Our critics weigh in on local theater

Menopause the Musical. Set in Bloomingdale's department store, the play unites four contrasting female characters -- an Iowa housewife, an executive, a soap star, and a hippie -- through the combined forces of cut-price lingerie and hormone replacement therapy. Singing doctored versions of 1960s and '70s pop favorites like "Stayin' Alive" ("Stayin' Awake") and "Puff, the Magic Dragon" ("Puff, My God I'm Draggin'"), the ladies potter from floor to floor, sharing their worst menopausal hang-ups as they try on clothes, rifle through sales racks, and run in and out of the store's many strategically placed powder rooms. Although Menopause is entertaining and energetically performed, it's unabashedly tacky. An ode to the delights of masturbation, sung down a pink microphone to an adaptation of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," for instance, makes one think that all that's missing from this (very) belated bachelorette party is a male stripper. And as much as the show makes its largely 40-plus female audience feel more comfortable about getting older, it doesn't go far enough. The word "menopause" is euphemistically referred to as "the change," which just seems to reinforce taboos. And its obsession with shopping, sex, and cellulite makes Menopause feel a lot like a geriatric issue of Cosmo. Rather than empowering women, the musical ends up underscoring clichés. In an open-ended run at Theatre 39, Pier 39, Beach & Embarcadero, S.F. Tickets are $46.50; call 433-3939 or visit www.menopausethemusical.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 11.

"The Mystery Plays." Fantastic Four comic-book writer and Yale playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa steals from The Twilight Zone, H.P. Lovecraft, and Hitchcock in his bid to be the theatrical heir to M. Night Shyamalan. This slick production is actually two otherworldly plays about mystery, sin, dark secrets, and, as one character puts it, what happens to human beings when "God [is] looking the other way." In The Filmmakers Mystery a Hollywood director (T. Edward Webster) is haunted by a ghost after finding himself the sole survivor of a gruesome train crash -- think Shyamalan's Unbreakable, complete with twist ending. This is followed by Ghost Children, which explores the bloody ties and secrets between an attorney (Cristina Anselmo) and her brother (Chris Yule), who's serving life in jail for the murder of their parents. The superb cast (with standout Rod Gnapp as the Rod Serling-like narrator) and sci-fi production values create an engaging eeriness, but the potential for real creepiness is lost in Aguirre-Sacasa's script, which plays like a stylized, staged reading of a screenplay, relying too heavily on a protagonist's first-person narrative while all the juicy action happens offstage. Perhaps this is why the playwright is currently working on a big movie deal. Through Feb. 11 at the S.F. Playhouse, 536 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $36; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Jan. 18.

Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Ever since it premiered at New York's Cherry Lane Theatre in 1976, David Mamet's comedy about the experience of four young singles (two men and two women) in the dating pool, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, has enjoyed consistent popularity. As Peter Riegert's staging for ACT proves, the play still makes for an entertaining evening at the theater. Firstly, it's short, which for your average ACT subscriber is probably a good thing. Secondly, it's savagely funny: bursting with non sequiturs, outrageous hyperbole (mostly regarding the size of various parts of the human anatomy), and archetypal characters clumsily failing at life. ACT's spunky cast of four ejaculates Mamet's text, hitting his loaded platitudes and four-letter words with forceful comic timing. But watching the actors stomp around Kent Dorsey's Formica-furnished set in their bell-bottoms and platform heels, I couldn't help but notice that the retro feel applied to more than the costumes and the scenic design: If this 30th anniversary production celebrates anything, it's how divorced I feel from Mamet's view of dating and sexual relationships. It's not that Neanderthals like his Bernard Litko (Gareth Saxe) don't exist. It's just that there's something so predictable and one-dimensional about these characters. And smart-aleck twists on heterosexual truisms -- such as the jaded observation by Joan (Elizabeth Kapplow), "Men ... they're all after only one thing ... but it's never the same thing" -- don't pack the same punch as they might have three decades ago. Through Feb. 5 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 Jan. 25.

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' (or Andy DiMino's) 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 Tom Tiratto'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 Marines' Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $38-70; call 771-6900 or visit www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Aug. 24, 2005.

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