine Black Man. It's not easy being green, but try being a black kid in San Leandro in the early '70s. When Brian Copeland got there -- just a few months after the Summer of Love, he points out -- it was one of the most viciously racist suburbs in America. Now it's officially the most diverse. "Take that, San Francisco," Copeland chides. He's earned that attitude, not just for going through his hell of growing up, but also for extracting from it such affirmative, hilarious stuff. Copeland's rightfully popular one-man show is wrought from pain and rage, but never really succumbs to bitterness. "Is that black?" he asks, and proves that it is. Some of his best stereotype-busting material doesn't feel especially new, but it does feel good. Besides, it's the stereotypes that have passed their expiration dates: Copeland's title comes from an accusation recently flung at him by a cranky listener who called in to his KGO radio program. This show is his response. With help from declarative lighting and David Ford's direction, Copeland creates an affecting hybrid of the dramatic monologue and the rollicking stand-up act. Through Oct. 30 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed June 2.

Also Playing

411: An average woman gets a new lease on life when she calls information and reaches an oracle instead. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 31, $15-20. The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), Trinity Episcopal Church, 333-6389.

69Stories: One Pervert's Tale & No Good Deed: Two stories of sex -- the first is an erotic solo show about S.F.'s S/M community, the second is a tale of turning a nice girl into a naughty one. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 13, $15-20. Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 673-3847.

Addicted: Mark Lundholm discusses his bad habits, from drugs to alcohol to the Internet, not to mention shopping, chocolate, and golf. Visit www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com for a schedule of performances. Through Nov. 14, $20-40, 771-6900. Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (at Mason), 877-771-6900.

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.

And Then They Came for Me--Remembering the World of Anne Frank: The children's play mixes taped interviews with Holocaust survivors with child actors acting out the scenes on the tape. Each show includes a Q&A period with Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss. Mon.-Fri., 10:15 a.m.; Through Oct. 24, 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 24, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 24, $5-10. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

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.

Avant GardARAMA!: Cutting Ball Theater presents an evening of short experimental plays from Richard Foreman, Heiner Muller, Suzan-Lori Parks, Mac Wellman, and Rob Melrose. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 20, $15-25. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847, www.sffringe.org.

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.

Ben Franklin: Unplugged: Josh Kornbluth uses the life of Ben Franklin to make points about fathers and sons in this solo show. Starting Oct. 17, Sundays, 3 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 28, $20-30. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.

Bone Man of Benares: The world premiere of the one-man autobiographical play presents a travelogue of the globe-trotting travels of Terry Tarnoff. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Oct. 30, $15-20. The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 587-4465.

Boy Gets Girl: Actor's Collective's thriller concerns a confident woman whose life takes a turn for the worse in a big city. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 23, $15-25. Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.

Bye-Bye, bin Laden: The world premiere of Custom Made Theatre Company's musical tells tales of Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush in song. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Nov. 2, $20-30. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477, www.offmarkettheater.com.

Can-Can: Porter & Burrows' classic musical is set in the Parisian era when the sexy dance caused a scandal; see www.42ndstmoon.org for a schedule of performances. Through Oct. 31, $17-30. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: Actors Theatre of San Francisco's production of the Tennessee Williams classic. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Oct. 23, $10-40. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea: When Danny meets a fascinating woman in a New York City watering hole, he's in for some surprises. Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Oct. 24, $8-10, 338-2467. SFSU Campus/Little Theater, 1600 Holloway (at 19th Ave.), Creative Arts Bldg., 338-2467.

The Dharma of Dollars: Mark Kenward's comic drama concers a yoga studio manager preoccupied with his oddball clients and the ethics of making money. Thur.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Fri., Sat., 8:30 p.m. Continues through Dec. 18, $15-22. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Don't Make Me Look Too Psychotic: The one-man comedy stars a playwright whose girlfriend wants him to create a show about her exemplary breakup. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 27, $20, 820-3945. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Eurydice: Berkeley Repertory Theatre's modern version of the classic tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice. Starting Oct. 15, Sundays, 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Wednesdays, 7 p.m.; Tue., Thur., Fri., 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 14, $10-55. Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.

Extremities: A woman who manages to turn the tables on her would-be rapist is suspected of committing a crime herself by her roommates. Starting Oct. 21, Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 19, $25-35. Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978.

Fear: The Un-Scripted Theater Company's full-length improvised horror story. Starting Oct. 15, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 30, $7-12. La Val's Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid (at Hearst), Berkeley, 510-234-6046.

Fever: Wallace Shawn's drama follows one man through a crisis of conscience. Starting Oct. 15, Fri., Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 30, $15-20. Pacific Playback Theatre, 4104 24th Street #777, 282-8558, www.pacificplayback.com.

Gruesome Tales of Death and Destruction: Kinetic Theory Experimental Theatre's mime-with-live-music performance concerns a street musician who happens upon a twisted graphic novel whose stories of perversion and violence suddenly begin to come to life in front of him. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 31, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 31, $10, 289-6808. Odeon, 3223 Mission (at Valencia), 550-6994.

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.

Killing My Lobster Goes to the Polls: The improv cutups skewer pols both local and national in this sketch comedy show. Starting Oct. 14, Sundays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. & 10 p.m.; Thur., Fri., 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 30, $12-17. ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), 863-9834, www.odctheater.org.

Tony Kushner: The award-winning playwright discusses his life and career. Mon., Oct. 18, 8 p.m., $18.50. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness (at Grove), 392-4400.

La Traviata: SF Opera's production of Verdi's classic is directed by John Copley. See www.sfopera.com for a schedule of performances. Through Oct. 14, $25-215. War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.

Laura's Bush: Jane Martin's comedy pokes fun at the Bush administration and the state of the nation. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 31, $14-18. Brava Theater Center, 2789 24th St. (at York), 647-2822.

Looking Over the President's Shoulder: Broadway and film actor Larry Marshall is the star of this one-man show centering around a freed slave who served as a butler under four Presidents. Starting Oct. 14, Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 7, $25-32. Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.

Lord of the Flies: The all-female Woman's Will company performs William Golding's all-male play. As a special attraction, director Erin Merritt has organized political speakers almost every night after the show. Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Oct. 24, 510-420-0813, www.womanswill.org. Eighth Street Studio, 2525 Eighth St. (at Dwight), Berkeley, 510-464-4468.

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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