There are rules to the art of improvisation. The members of Revolving Madness, a new San Francisco-based group that specializes in long-form improvised storytelling, have obviously been reading up on their Keith Johnstone: They try hard to shut up when it's time to move on to a new scene, and do their damnedest to keep the story progressing by steering clear of "no" -- the most hated word in the improv universe. (Negativity tends to stifle exchanges between two improvisers because it undermines opportunities for action.) The performance I attended followed -- with varied degrees of coherence and inspiration -- the romance between a PR executive and a garbage collector, taking in a fish-worshipping cult and a trip to Atlantic City en route. There were some intuitive and funny moments, but the occasional lapses in pace betrayed the group's greenness. Sustaining an entire hour of improvised narrative requires more than a penchant for the scatological; it necessitates a synergy among all performers that can only come from years of collaboration. Practice makes perfect: I look forward to watching Revolving Madness evolve. Through Sept. 16 at Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Mason and Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $9; call 673-3847.
The Chinese board game Go functions as
an analogy for the world situation in Go
The San Francisco Fringe Festival is liberally sprinkled with shows that take on, either explicitly or implicitly, such contemporary issues as the War on Terror, the Bush administration, and corporate greed. But none of them, I'll wager, is quite like Thersites. Lucas McClure's quirky adaptation of an anonymous 1537 comedy (sometimes attributed to the Hampshire-born writer Nicholas Udall) intersperses the rhyming Olde Englishe cadences of the original with a modern sensibility. Telling the story of a boastful knight who returns from the Trojan War to take on his enemies, this 500-year-old dramatic interlude provides a wry look at our own time. McClure's gung-ho turn as Thersites -- made all the more bombastic by his extremely risqué get-up (think Society for Creative Anachronism meets Catwoman) -- and Jeffrey VanderPlate's video-projected snail drawings make for an entertaining, if rather surreal, experience. Through Sept. 17 at the Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor (between Eddy and Ellis), S.F. Tickets are $8; call 673-3847.