Our critics weigh in on local theater

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Maggie, the American theater canon's most desperate housewife, tries to persuade her depressed and frigid husband, Brick, to pull himself out of his drunken stupor long enough to impregnate her, thus strengthening the couple's claim on the massive Mississippi Delta plantation belonging to Brick's ailing father, Big Daddy Pollitt. If Israel Hicks' solid and staid production for ACT conveys any of the dangerous animal energy of Williams' 1950s-era drama, it's in Jack Willis' brilliant, ballistic performance as the family patriarch, Big Daddy. A rutting stag crossed with an oversize teddy bear, Willis just has to bark the word "Crap!" and the chandeliers shake. René Augesen's Maggie and Michael James Reed's Brick seem flaccid in comparison. Fluttering onstage in a frilly frock and golden locks, Augesen is more Little Bo Peep than bristling feline. She mostly behaves as though she's lost her sheep, not her lover. Through Nov. 13 at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $16-76; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 2.

Crucifixion. As the world becomes cluttered with books on network theory, Web sites devoted to uniting us with our next job/apartment/life partner, and films and plays featuring ensemble casts in which apparent strangers jump into bed with one another only to discover they've had sex with that person before, it's hard to imagine that there's anything more to say on the subject of connectivity. Undaunted, Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally (Master Class, Love! Valour! Compassion!) has written a new play all about joining the dots. Crucifixion, which explores the murder of a high-profile television producer by a Jesuit priest through the casual interactions among a bunch of seemingly disparate individuals, features a voluminous cast and took nearly two years to develop. Disappointingly, McNally's statement about the ties that bind can more or less be summarized with the following quote from the play: "Life is all about connections. You don't have to understand them, you just have to open yourself up to the possibility of them." That's it? Tell me something new, Terry. Through Nov. 20 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 Oct. 26.

Phaedra. Playwright Matthew Maguire's modernized version of Racine's neoclassical tragedy Phèdre is set in the aftermath of an acrimonious business merger. The drama tells the story of Faye, the wife of a high-powered CEO, whose illicit desire for her stepson leads to all-round misery and destruction. Maguire's text sweats and grunts with seedy descriptions of intercourse, scenes in which characters dry-hump chairs, and slatherings of pseudo-orgasmic poetry. Yet for a play about sex, it's curiously sexless. There's just not much passion -- at least of the sexual variety -- in a corporate takeover. Half the play reads like a soap opera; the other half like the ersatz "poetry" one creates out of little magnetized words on fridge doors. I admire Last Planet for its boldness and intelligence; if any local company has demonstrated an understanding of human desire, it's this one. However, director John Wilkins and his collaborators don't quite know what to do with Maguire's jerky words. Through Nov. 13 at the Last Planet Theatre, 351 Turk (between Hyde and Leavenworth), S.F. Tickets are $15-18 (two-for-one on Thursdays); call 440-3505 or visit www.lastplanettheatre.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 2.

There Be Monsters. Dan Carbone's solo play is a malfunctioning little windup toy of a show. As assorted fluffy bunnies, stuffed Humpty Dumptys, and plastic astronaut monkeys fly around the minuscule Exit Cafe stage, Carbone half-sings, half-talks (or Sprechgesangs) his way through warped tales and ditties that aren't quite what you'd expect to hear on Sesame Street. A cross between Dr. Seuss and Freddy Krueger -- with a touch of Lewis Carroll thrown in for good measure -- Carbone is a big, bald man-child exorcising inner demons with a goofy grin and an old-fashioned trunk. The performance's eccentricities wear a bit thin after 30 minutes; even so, the beautifully orchestrated lighting, sound, and movement cues create an engrossing aura that makes you feel like you're in the middle of a waking dream. The production is meant for an adult audience, but I think There Be Monsters would appeal to kids -- and to those of us who spent our formative years ripping the heads off Barbie dolls or constructing My Little Pony abattoirs. Through Nov. 19 at the Exit Cafe, 156 Eddy (between Mason and Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $12-20; call 673-3847 or visit www.sffringe.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 2.

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.

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