Our critics weigh in on local theater

Macbeth. Sigmund Freud's ghost haunts Cutting Ball Theater's production of Macbeth with far greater persistence than Banquo's. Before the play even begins, our eyes are greeted with an intensely psychological space. Set designer Michael Locher's trim, brightly lit, white performing area bordered by five white doors brings a padded cell more readily to mind than a wind-swept Scottish moor. Doors are portals into Macbeth's mind, and the production pays little attention to what's going on in the outside world. Although the Freudian symbolism (dead babies, characters with split personalities, etc.) feels heavy-handed in places, this Macbeth is intriguing, intellectually involving, visually imaginative, and -- best of all -- funny. Garth Petal is a formidable presence as Macbeth. He brings out, with impeccable comic timing, the dark humor in his character. Despite its strengths, however, the production suffers from trying to incorporate too many ideas. The six-actor cast only exacerbates the confusion: Having each actor play several roles cleverly emphasizes the work's internal landscape, but if you don't know Macbeth very well, it's easy to get lost. Through July 16 (but no performances the weekend of June 17-18) at the Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor (between Eddy and Ellis), S.F. Tickets are $20-25; call 419-3584 or visit www.cuttingball.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 1.

The Mambo Kings. The intoxicating display of luminescence that lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer have produced in the world-premiere production of The Mambo Kings conveys the passion and energy of the 1950s Latin music scene, but many of the play's other elements -- most conspicuously the script -- fail. Based on Oscar Hijuelos' Pulitzer Prizewinning 1989 novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (as well as the 1992 movie starring Antonio Banderas), the musical tells the story of two brothers who sail from their native Cuba to seek their fortunes in New York City's burgeoning mambo scene. But while the novel derives much of its power from the contrast between the two characters, the musical version flattens the differences. Hijuelos and co-author/director Arne Glimcher (who also directed the movie version of the book) instead concentrate on evoking the infectious rhythms of Latin music. And ultimately, the show is more about the suggestive unfurling of a silk stockinged leg and the sway of the cha-cha than the poor script, with its puerile lines and clodhopping plot. Through June 19 at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $25-85; call 512-7770 or visit www.bestofbroadway-sf.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 8.

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 June 25 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.

The Rules of Charity. John Belluso's engrossing new play describes what it's like to eke out a living in America on meager disability checks and food stamps. If poverty isn't enough to define Monty (Warren David Keith) -- whose cerebral palsy keeps him confined to a wheelchair and his daughter confined to the state of permanent caregiver -- as a social pariah, the fact that he's gay ought to do it. Belluso's writing veers into the terrain of soap opera toward the end, but it's powerful stuff nonetheless. Exploring the way Monty (both as an individual and as an archetypal American charity case) elicits polar responses from the other characters, this stylishly directed and subtly performed production shows how acts of generosity and good will often have little in common with the motives that lie beneath them. Through June 18 at the Magic Theatre Northside, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Tickets are $20-38; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed May 11.

Also Playing

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

Art SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.

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

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

The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.

Hothouse Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Marina & Buchanan), 441-8822.

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