Encore

Our critics weigh in on local theatre

"69 Stories: One Pervert's Tale" and "No Good Deed." Mollena Williams' first monologue, 69 Stories, started three years ago as a sort of pervert's confessional: theater mixed with post-show Q&A about sadomasochism and your more elaborate electrico-sexual tools. It told a charming but rambling story that ranged from her childhood acting gig in an Orbit gum commercial to a revelatory affair with a guitarist in Van Morrison's band. Williams has revived and improved the script -- tightened this, elaborated that -- and added a prequel, No Good Deed, about a job as a Wells Fargo phone-bank operator. Both shows play in repertory at the Exit on Taylor, but the hour-long No Good Deed feels more like a curtain-raiser. It's a funny, horrible (and probably true) story about the vagaries of sexual harassment in a stifling corporate office. The material could fuel a three-act play, but Williams chooses to make some jokes about uptight women, idiotic corporate rules, and the rural isolation of Concord, Calif., and sign off. She does step into costume as a stiff human-resources manager and an excitable skinny blonde in a baseball cap, which is an evolution from 69 Stories, in which she tends to play herself. (Williams is large, black, and not at all stiff, so the transformations are hilarious.) In fact, both shows are great fun, as far as they go; but No Good Deed needs more substance to stand on its own. Through Nov. 13 at Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor (between Eddy and O'Farrell), S.F. Tickets are $15-20 (with some pay-what-you-can nights); call 675-5995 or visit www.crowdedfire.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Nov. 3.

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.

Eurydice. Eurydice, here, is a modern chick in love with a slacker musician, a rough-shaven kid in a Nirvana T-shirt who can score for violins and lots of other instruments. On their wedding day, Eurydice meets a man who lures her up to a fancy high-rise with the promise of a letter from her dead father. One thing leads to another, and she steps out the window and floats, like Alice in Wonderland, to her death and a subterranean Hades, where the patient, indulgent, melancholy figure of her kind father waits. At first she takes him for a hotel porter. This part of the play has nothing to do with the original myth, but every girl has a father in her Underworld to complicate relationships with even the most charming and talented boy, and almost every part of this surprising production is beautifully tuned and played. Scott Bradley's excellent set evokes a drained swimming pool; Les Waters' directing is impeccable. In 90 minutes, instead of a detailed portrait of a specific woman, Eurydice traces a miniature map of the female psyche. Through Nov. 21 at the Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $20-55; call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Nov. 3.

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.

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