Our critics weigh in on local theater

Shopping! The Musical. Some theater types want to be Hamlet; others want to be Liza Minnelli. The smiling, hardworking performers in this new musical revue definitely fall into the latter category. Lyricist-composer Morris Bobrow uses his infectious, irreverent humor to great effect as he pays homage to the highs and lows of our compellingly crass commercial culture. He uses the small, cramped theater in a straightforward manner — four center-stage stools and an amusing backdrop provide the set. The accomplished accompanist Ben Keim keeps things lively on one side of the stage behind an upright piano. The actors lead us through songs that bring to mind Jerry Seinfeld's sharp observations on mundane modern life: "Shopping in Style" extols the virtues of Costco, and "Serious Shopping" imagines a man trying to buy lettuce from a riotously over-the-top grocery cult. The musical runs just over an hour, yet it still has a few rough spots. The mid-show sketch "Checking Out" gives us a limp comedic premise that we've seen before on sub-par sitcoms, and the piece "5 & 10" is a mix of awkward nostalgia and pitch problems. Nevertheless, this is a clever collection of tunes performed with an unabashedly cheesy enthusiasm that would make Liza proud. In an open-ended run at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $25-29; call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.shoppingthemusical.com. (Frank Wortham) Reviewed June 14.

The Trip to Bountiful. It's been 30 years since veteran Method actorÐturnedÐacclaimed acting coach Jean Shelton has performed on stage. So Horton Foote's 1953 drama, telling the story of an elderly woman's homecoming, in many ways heralds a homecoming for the actor. Shelton demonstrates a prodigious range as Carrie Watts, a determined old lady who flees the confines of a rundown Houston apartment for Bountiful, the tiny rural town in which she grew up. Perched on a dilapidated couch in her nightgown in the opening scene, she makes for a seemingly tranquil insomniac. But there's pain behind the character's banter with her overprotective son, Ludie (Christian Phillips), about not being able to sleep because of the full moon. Shelton's performance is also very physical: Whether collapsing on the floor or skipping girlishly offstage, Shelton reveals a vivacity that belies her age, 78. Despite the actor's connection with her role, and sensitive performances from the supporting cast, Foote's text feels as musty as a geriatric's undergarments. Although the themes of loss and familial tension are as prescient as ever, the writing features little resonant language and few memorable characters to transcend its era — which has the unfortunate effect of turning Shelton's comeback into a throwback. Through Sept. 9 at Actors Theatre, 855 Bush (between Mason and Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $20-30; call 345-1288 or visit www.actorstheatresf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Aug. 9.

The Typographer's Dream. At the beginning of Encore Theatre Company's production of Adam Bock's play, we are introduced to three characters: a typographer, a geographer, and a stenographer, who proceed, with varying degrees of stiffness and eloquence, to enthuse about their jobs. Reportedly inspired in part by the 2 1/2 years Bock spent working at a graphic and Web design firm, this beautiful and strange comedy riffs on the relationship between people and their careers. Director Anne Kauffman and actors Aimée Guillot, Jamie Jones, and Michael Shipley gleefully demonstrate how the three characters match their chosen jobs, occasionally making them resemble — through the unselfconscious eagerness with which they talk about their work — the wacky types that people the films of Christopher Guest. A whole branch of ham-psychology exists around the business of matching "personality types" with appropriate careers. But Bock does more than demonstrate the influence of personality upon career choice; he also shows the reverse: how our career choices influence us. Through Sept. 16 at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK), Berkeley. Tickets are $20-30; call (510) 841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Feb. 16, 2005.

An Elegant Affair: San Francisco Opera Guild Opera Ball War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.

Bad Gays Jon Sims Center for the Arts, 1519 Mission (at 11th St.), 554-0402.

Beach Blanket Babylon Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Beyond Therapy Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.

Death in Venice Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.

Die Fledermaus War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.

From Ballads to Blues: The Songs of Harold Arlen New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

Joan Rivers Live and Uncensored Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness (at Grove), 392-4400.

Love, Janis Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (at Mason), 771-6900.

Mother Courage and Her Children Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.

Murder Mystery Dinner The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.

Opera in the Park Sharon Meadow, Kezar & John F. Kennedy (Golden Gate Park).

Ragnarok: The Doom of the Gods John Hinkel Park, Southampton (between San Diego and Somerset), Berkeley, 510-655-0813.

Salome Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

San Francisco Fringe Festival Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

Suitcase Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-3311.

TROG! Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.

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