Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

Hunter Gatherers. When Richard and Pam, a middle-class, urban married couple in their mid-30s, prepare for a dinner party with their friends Tom and Wendy by slaughtering livestock on the living room carpet, human civilization looks dangerously like it's about to have the rug pulled from under its feet. What begins as an elegant soiree — featuring a menu of stuffed mushrooms, fine wines, and the freshest lamb ever tasted within the corrugated steel walls of a split-level San Francisco loft apartment — gradually erodes into a primeval bone-dance of homoerotic wrestling, violent passions, and animal sacrifice. The rules that govern modern-day living soon cease to apply, as playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's Gen-Xers are forced to turn to their most basic instincts in order to survive. Much of the animal force and flinty wit of Killing My Lobster's world-premiere production stems from watching actors Melanie Case, John Kovacevich, Alexis Lezin, and Jon Wolanske, as Nachtrieb's hapless city-dwellers, negotiate the tension between the yo-yoing civilized and primitive impulses of their characters. As sophisticated in its worldview as it is barbaric in its energy, Nachtrieb's riotous comedy shows that the distance between 21st-century city slickers and Paleolithic cave-dwellers might not be so great after all. Through Sept. 3 at Thick House, 1695 18th St. (between Arkansas and De Haro), S.F. Tickets are $20-25; call 558-7721 or visit www.killingmylobster.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed July 5.

The Mary Magdalene Story. Apparently Mother Teresa plays 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 singalong 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.

Release the Kraken. If your idea of good Greek theater involves a tremendous bong rip, cracking a cold beer, and having a chance to win an intermission tequila shot with the actor of your choice, then Release the Kraken will knock your toga off. It's a very, very loose translation of the myth of Perseus (the son of Zeus who killed Medusa) in which gods in hilarious fake beards and goddesses playing with He-Man action figures debate the fate of mankind high atop Mt. Olympus. Down below, Percy (Dan Kurtz) must go on a hero's journey to the Underworld Mall to save his little copy store from the menace of the large and corporate Kraken Copy, managed by the riotously evil hunchback Calibos (a show-stealing Tavis Kammet). Releaseis theater's answer to Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, and if you didn't grow up in the '80s or aren't suitably intoxicated, most of the kitschy references (Wang Chung, Tron, Smurfs vs. Snorks) will fall amateurishly flat. Fortunately, Thunderbird Theatre Company sells engraved, liquor-filled shot glasses at intermission to combat this concern. The Scientology sequence, using only lines from Tom Cruise movies, and the final Star Wars-themed battle (complete with Princess Leia slave-girl outfit) are sure to amuse the geeky stoner in all of us — but might just annoy the stone-cold sober. Through Aug. 26 at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (between Eighth and Ninth sts.), S.F. Tickets are $17-20; call 289-6766 or visit www.thunderbirdtheatre.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Aug. 16.

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