Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Philanderer. George Bernard Shaw's 1893 comedy seems, on the face of it, to be very much of its time: Dealing with a resolutely heterosexual love triangle among the rakish man about town, Leonard Charteris, a young widow, Grace Tranfield, and the unmarried daughter of a colonel, Julia Craven, the play is couched in the politics of the women's rights movement. Yet at the same time, The Philanderer transcends its era: Shaw's whip-cracking critique of the hard and fast rules governing sexual relationships in Victorian times, as well as its part-playful, part-deadly-serious championing of a more fluid approach to gender, relationships, and sexuality, can be interpreted as an exploration of issues surrounding gay rights today -- and gay marital rights in particular. It is from this standpoint that Theatre Rhinoceros' rhythmic and witty production takes its lead, making the most of the play's sexual fluidity. Striding about in a period tweed pantsuit, Ann Lawler looks thoroughly boyish as Julia's sister Sylvia. Libby O'Connell's Julia, on the other hand, resembles a drag queen or a pantomime dame. And the male characters are all suitably fey. Yet for all the gender-bending, the beauty of this production lies not so much in what it says about gay marital rights in our times, but in its searing depiction of a more eternal theme -- that of what it means to be an outcast or oddball in society. Through Oct. 15 at Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (between Mission and South Van Ness), S.F. Tickets are $15-25; call 861-5079 or visit www.therhino.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Sept. 28.

The Price. Everything comes at a price, and few plays in the American theatrical canon demonstrate this truism more eloquently than Arthur Miller's The Price. Set in 1968 in the midst of the Vietnam War, the pithy-poignant family drama examines the ways in which human beings justify their (self-)destructive actions through a slow process of self-delusion. The events depicted in the play, which unfold over one intense, long scene, center on Victor, a middle-aged police officer who returns to the apartment in which he lived for years with his once-wealthy father following the stock market crash of 1929. Victor plans to meet with an appraiser to sell off the remainder of his father's furniture and then go to a movie with his wife. But when Walter, Victor's successful surgeon brother, turns up, having been out of touch with Victor for well over a decade, the siblings are forced to come to terms with more than the price of a few antiques. Aurora Theatre's poised production penetrates the many layers of Miller's text. Aurora has assembled a priceless team for this production, featuring rhythmic direction by Joy Carlin and clean performances from all four cast members -- Ray Reinhardt is especially compelling as the 89-year-old appraiser Gregory Solomon. Through Oct. 9 at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $38; call (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Sept. 21.

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.

Also Playing

Almost Heaven: John Denver's America Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic (at Locust), Walnut Creek, 925-943-7469.

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

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.

California Palm Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Comedy Improv at Your Disposal Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 510-595-5597.

Crowns Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (at Mason), 771-6900.

Crucifixion New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

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

Days of Wine and Roses Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic (at Locust), Walnut Creek, 925-943-7469.

Fagaala Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard (at Third St.), 978-2787.

Family Butcher Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.

Finding Sincerity Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.

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