Encore

Our critics weigh in on local theatre

Addicted: A Comedy of Substance. It's just what it says: a show about back-monkeys. Mark Lundholm is a comedian with broad shoulders and a no-bullshit style. He offers 80 minutes of stand-up and autobiography on the theme of his own addictions to booze, speed, coke, bad relationships, and television. "An addict is energy without grace," he says, moving around the stage like a human torpedo. He amuses the audience with stories about the time he woke up naked on a sidewalk, say, with a candy cane up his ass ("How'd it get there? I don't know"), then shifts unobtrusively to starker material, like the story of holding his baby daughter after a long binge, still high, and deciding in a fit of self-loathing to walk out on wife, child, and responsibility. This bleak undertow gives Addicted a dimension beyond stand-up. Not only did Lundholm steal the family truck and start a brutal life on the streets; not only did he try to hold up a liquor store and carjack a Lexus; not only did he live for a while under an Oakland overpass; not only did he try to blow his own head off (with a pistol that jammed) -- the whole stupid tragedy was sui generis, born and nursed in his own head. It's very sad. But it also hits a universal nerve. Through Dec. 12 at the Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $25-40; call 771-6900 or visit www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Nov. 24.

Emma. In the days before sitting around watching MTV and getting high, a group of young friends pass an afternoon in an attic, acting out the tale of English literature's favorite forgivably flawed matchmaker, Emma Woodhouse. Michael Fry's metatheatrical adaptation of the Jane Austen novel is as lively as its source, and as cleverly calibrated. But don't be intimidated by that flowchart in the program; it's just there to help make sense of the play's 20 characters, evenly divvied up among five hardworking actors. What's impressive about this production isn't the precision of its gear work; it's how agreeably the ensemble expresses Fry's comparison between the delights of matchmaking and those of playmaking. The cast members enjoy themselves and one another, and their game takes on, in the best possible way, what someone calls "an air of foppery and nonsense." It's an actors' show, and director Jeffrey Bihr, who's put in plenty of stage time himself over the years, seems like an actors' director. In the title role, Lauren Grace is vital and sympathetic, an easy contender for the pantheon of memorable Emmas (Silverstone, Paltrow). The others deserve compliments, too: Never does it seem that anyone should be playing someone else's role. They all spend most of the show onstage, and therefore aren't immune to momentary energy lulls. But the intimacy of the Aurora seals off most drafts of audience distraction; here Emma and friends have the perfect space in which to get their loves untangled. Through Dec. 19 at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $28-35; call (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org. (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed Dec. 1.

The Right Kind of People. Anyone looking to purchase a desirable condominium in New York City generally has to be sized up by a handful of power-tripping snobs on a "co-op board," and Charles Grodin's new play wants to show the rest of the United States what kind of arrogant (and sometimes racist) nonsense these people tend to say. Grodin took notes at meetings of his own co-op board, so his details of Manhattan class-consciousness and institutionalized bigotry ring clear and true. But the play lacks oomph. There's no other way to put it. The quick, shifting, comic scenes have flat punch lines, and the characters feel underwritten, which leaves even a great actor like Ken Ruta with nothing to chew. His portrait of Frank Rashman, an elderly board member, is all pompous phrasing and wine-soaked mandarin attitude; the affections that rule him are hard to detect. Robert Parsons is also limp and undedicated as Tom, Frank's nephew. In a great satirist's hands this play would be savage and funny, but Grodin's script feels oddly unintegrated. Through Dec. 12 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Building D, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Tickets are $20-38; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 1.

"Significant Others." Tom Kelly's collection of five brief plays about gay relationships ranges from the depressive worldliness of a gay cruise, where a man almost commits suicide, to the hopeful virginal groping of a pair of boys in a janitorial closet during their senior prom. The acting also ranges from stilted and false, like a bad soap opera (in Faded Photographs, about the cruise), to honest and almost cute (in The Virgin Tango, about the prom). In between we find another soap opera, Roadside Assistance, about two guys lost on a mountain path who start to bicker; Twice Blessed, about two lovers in separate long-term relationships who wonder if they can ever be happy together; and a welcome bit of satire in ... Or Not to Be? This last piece shows three gay friends in a cafe, gossiping and flirting with other men, constantly interrupted by their own chirping cell phones. Eric Rice, as the most successful of the three friends, turns in the clearest performance of the night; he trusts himself enough not to overact and lands a few deadpan, funny lines. Most of the production, otherwise, is leaden with sentimental overacting and outworn gay stereotypes. Even the high school boys aren't immune: "Are we clichés?" one of them asks in the janitorial closet, aware of fitting neatly into a teen-romance flick -- or, actually, a New Conservatory show. "No way," says the other. "If we were clichés, we'd be straight." Hmmmm. Through Dec. 12 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $20-32; call 861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 1.

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