Our critics weigh in on local theater

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 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 May 28 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.

One Window. Director Erika Chong Shuch fuses text, music, dance, drama, video, architecture, and sculpture to express her ideas about the ambivalent nature of confinement in One Window, a new performance piece premiering at Intersection for the Arts. Loosely structured around a couple dealing with the ins and outs of daily life together in an urban apartment, One Window explores our ability to live with, feel comforted by, and sometimes even transcend the boundaries that surround us. Unlike many works of art that deal with the rigid confines of imprisonment, everything about One Window is fluid and mutable: Boundaries are erected only to be torn down, conventionally nightmarish images of entrapment turn out to be sources of pleasure, and suffocatingly small spaces become big and airy from one moment to the next. Through its intricately woven visual and aural motifs and deftly executed performances, this hauntingly beautiful work appeals to the intellect, yet fails to make much of an emotional impact. Through May 7 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (between 15th and 16th streets), S.F. Tickets are $9-15; call 626-3311 or visit www.theintersection.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed April 27.

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 May 29 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 Shooting Stage. Canadian playwright Michael Lewis MacLennan's intricate and intense drama explores the fine line between obscenity and art. MacLennan oversees the collision of two story lines: those of Len, a professional photographer, standing trial for exhibiting a voyeuristic photograph of a teenage boy wearing a dress, and teenager Elliot, an aspiring photographer and bird enthusiast, whose penchant for wearing women's clothes frequently gets him into trouble at school. With a plot conspicuously devoid of female characters (including an absent sister, an offstage date, and a dead mother and wife), The Shooting Stage provides meaty roles for all five male actors. Brady M. Woolery (Derrick), Patrick Alparone (Ivan), and Greg Ayers (Elliot) create sharply rendered portraits of the play's trio of homespun adolescent boys; as Len and Malcolm, Catz Forsman and Woody Taft, respectively, expose the vulnerabilities of their two fortysomethings incisively. Although the play veers into the terrain of melodrama on one or two occasions, Dan Oliverio's carefully paced direction reveals the story and characters by increments, like a photograph slowly developing in a dark room. Through May 8 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $26-32; call 861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed April 20.

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