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.

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 Nov. 27 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.

Train Stories. Wayne Harris' terrific new one-man show at the Marsh deals with three characters on and around a Pullman car in the 1940s, who each tell fragments of a story about a lean and beautiful young woman named Jessie Blue Ribbons. John Henry, a grave and slightly ill-tempered porter, Tyrone Little, a jolly foul-mouthed pimp, and the Elder, an 85-year-old retired rail worker, "bo'n and raised in slav'ry," as he says, all circle their topic like slow-hunting hawks, until you realize -- about three-quarters of the way in -- that you're listening to a lurid, Faulkneresque tragedy in three voices. Sometimes the story moves too slowly, and you wish for less talk and a little more action, but the characters are engaging. "You want a story, it's gonna be nothing' but ol' train stories and lies," says John Henry to his silent listener (either a younger man on the Pullman staff or the audience). He goes on about the legendary John Henry, the rail worker who won a race against a steam drill; Tyrone Little talks like a half-drunk, New Orleans-sophisticated lout at a poker game; and the Elder is a disarming old man with an intense and nostalgic blues singer's voice. They build an elusive, fractured impression of Jessie Blue Ribbons and the young man she falls in love with, and their triple frame for the story -- the voice of conscience and responsibility, the voice of desire, the voice of history -- makes her tragedy not just racial, but human. Through Nov. 27 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (between 21st and 22nd streets), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Nov. 3.

"Welcome to the Hypnodrome." For five years the Thrillpeddlers troupe has mounted old scripts from Paris' notorious Théâtre du Grand Guignol; director Russell Blackwood (with his former partner, Daniel Zilber) put on an annual revue called Shocktoberfest! featuring short plays about sadists and lunatics. Now the troupe has its own théâtre in a gloomy converted warehouse South of Market. The Hypnodrome is part theater, part Halloween fright-maze, and "Welcome to the Hypnodrome" is a production of three short Guignolplays intended to show off the space. Unfortunately, the plays are lame. Except for Jill Tracy and Ginette Baljour, and in one case Eric O'Brien, the actors seem stiff and bored, and nobody manages to cast a Gothic spell. Unless a director works this material into something camp-outrageous or funny, Guignolisn't worth reviving. Through Nov. 20 at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), S.F. Tickets are $18-20, or $45-50 for two in a "Shock Box"; call 248-1900 or visit www.hypnodrome.com. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Oct. 27.

Also Playing

Addicted: Mark Lundholm discusses his bad habits, from drugs to alcohol to the Internet, not to mention shopping, chocolate, and golf. See Web site for a schedule of performances. Through Nov. 28, $20-40, 771-6900. Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (at Mason), 877-771-6900, www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com.

Awe About Eve: The gay-themed satire of the popular Bette Davis movie All About Evereturns for another run (after a sold-out summer stint) with the same cast. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 & 7 p.m. Continues through Nov. 14, $15-35. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079, www.therhino.org.

Cicada: Sarah McKereghan penned Ripe Theatre's dark comedy about environmental activism and personal growth. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 20, $15-20. Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Taylor & Mason), 673-3847.

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

Freefall: Performer Nina Wise uses her supple body and energetic delivery to craft an evening of improvised performance. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 13, $10-15, www.ftloose.org. Shotwell Studios, 3252A 19th St. (at Folsom), 289-2000.

Meanwhile, Back at the Super Lair: The plot of Greg Kalleres' play revolves around a crew of down-on-their-luck superheroes who must battle not only a petty bureaucrat but also a brand-new supervillain. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 11, $10-15 (Thursdays are pay-what-you-can). La Val's Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid (at Hearst), Berkeley, 510-234-6046.

Murder at the Howard Johnson's: When Arlene's husband Paul refuses her a divorce so she can marry their family dentist, she and her lover plot to murder him at a cheap hotel in this goofy comedy. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 27, $15-20, www.mysticbison.com. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Oleanna: Expression Theatre Ensemble mounts a production of David Mamet's play about a smug college professor and the struggling student he tutors and possibly sexually harasses. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 20, $10-15. San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum, 401 Van Ness (at McAllister), 255-4800, www.sfpalm.org.

Oui Be Negroes: Improvadelic: The troupe presents an evening of African-Americanfriendly improv comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 27, $7-10, 863-1076, www.ouibenegroes.com. Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 364-1411.

Rental Car: The world premiere of the Asian American Theater Company's David Mamet-like mystery/drama about the lives of Asian-Americans behind the counter of a rental car company. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through Nov. 21, $12.50-25. The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 587-4465.

She Must Marry a Doctor: A modern adaptation of the popular Yiddish farce about a set of parents concerned with their daughter's future husband; call 338-1331 for a schedule of performances. Tuesdays, Thursdays, 3 p.m. Continues through Nov. 11, free.

When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder: A revival of Mark Medoff's Obie Award-winning drama about a hostage crisis at a southwestern diner. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 4, 2 p.m. Continues through Dec. 11, $10-20, www.wehavemet.org. The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), Trinity Episcopal Church, 333-6389.

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