Encore

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Oy Vey in a Manger. "Trampolina, you can't go around making comments about Hitler like that," says Winnie, the mainstay of the Kinsey Sicks, San Francisco's homegrown a-cappella-group-in-drag. "Imagine the Führer." [Groans from the audience.] Winnie and friends wait for guests to come to their holiday party, which might be a Hanukkah celebration but includes a Christmas tree, Jesus schmaltz, and a hay-filled manger in the middle of the room. Winnie and Rachel are Jewish, you see, Trampolina and Trixie are goyim, and the cultural divide provides about two hours' worth of tasteless puns. If the group never interrupted its appalling script with smooth, crisply sung barbershop harmonies, Oy Vey in a Manger would be hard to take, but some of the songs are lovely. There's a Jewish "Macarena," a "Jingle Bells" about gays in the military, an "O Holy Night" about filming porn, and a delightfully perverted thing called "A Lay in a Manger" sung by Trixie (Jeff Manabat) as a torchy ballad. Some songs are unfortunate -- like "Where the Goys Are" and "Anal Warts" (sung to "Edelweiss") -- but Irwin Keller, as Winnie, makes it all worthwhile with an improbably pretty love ballad in Yiddish. Through Dec. 31 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $25-35; call 861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 8.

Polk County. Zora Neale Hurston wrote Polk County in 1944, in collaboration with a white woman named Dorothy Waring. It's an honest-to-God blues musical, American to the bone, which may be one reason no one in New York has produced it yet. This new edit by Cathy Madison and Kyle Donnelly premiered at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., two years ago, to rave reviews, but the script still has scars from what must have been a bad argument between Waring and Hurston -- a tension between showy silliness and drama, between Broadway and the blues. The songs here are all terrific, from traditional numbers like "Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin' Bed" to dirty originals like "Lick It Like That," by Chic Street Man, the show's music director. And the brilliantly talented cast can play its own live music. As a revue of homegrown American songs the show deserves a nice, long Broadway run -- but it's not what it could be. What starts as a promising drama of self-discovery in a Florida sawmill camp becomes an excuse to shove as much (admittedly great) music into the performance as possible. Through Jan. 9 at the Berkeley Rep's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $25-60; call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 8.

"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 Jan. 2 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.

Take Me Out. Darren Lemming, a half-black star hitter on the Empires (read: New York Yankees), inspires the sort of adulation reserved for men like Barry Bonds and Derek Jeter. But he's gay. He comes out in public at the height of his fame, during a balmy season for the Empires, and the hurt morale in the locker room finds public expression in the mouth of a mulleted, white-trash pitching sensation named Shane Mungitt. The drama isn't subtle; in fact, the fallout between Darren and Shane is larger than life, while some of playwright Richard Greenberg's lines seem to demand a smaller stage. But this touring Broadway production also manages to offend the audience, which is a rare, good thing. Darren may be half-black and gay, but he's a multimillionaire superstar; Shane's a bit of bewildered, half-educated trailer trash. Who, exactly, is the victim? Greenberg shows just enough sympathy for his devil to make Take Me Out a moral conundrum. Through Jan. 9 at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $37-75; call 512-7770 or visit www.bestofbroadway-sf.com. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 22.

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