Our critics weigh in on local theater

Blood Relative. In the opening scene of Traveling Jewish Theatre's Blood Relative, a young man returns home with a broken nose and a bloodied shirt. His external appearance -- which quickly extends to the state of his surroundings, as he proceeds to trash his formerly tidy, modestly furnished apartment -- only hints at the battle raging inside him. The son of a Jewish mother and an Arab father, Avraham (or Ibrahim, depending on your ethnic affiliation) belongs at once to both communities and neither, a dangerous place to exist in a society that demands exclusive allegiance to a single side. Blood Relative has been three years in the making, and this mesmerizing ensemble production proves itself well worth the wait. Weaving together powerful storytelling, caustic humor, bold characterizations, and lyrical music and dance, the artists involved in TJT's Middle East Project have taken a subject so bogged down with the rhetoric of political and religious fundamentalism as to seem practically abstract, and shaped it into something touchingly human and bitterly real. Through April 17 at Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (between 17th Street and Mariposa), S.F., and continuing April 21-May 1 at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College (at Ashby), Berkeley. Tickets are $12-35 (pay-what-you-can on Thursday and Friday nights); call 285-8080 or visit www.atjt.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed March 23.

Blue. The old saying "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" finds its apotheosis in Charles Randolph-Wright's domestic comedy. This semi-autobiographical riff on the relationship between the playwright and his mother charts the highs and lows of growing up as a member of the Clark household, a prosperous, African-American, funeral homeowning family in South Carolina. At the center towers Peggy Clark (Anise Ritchie), a domineering yet loving matriarch in fluffy, high-heeled mules, whose passions in life include buying furniture, controlling the lives of her two sons, and swaying to the music of jazz singer Blue Williams (Shadee Rashada). As Randolph-Wright's piece meanders across a landscape of soulful songs, voluminous 'fros, and takeout dinners disguised as home cooking, it seems there's more to Peggy's infatuation with Williams' creamy, Luther Vandrosslike voice than meets the eye. Despite the incoherent correlation between Nona Hendryx's songs and the plot -- there appears to be little motivation behind Rashada's intermittent musical outbursts -- and some dragging, arrhythmic direction, the cast brings the Clark family to life with relaxed good humor. Through April 17 at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $25-32; call 474-8800 or visit www.lhtsf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed April 6.

Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom. Gillian Slovo and Victoria Brittain's play aims to be a catalyst for political transformation. Based on the verbatim testimonies of prisoners detained at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as well as interviews with lawyers, politicians, and prisoners' families, it exposes the mistreatment of inmates by the military and the government. There are no full-frontal torture scenes here, but the matter-of-fact descriptions of prison life by the detainees, and the growing sense of helplessness among the lawyers and family members trying to free them, speak volumes. The accusations leveled against the U.S. government (and, in turn, the British government for its support of George Bush's war on terror) are direct: The administration is portrayed as being above the law -- ruthlessly determined to obliterate the enemy even if hundreds of innocent lives are squandered in the process. Discussing Guantánamo in terms of its theatrical merits is beside the point. If you're looking for fully fledged characters, resonant metaphors, climax, catharsis, and snazzy lighting effects, you'll be disappointed. For Guantánamo is not so much a play as a weapon. What Slovo and Brittain have achieved is the transformation of abstract reports from a faraway place into a concrete, utterly present reality. Through April 17 at Brava Theater Center, 2789 24th St. (at York), S.F. Tickets are $30-45; call 647-2822 or visit www.brava.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed April 6.

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.

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