Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Overcoat. Gogol's short story "The Overcoat" -- in which an office clerk agonizingly scrimps together enough money to buy a new cloak, only to have it stolen from him the very next night -- is a dark social comedy about an ordinary man's battle to survive in a pitiless landscape full of unintelligible systems and hierarchies. Wendy Gorling and Morris Panych's adaptation of Gogol's story for the stage seems less concerned with the struggles of the Regular Joe than it is a perturbing and brilliant depiction of an introspective artist who, in a moment of madness, chooses to flaunt his true colors to the world. Set entirely to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, the story unfolds wordlessly through the gestures and movements of the large ensemble cast, the contrasts of light and shadow, and the manic expressiveness of the Russian composer's bewitching melodies and harmonies. Just as Shostakovich's music veers between tonal and atonal realms, so the protagonist in The Overcoat, delicately personified by the gangly and sprightly haired Peter Anderson, inhabits a world where surface realities give way to nightmarish, internal impulses. Through Oct. 2 at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $25-80; call 749-2228 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Sept. 7.

The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean Sandy Hackett's swingin' tribute to the Rat Pack takes us back to a time when men wore tuxedos in the desert, women could be one of two things (a lady or a tramp), and Celine Dion was just a golden apple in Las Vegas' hungry eye. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Dean Martin are brought back to life by God -- and the talents of a quartet of impersonators -- for one more night of highballing at the Sands Hotel. The concert-style production, featuring a live 12-piece band, perfectly captures the spirit of a long-lost era -- from Johnny Edwards' glossy Dean Martin pompadour to what would now be considered terribly un-PC gaffs about black Jews. These particular tribute artists aren't necessarily dead ringers for Frank and company, but if you close your eyes and listen to Brian Duprey's silk-voiced renditions of "My Way" and "Come Fly With Me," you almost feel like you've been transported, martini in hand, to another time and place. In an open-ended run at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $35-60; call 771-6900 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Aug. 24.

When God Winked. When most people retire, they're sent home with a gold watch and a bad bout of indigestion. Not Ron Jones. He puts on a play. After 30 years spent working at the Janet Pomeroy Center, a local organization that provides educational and vocational opportunities for people with disabilities, Jones -- who has also garnered respect over the years as a performer (Buddha Blues, Say Ray), Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer (The Wave, Kids Called Crazy), and Special Olympics basketball coach -- inaugurates the Marsh's new Berkeley space with his solo show When God Winked. Mixing video footage and live narrative, Jones chronicles the development of the Pomeroy Center from its humble beginnings in the early 1950s to its growth and struggle to provide adequate services in more recent cash-strapped, bureaucracy-heavy times. He is a charismatic, physical performer with an important story to tell. Yet for all the energy, good humor, and lyricism that he brings to the stage, the video footage is the production's greatest asset: A certain flabbiness of structure, characterization, and delivery in the live sections of the show almost makes one wish that When God Winked were a feature documentary. Through Sept. 16 at the Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $10-22; call 826-5750 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Sept. 7.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? did for the American theater in 1962 what Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey did for its British equivalent just four years previously. Products of the postwar fracture of traditional family values and gender roles, both plays sent shock waves across their respective cultural landscapes and changed the face of theater forever. But while these days Delaney's play is considered a period piece and rarely performed, Actors Theatre's production (along with, of course, the recent highly lauded Broadway revival starring Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner) proves Virginia Woolf to be as fresh today as it was when Albee wrote it. The caustically funny and darkly depraved drama takes place over the course of a booze-soaked night at the university-campus home of middle-aged history professor George (Christian Phillips) and his wife, Martha (Julia McNeal), as they play cat and mouse with each other and their newbie guests, the twentysomething biology professor Nick (Daniel Hart Donoghue) and his wife, Honey (Tara Donoghue). The claustrophobic atmosphere of Biz Duncan's living room set enhances the intensity of the couples' relentless "fun and games." Combining incisive, rhythmic direction by Keith Phillips and Kenneth Vandenberg with crisp performances by all four cast members (Tara Donoghue is especially pathetic and hilarious as the "thin-hipped" Honey), Actors Theatre's Virginia Woolf expertly mines the complex nature of marital relationships. Through Sept. 24 at the Actors Theatre, 533 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $10-30; call 296-9179 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 22.

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