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Our critics weigh in on local theater

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As You Like It. Telling the story of the young noblewoman Rosalind's journey from the confines of her usurping uncle's tyrannical kingdom to love and freedom in the countryside, the fantastical plot of William Shakespeare's comedy is built around two diametrically opposed worlds: the urban (oppressive, shallow, artificial) and the rural (open, meaningful, natural). Setting courtiers in monochrome designer outfits against thrift store-costumed yokels and the dull thud of a house music bass line at a high-society cocktail party against composer Gina Leishman's euphoric, gypsy-inspired country music, director Jonathan Moscone's wildly entertaining production makes the most of the contrasts. While many other productions have done the same, Moscone distinguishes himself by refusing to turn his back on the court. Toffs "slum it" in the woods in tuxedos and high heels. The aggressive, almost lunatic edge to Susannah Schulman's jaunty Rosalind makes her seem like a spoiled little rich girl as she attempts to apply the customs of courtly romance to country lust against a fittingly full moon. The two worlds coexist in Moscone's fun-filled yet thoughtful Arden, providing tension and relief in equal amounts. Through Oct. 15 at the Bruns Amphitheater, 100 Gateway (at Hwy. 24), Orinda. Tickets are $15-57; call (510) 548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Sept. 27.

Love, Janis. What starts as a black-and-white photo montage of a young Midwestern girl in frilly baby-doll dresses soon explodes into a rainbow of psychedelic color and debaucherously good rock 'n' roll. Following the young and naive Joplin as she thumbs a ride from Port Arthur, Tex., to late-'60s San Francisco, Love, Janis documents four packed years through her tenure fronting Big Brother and the Holding Company and on into her solo career — and then comes to a screeching halt with her untimely heroin overdose in 1970. The narrative is pieced together from letters Joplin wrote home and bits of interviews, but though every word spoken on stage comes from Haight Ashbury's first pinup herself, these interludes are the weak link in an otherwise powerhouse show. Two actors play Joplin nightly, and the electric and deliriously pained voice of the singing stage persona (Mary Bridget Davies) contrasts shockingly with the giddy and practically ditzy Southern girl personality (Elizabeth Rainer), who sends mundane letters describing car trouble, TV-watching, and fluffy puppies. Thankfully, Love, Janis is primarily a pulse-pounding rock concert, with surging electric guitars, tie-dyed light show, and wafting incense — and Davies howling pure, unadulterated dirty blues that make the slickly recorded and sequenced music of today seem sadly soulless. Through Oct. 22 at Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (between Mason and Powell), S.F. Tickets are $35-67; call 771-6900 or visit www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Sept. 20.

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.

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 Tempest. Traditionally considered to be Shakespeare's last play and his parting statement to the theater, this mystical-minded romance is concerned with the intricacies of what it means to be a family. Director John LeFan and his motley cast of actors and dancers have the feel of a loose-knit clan. They turn the Mariposa Studio into an inviting home that captures the elements and accentuates the themes of this beautiful fantasia. The moment you enter the studio, you're enveloped in the sensual world of a sea-faring vessel caught in a storm. The ensemble uses voice and dancelike movement to illustrate the scene, and it works brilliantly. It's fun to watch a group of theater artists committed to listening to each other and finding sympathetic movement that supports a great playwright's ideas. The multitalented Theron Shaw is a stroke of casting genius as Ariel, bringing to the role an appealing otherworldly quality. Leon Setti as Gonzalo, an honest old counselor, has a grounded presence and a gift for speaking the verse in an accessible, conversational tone. Some of the other actors aren't quite so successful; unfortunately, Bob Taxin simply isn't up for the challenge of playing Prospero, one of Shakespeare's most majestic roles, and it leaves a hole in the evening's entertainment. At two hours and 20 minutes with no intermission, the play feels long, but when the actors' moves, the director's vision, and the writer's poetry align, this production gives us moments of real magic. Through Oct. 7 at the Mariposa Studio, 2808 Mariposa (at Florida), S.F. Tickets are $15-30; call 861-4330 or visit www.johnlefan.org. (Frank Wortham) Reviewed Sept. 20.

Also Playing

Absolutely San Francisco
Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.
Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp
Fort Mason, Bldg. C, Marina & Buchanan.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College (at Derby), Berkeley, 510-845-8542.
Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
Beyond Therapy
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Big Love
Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.
Colorado
La Val's Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid (at Hearst), Berkeley, 510-234-6046.
Cowboy Mouth
Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 673-3847.
Die Fledermaus
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
Down Broadway
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).
Equus
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Faulty Intelligence
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
First Friday Cabaret
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Fred Anderson
Pier 39, Beach & Embarcadero, 705-5500.
GayProv
Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Hipolito: Ready, Aim, Fire!
Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission (at 25th St.), 821-1155.
"How We First Met"
The Purple Onion, 140 Columbus (at Pacific), 217-8400.
Improv Revolution
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.

12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission (at 22nd St.), 970-9777.
In Bed With Fairy Butch for Women, Transfolks, & Their Pals Islanders
Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-3311.
Les Enfants Terrible
Oakland Metro, 201 Broadway (at Second St.), Oakland, 510-763-1146.
The Living Corpse
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Love, Chaos & Dinner
Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.
Lulu
Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St. (at Capp), 863-7576.
Monday Night Make Em Ups
San Francisco Comedy College, 414 Mason, #705 (at Geary), 921-2051.
Monday Night Marsh
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Murder Mystery Dinner
The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.
Noh Pressure Cooker
Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978.
Not a Genuine Black Man
he Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Pinteresque: The Lover
TEureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469.
Rhinestone Cowgirl
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Ride Down Mount Morgan
SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Rigoletto Supertrain
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
Taming of the Shrew
Buriel Clay Theater, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 922-2049.
Tarantella, Tarantula
ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), 863-9834.
Ten Tenors
Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.
Tings Dey Happen
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Travesties
Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
Tristan und Isolde
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.

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