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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Godfellas. The Rev. De Love, the sinful soul preacher in San Francisco Mime Troupe's new religious doctrine-themed show, is heaven-bent on spreading the word of God to every corner of the land. Behind the scenes at a "Rock the Lord Crusade" concert "to reclaim California for God and honor 9/11," Love (Michael Gene Sullivan) and his dastardly gang of spiritual desperados concoct a plan to rid the country once and for all of the tiresome separation of church and state. The religious right might be an easy target for the Mime Troupe, but far from blandly reflecting the atheistic, left-wing mindset of its core audience, the team behind Godfellas manages, for a change, to make us think. The wisecracking text and pithy musical numbers (co-written by Sullivan with Jon Brooks, Eugenie Chan, and Christian Cagigal, who also acts) crackle with irreverence in the hands of the multifaceted ensemble cast. Meanwhile, moments of cartoonlike surrealism, such as the sudden appearance through a trapdoor of 18th-century intellectual Thomas Paine and his contemporary, Thomas Jefferson, adds a wacky dimension to the religious nuts' maniacal proselytizing. Showing spiritually skeptical liberals to be as misguided as religious zealots, the troupe delivers its message about dogma without being dogmatic. Through Oct. 1 at various locations throughout Northern California. Tickets are free; call 285-1717 or visit www.sfmt.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed July 19.

Kiss of the Spider Woman. Manuel Puig's sensual tale of love and political upheaval follows Molina, a homosexual window dresser, stuck in a Latin American jail with Valentin, a stoic, committed activist. Molina transcends his bleak surroundings by recalling his favorite romantic movies in great detail, while Valentin clings to his waning convictions and chides his flamboyant cellmate by stating, "Escaping from reality like you do is like a vice." It's a treat to watch this odd couple's philosophical and political discussions slowly unravel into something resembling intimacy. The actors handle Allan Baker's excellent translation's rich poetic dialogue with subtle skill, and the director sustains a compelling, palpable tension throughout the production. Bruce Walters and Ted Crimy's design work transforms the NCTC's small space into a convincingly gritty prison and a platform for Molina's flights of fancy. The real threat in Kiss of the Spider Woman doesn't come from the politicians, the military, or the police, but from the terrifying, naked need of loneliness and the alternate dilemma of revealing one's faults and failings to a lover. Puig said in a 1979 interview, "Our only compromise is with the individual, personal truth." This is a sure-handed production of a play that refuses to compromise. Through Sept. 24 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Oak), S.F. Tickets are $22-34; call 861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. (Frank Wortham) Reviewed Sept. 6.

Menopause the Musical. Set in Bloomingdale's department store, this 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. 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.

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.

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