Our critics weigh in on local theater

American Irish. Ken Slattery's new comedy follows what happens when John, an Irishman living in San Francisco for five years, pops home to Dublin for a few days to attend his friend Derek's wedding and tell his family and friends some long-overdue news. From John's misplaced nostalgia for various aspects of Dublin life to the incestuous nature of the relationships around him, Restless Minds' production is full of funny and touching moments. The play, however, feels as interminable as an Irish pub crawl. Over three hours, only two things really happen: 1) John worries about how his mother will take his news, and 2) John's mother worries about John's news. The sluggishness stems mostly from the fact that the characters seem unable to speak to each other without first telling the audience how they feel. The "breaking of the fourth wall" shtick is endearing for a bit, but it quickly makes you desperate for a pint. Through March 26 at the Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor (between Eddy and Ellis), S.F. Tickets are $20; call 995-1977 or visit www.restlessmindsproductions.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed March 16.

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 April 25 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.

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.

A Reckoning. Memories are slippery things to stage. Used sparingly, the words "I remember" can be an effective way of making sense of a character's current frame of mind, but they do little to propel the action of a play. Despite its clever dialogue and quirky characters, Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prizewinning How I Learned to Drive, for instance, so strongly relies on the central character's recollection of the past that the work rarely moves out of first gear. Wesley Moore's A Reckoning suffers from a similar problem. Like Drive, A Reckoning examines how childhood memories impact the present-day lives of -- and the troubled relationship between -- a young woman and an older male relative. In Moore's play, the man in question is the woman's father, a widowed, professionally successful San Francisco architect; in Vogel's, it's an uncle. Though tightly written by Moore, subtly acted by real-life father and daughter Kevin Tighe and Jennifer Tighe, rhythmically directed by Richard Seyd, and intelligently designed by John Iacovelli, A Reckoning spends so much time revealing the characters' flimsy memories that the present -- the dimension in which the drama actually unfolds -- lacks substance. Through March 27 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. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed March 16.

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.

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