Encore

Our critics weigh in on local theater

The African Company Presents Richard III. New York City, 1821. The American theater is barely 50 years old, and -- shock, horror -- a group of ex-slaves dares to perform the work of the Bard. Based on true events, Carlyle Brown's The African Company Presents Richard IIItells the story of the struggles of the first African-American theater troupe in the country. When the African Company audaciously presents an all-black production of Shakespeare's Richard IIInext door to a star-studded opening-night performance of the same play by an established white company, its actors get thrown in prison and the company grows up fast. Fluidly blending Shakespeare's language with that of the African-American vernacular of the day, Brown's script, with its social, political, and artistic message, is an intriguing, if laborious, portrait of America's early theatrical history. All five members of the charismatic cast give flowing, lyrical performances, but their efforts are undermined by the play's ponderous pace and some arrhythmic direction. Through March 20 at the Buriel Clay Theater, African-American Art & Culture Complex, 762 Fulton (at Webster), S.F. Tickets are $20-30; call 762-2071 or visit www.african-americanshakes.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed March 9.

Bay One-Acts Festival. If the three plays that make up Program 2 of the fourth annual Bay One-Acts Festival are anything to go by, the entire event presents a colorful (if patchy) mix. The night I went, the opener, Pancakes for Dinner -- a diminutive but perfectly proportioned two-person piece about the relationship between a teenager and her dad's girlfriend -- was my favorite. Ianna Sobel matches shyness with brashness as the gauche teenage pancake-maker, Jen, providing relief to Michaela Greely's vulgarly charismatic Alice. Vince Montague's bite-size play, with its funny yet moving banter, flips between light and dark like an expertly tossed ... well, you know. Next on the agenda was Ed Brownson's The Dictionary Play. A brainy sendup of postmodernist stagecraft, the comedy features two actors, A (Fred Pitts) and Z (Julie Cleland), trying to perform a piece called The Dictionary Playand getting themselves (and the audience) tied up in metatheatrical knots while they're at it. Though Pitts and Cleland make a good double act, the work itself feels rather self-indulgent: Luigi Pirandello's 1921 Six Characters in Search of an Author covers similar territory with more insight. When Josh Googled Susan, the final play of the evening, is a cute story about finding love in cyberspace. Josh (Max Bernstein) and Susan (Jacqueline Hillman), two lonely hearts, get together despite their respective parents' incredulity and initial misgivings. Although Elliott Kopstein's drama feels slow and repetitive at times and some of its characters seem clichéd, Googledhas its heart in the right place. The BOA Festival runs through March 20 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (between Battery and Front), S.F. Tickets are $17-20; call 776-7427 or visit www.threewisemonkeys.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed March 9.

I Look Like an Egg, But I Identify as a Cookie. In her solo show, Heather Gold recounts the journey from Niagara Falls (where she spent the first 19 years of her life) to her current role as San Francisco's resident lesbian domestic goddess -- while baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies in front of a live audience. Even as she's plunking bits of soggy dough onto a battered metal baking tray and babbling on about her rugby-playing days as a law student at Yale, Gold, wielding her remarkable improvisation skills, creates an atmosphere of cozy intimacy. Certain parts of her monologue ramble on for too long, but even during the show's most half-baked moments, it's easy to understand why the audience gets so involved: Gold makes for an endearingly slapdash cook. Each performance involves a special guest, and it's a sheer pleasure to see a food-themed show that's not about battling one's body image (as is so often the case with productions by female artists -- e.g., Eve Ensler's The Good Body) and a program stuffed with recipes for delicacies like gingersnaps and caramel chocolate squares. Through March 28 at Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $30-50; call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.subvert.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 12.

