Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Legendary and Fabulous Passion Play. In El Gato Del Diablo Theatre Company's playful reimagining of the Passion play (a dramatic representation of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus popular in medieval times), the disciples are a bunch of born-again queers, and the Son of God a transsexual. When four twentysomethings find themselves shunned by their friends and families for falling in love with the wrong people, they turn to Jesús Esperanza, a streetwise drag queen with a maternal streak and a serious migraine problem, for guidance. Featuring a disco-dancing competition (slickly choreographed by Wendy Marinaccio), a double gay wedding, and choruses from members of a sinister religious cult, Shawn Ferreyra's fluorescent comedy is as Messianic as a Mexican soap opera. Nevertheless, the show's message about marital equality is delivered with such sass by the cast of five that the violently tacky Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence-meets-John Travolta aesthetic works. Norman Muñoz makes for one of the most deliciously sensual transsexuals to have sashayed across San Francisco stages in recent years. And even though the dialogue is as thin as a communion wafer, you've got to give credit to actors who pull off lines like this conversation between two characters: "I believe in the boogie." "But does the boogie believe in you?" Through Aug. 19 at the Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (between Mason and Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $20; call 664-5276 or visit www.elgatotheatre.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Aug. 2.

The Mary Magdalene Story. Apparently Mother Teresa played the albums of local composer, performer, and playwright Katie Ketchum in her healing centers throughout India. Ketchum's last solo show, about American painter Mary Cassatt, received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. These facts certainly give her lots of holy — and theatrical — cred. So it would appear to make divine sense that Ketchum would have spent the last 23 years translating The Gospel of Mary of Magdala into this solo play, even if the result is wacky and poorly executed. Centered on a '50s rockabilly singer named Marlene who's rehearsing her band to spread the message of love while receiving sacred nightly visitations, Ketchum's performance feels as if she were a rebellious nun throwing a Sunday school sing-a-long in the church basement. She has a beautiful voice, and there are some charming moments (such as when Ketchum reads from a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Mary Magdalene), but a good directorial eye is lacking.This production is perhaps ideally suited to a cabaret setting rather than Shotwell Studio's dance space, so that audiences could better heed Ketchum's lyrical advice: "Bring the water; we'll turn it into wine. ... Let's party!" Ultimately, there are too many awkward transitions and bizarre moments — like her out-of-nowhere goth-styled dance number, set to prerecorded rap lyrics railing against women being treated as "doormats" for 2,000 years because Magdalene was incorrectly labeled a prostitute. As Ketchum sings (and we scratch our heads): "Please find it in your heart to hug a ho today." Through Aug. 23 at Shotwell Studios, 3252 19th St. (at Shotwell), S.F. Tickets are $10-20; call 289-2000 or visit www.ftloose.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Aug. 9.

Miss-Matches.com: Sex, Lies and Instant Messaging! "I'm barfing out the story — unabridged!" That's how actor and writer Leslie Beam explains it in her one-woman show Miss-Matches.com. This self-declared "queen of cyberland" takes us on a 66-minute journey through a small sampling of more than 300 badly matched Internet dates after the breakup of her 13-year marriage (he was obsessed with football and bong rips; she was consumed with computer-sex chat rooms). Beam gets props for hanging out her dirty laundry: Onstage she brandishes her favorite sex toys (including a 3-foot-long Black & Decker vibrator), shows us dungeon floggings, makes fun of gimp-armed lovers, complains about fat people, and confesses to multiple dates with a convict tattooed with the words "white pride." Any sympathy she generates sours when she lightheartedly reveals her prejudice, recounting her ghastly treatment of an innocent date solely because he was black. She doesn't delve into her discrimination or give it any particular reason or depth; she simply tries for a laugh. Later she turns down another black cybersuitor, responding that she hasn't yet "exhausted the entire pool of eligible white men." In trying to illuminate the human and humorous side of Internet dating, Beam delivers a one-dimensional portrayal of herself and caricatures of her dates, seeming intent on proving that the Web is filled with a disproportionate number of weirdos and psychos. Through Sept. 30 at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $15-20; call 820-1454 or visit www.miss-matches.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed March 1.

ORBIT (Notes From the Edge of Forever). Combining live and recorded music, choreography, spoken text, video projections, televised images, and an interactive set, Erika Shuch Performance Project's latest, and very beautiful, movement theater piece is all about humanity's frenzied and largely frustrated attempts to forge connections with worlds beyond our own. References to scientific principles — from the mnemonic used by astronomers to remember the arrangement of stars according to particular spectral characteristics to the RGB color model — are batted about on stage like the pixilated ball in a game of Pong. But like this early computer game, most of the show's scientific content is goofily low-tech. As references to Ridley Scott's 1979 movie, Alien, and Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) suggest, the world of science-fiction fantasy is a more powerful means for forging links with the cosmos than empirical science. Just as two lovers, portrayed by Danny Wolohan and Erika Chong Shuch (who also choreographs and directs), orbit around each other, rarely able to bond, the production reveals humanity's frenzied and largely frustrated attempts to forge connections with those we love most. Through Aug. 19 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (between 15th and 16th sts.), S.F. Tickets are $9-20; call 626-3311 or visit www.theintersection.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed July 26.

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