Our critics weigh in on local theater

Morbidity & Mortality. When Carolyn and Michael Goldenhersch, a middle-class Manhattanite couple in their early 30s, lose their baby daughter owing to medical complications, Carolyn promptly has an affair with Dr. Anil Patel, a young and inexperienced doctor attractive to the bereaved woman both for what she perceives to be his exotic looks and background and for his inadvertent role in the death of her newborn. Magic Theatre's world premiere production of Courtney Baron's intellectually captivating if dramaturgically flawed play owes much to the matter-of-fact, transparent performances from all three actors: Sasha Eden (Carolyn), Hari Dhillon (Anil), and Jonathan Leveck (Michael), as well as director Loretta Greco's sensitive blocking. Passages of dull exposition — in which characters perform largely to the audience rather than interact with each other — undermine the strength of Baron's exploration of the strange workings of the human psyche in times of trauma. Nevertheless, the play poses some weighty and worthy questions about our therapy-obsessed society. Through April 9 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Tickets are $20-72; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed March 22.

Nero (Another Golden Rome). Early in the second act, when it's clear everything in Rome is going to hell, actor Andrew Hurteau (as Nero's charismatic narrator, Boccaccio) states that "even the gravest devastation ... can be turned by the leader of the nation under siege to his own advantage ... into moments of theater he can star in." This world premiere, written by Steven Sater and developed at the Magic Theatre, presents a modernist take on the delicious and decadent source material of Nero, the Roman party-boy emperor who had an Oedipal relationship with his mom, slept with "humpbacked midgets," and famously played the fiddle as his empire burned — an intentional and frightening allegory about our current administration. This ambitious production — helmed by Beth F. Milles, scored with songs by Grammy-nominated Duncan Sheik, and staged on an impressive deconstructionist set by Melpomene Katakalos — briefly stumbles out of the gate in a first act clogged with too much stilted narration and strangely stylized acting, then settles into a solid and powerful night of theater as we witness the inner workings and betrayals of an empire in steep decline. Sater's script depicts Nero (Drew Hirshfield), who first appears in drag (well, he isthe nephew of the decadent Caligula), as the political puppet of his mother (Catherine Smitko) and his adviser Seneca (David Cramer); the play is a startling reminder of the devastation that can result if a government and its leader are allowed to go unchecked and be unaccountable. Through April 8 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Tickets are $20-40; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed March 15.

Not a Genuine Black Man.It's not easy being green, but try being a black kid in San Leandro in the early '70s. When Brian Copeland got there — just a few months after the Summer of Love, he points out — it was one of the most viciously racist suburbs in America. Now it's officially the most diverse. "Take that, San Francisco," Copeland chides. He's earned that attitude, not just for going through his hell of growing up, but also for extracting from it such affirmative, hilarious stuff. Copeland's rightfully popular one-man show is wrought from pain and rage but never really succumbs to bitterness. "Is that black?" he asks, and proves that it is. Some of his best stereotype-busting material doesn't feel especially new, but it does feel good. Besides, it's the stereotypes that have passed their expiration dates: Copeland's title comes from an accusation flung at him by a cranky listener who called in to his KGO radio program. This show is his response. With help from declarative lighting and David Ford's direction, Copeland creates an affecting hybrid of the dramatic monologue and the rollicking stand-up act. Through April 29 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed June 2, 2004.

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 arenÕt 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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