By Josh Edelson
By Chris Hall
By Jonathan Curiel
By Jonathan Curiel
By Sherilyn Connelly
By Mollie McWilliams
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Browner
Crowns. In TheatreWorks' jubilant production of Regina Taylor's musical play, a Brooklyn teenager sent to live with her grandmother in South Carolina following the death of her brother learns that a hat isn't just something you wear on your head; it's an entire mode of self-expression. You can flirt in a hat, pray in a hat, but one thing you must never, ever do is touch or ask to borrow someone else's hat. Channeling the Lord and good fashion sense through high-energy gospel and blues numbers, Grandmother Shaw and her cronies -- five churchgoing queens with crowns -- sing about the profound and not-so-profound roles hats play in their lives. Decorated with more colorful headgear than the Macy's and Nordstrom millinery departments combined, the brightly bedecked cast and stage resemble a tropical coral reef. Though lighthearted and bombastically performed, Crowns is not an entirely frivolous affair. The shadow of death and the struggle for civil rights provide a sobering backdrop to all the feisty hattitude. Through Sept. 18 at the Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter (at Mason), Second Floor, S.F. Tickets are $35-60; call 771-6900 or visit www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Aug. 10.
Dangerous. From British playwright Christopher Hampton's stage adaptation to the 1988 movie starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' famous epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) has been adapted many times. Playwright Tom Smith's version transports the story of the Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont, two rival aristocrats who use sex as a weapon to humiliate and degrade others for kicks, to modern-day gay San Francisco. Marcus (Javier Galitó-Cava) and Alexander (Donald G. Emmerich) play the Merteuil and Valmont roles, respectively, with bitchy panache. Strutting about in form-fitting designer outfits (a costume change marks their almost every entrance), the two are evenly matched when it comes to promiscuity, deviousness, and good fashion sense. Coquettish performances from all cast members under Clay David's agile direction make the most of the manipulative sexual power games between Marcus, Alexander, and their various exploits, such as the young priest Trevor (Mike Fallon) and the wealthy and avuncular Rosemonde (Richard Ryan). Yet Smith's overwrought, exposition-riddled plot and cheesy dialogue often make Dangerous feel more like a daytime soap than a play. Through Sept. 25 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $20-30; call 861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Sept. 7.
Doing Good. The San Francisco Mime Troupe's Doing Good takes its inspiration from John Perkins' controversial memoir Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. The book describes Perkins' years helping the U.S. government and multinational corporations coerce foreign leaders into serving U.S. foreign policy. The troupe's riff on Perkins' real-life John le Carré-style thriller follows the lives of a young, white, middle-class American couple, James and Molly, and their complicity in the homeland's less-than-benign interests in nations as widespread as Ecuador, Iran, Indonesia, and Panama. To avoid military service in Vietnam in 1968, James marries Molly and the pair move to the remote village of Pobre, Ecuador, on Peace Corps business. Very soon, the couple's innocuous attempts at "doing good" through building schoolhouses and educating local women about childbirth are overtaken by the arrival of a major U.S. corporation, whose aim it is to bring Ecuador "out of the Dark Ages" by building infrastructure with loans calculated to cripple the local economy. Despite some snappy one-liners and the bombastic live musical accompaniment, there's unfortunately little of aesthetic merit in Doing Good to mitigate the terrifying obviousness of its bludgeoning message. Through Oct. 2 at various locations throughout Northern California. Tickets are free; call 285-1717 or visit www.sfmt.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed July 13.
Nicholas Nickleby. California Shakespeare Theater's Nicholas Nickleby, adapted from Charles Dickens' 1838 novel by British playwright David Edgar, manages to wrestle the audience's attention away from rustling picnics and the rising moon through ingeniously theatrical staging and an alacrity of pace that makes you almost forget you've been sitting on a cold seat for more than three hours. Dickens' novel -- which follows the seesaw fortunes of the 19-year-old Nicholas Nickleby and his sister, Kate, in the wake of the death of their kindly but bankrupt father -- was initially adapted by Edgar for a 1980 London production by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Cal Shakes' two-part production, with its 24 actors and 6-1/2-hour running time (both parts together), is a "miniature" version of the original, which employed 48 actors and ran close to nine hours. Edgar himself pared down his RSC text for Cal Shakes. Nickleby owes much of its magic to the combined creativity of directors Jonathan Moscone and Sean Daniels. Edgar's adaptation, which swings back and forth between different locations, is fluidly rendered through seamless physical and emotional changes. The ensemble scenes are lively and magnetic, but the general high pitch of the performances, in which every sentence is delivered as if it were the punch line to an extremely funny and original joke, backfires in a number of ways, such as undermining some of Dickens' most juicy scenes and characters -- the few that are supposed to be over the top. Through Sept. 18 at the Bruns Memorial Amphitheater, 100 Gateway (just off Highway 24), Orinda. Tickets are $10-55; call (510) 548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed July 27.
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 www.act-sf.org. (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 www.poststreettheatre.com. (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 www.themarsh.org. (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 www.actorstheatresf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 22.
Annie Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), 512-7770.
Are We Almost There? Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.
Bad Gays! Jon Sims Center for the Arts, 1519 Mission (at 11th St.), 554-0402.
BATS: Sunday Players Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.
Beach Blanket Babylon Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
Beyond Therapy Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.
Big City Improv Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.
"Blood Bucket Ballyhoo" The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900.
Comedy Improv at Your Disposal Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 510-595-5597.
The Crucible SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
GayProv Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Gemini Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.
Goldfish John's Grill, 63 Ellis (at Powell), 986-0069.
"Here/Now: A Festival of Optimistic Voices" Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida (at 17th St.), 626-4270.
The Las Vega-Nauts New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (at Eighth St.), 626-5416.
Love, Chaos & Dinner Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.
Menopause the Musical Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero), 433-3939.
Monday Night Improv Jam Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 364-1411.
Monday Night Marsh The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Much Ado About Nothing Presidio Parade Grounds, Lincoln & Montgomery, 865-4434.
Mumia Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978.
Nicky Goes Goth La Val's Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid (at Hearst), Berkeley, 510-234-6046.
Odd Couple: Eat Cake in the Bathroom & School'd CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission Street (at Ninth St.), 626-2060.
Our Town Berkeley Repertory's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.
Owners The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley, 510-841-6500.
The Price Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
Private Lives Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic (at Locust), Walnut Creek, 925-943-7469.
Rodelinda War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
San Francisco Fringe Festival Multiple locations, multiple addresses within San Francisco, 673-3847.
Science on Stage: The Ice Breaker McBean Theater, 3601 Lyon (at Marina, in the Exploratorium), 397-5673.
Someone Who'll Watch Over Me Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
Trailer Town The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
What Mama Said About "Down There" Our Little Theater, 287 Ellis (at Taylor), 921-8234.
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