Monster. The blessing (or, depending on how you look at it, the curse) of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein is its open-endedness. The author's refusal to pass moral judgment upon Victor Frankenstein and his monster is largely responsible for the avalanche of adaptations the work has inspired since its publication almost 200 years ago. SF Playhouse's production of Monster, a recent makeover of the legend by Obie Award-winning playwright Neal Bell, centers on a twentysomething Frankenstein (Jason Frazier), conceived as a thoroughly Romantic hero with a spindly frame, cascading blond hair, tortured features, and a penchant for persecuting household pets. Between the faux-Gothic melodrama of director Bill English's mise-en-scène and Bell's yuk-yuk sense of humor, Monster moves as if with a clubfoot. Instead of creating a sense of wild spoof through the marriage of melodrama and slapstick, as Mel Brooks did so successfully in his 1974 movie Young Frankenstein, the play presents moments of horror-style tension that fall flat. Monster is entertaining, but there's little to make it stand out from the avalanche. Through March 19 at SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $30; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Feb. 23.

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 March 26 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, 2004.

Rush Limbaugh in Night School. Charlie Varon has revived and revamped his hilarious 1994 solo tour de force, a satire that may owe more than a little to Tom Stoppard's Travesties, about Rush Limbaugh and a cast of mostly still-relevant national figures from the left and right. When a conservative Latino radio host threatens Limbaugh's dominance in a Florida market, the potbellied pundit puts on a beard and enrolls in Spanish night classes (at the New School), where he falls in love with a fugitive ex-member of the Weather Underground. For obscure reasons Limbaugh also tries to play Othello in blackface, in a star-studded production featuring Garrison Keillor, directed by Spalding Gray. Things go predictably to hell. Varon's in full command of his characters; the voices are sharp, if not perfect; and his timing is hard to beat. But he and Limbaugh are both visibly older. Varon's point in 1994 was that Limbaugh had upended the whole idea of satire -- he'd turned a traditional weapon of the underprivileged into a tool of power, and the last 10 years have only shown how potent that strategy can be. Limbaugh was pretty much on his own in 1994; lately his talk-radio spawn have probably helped a) elect a new governor in California, and b) re-elect a president. Depressing. Through April 17 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 15, 2004.

The Typographer's Dream. At the beginning of Encore Theatre Company's production of Adam Bock's play, we are introduced to three characters: a typographer, a geographer, and a stenographer, who proceed, with varying degrees of stiffness and eloquence, to enthuse about their jobs. Reportedly inspired in part by the 2 1/2 years Bock spent working at a graphic and Web design firm, this beautiful and strange comedy riffs on the relationship between people and their careers. Director Anne Kauffman and actors Aimée Guillot, Jamie Jones, and Michael Shipley gleefully demonstrate how the three characters match their chosen jobs, occasionally making them resemble -- through the unselfconscious eagerness with which they talk about their work -- the wacky types who populate the films of Christopher Guest. A whole branch of ham psychology exists around the business of matching "personality types" with appropriate careers. But Bock does more than demonstrate the influence of personality upon career choice; he also shows the reverse: how our career choices influence us. Through April 3 at the Thick House, 1695 18th St. (between Arkansas and De Haro), S.F. Tickets are $15-20; call 821-4849 or visit www.encoretheatrecompany.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Feb. 16.

Also Playing

Are We Almost There?
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Beyond Therapy
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Blood Relative
Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.

Blue
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.

Cinderella
Young Performers Theater, Bldg. C Fort Mason (Marina & Buchanan), 346-5550.

Comedy Improv at Your Disposal
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Crimes of the Heart
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.

Electric Candyland
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477, www.offmarkettheater.com.

Enemy Combatant
Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

Evita
Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.

Female Transport
Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 777-2800.

For Better or Worse
Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.

GayProv
Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477, www.cafearts.com.

Gorgeous, A Journey of the Body
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

The Just
The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley, 510-841-6500.

Lilies
Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 777-2800.

Miss Coco Peru Is Undaunted!
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

Monday Night Improv Jam
Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 364-1411.

Monday Night Marsh
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

One Big Lie
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847, www.sffringe.org.

Othello
La Val's Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid (at Hearst), Berkeley, 510-234-6046.

A View From the Bridge
Actors' Theatre Second Stage, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 820-3929.

Working
College of Marin/Fine Arts Theatre, 858 College (at Sir Francis Drake), Kentfield, 485-9555.

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