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Our critics weigh in on local theater

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.

Big Love. If Aeschylus and Karen O. had a baby, it might look something like FoolsFury's latest production. Charles Mee's fascinating text collage steals liberally from the old Greek's play The Suppliant Women, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (from Japan in the year 990), Andy Warhol shooter Valerie Solanas' writings, and a book on the psychic makeup of Nazi soldiers — forming a compelling exploration of love, power, dominance, and submission. The talented director Laley Lippard and the energetic cast bring a similar cut-and-paste aesthetic to the staging; classical and modern dance gestures mix with new-wave choreography from the '80s and punk rock abandon from the '70s. The actors demonstrate an intense commitment to illuminating the text: They literally throw themselves into something like a trance in an effort to fill Mee's sensual poetry. Big Love sacrifices character and narrative cohesion for language and movement-based images, and as a result there are awkward moments when a performer's excessive earnestness and avant-garde flailing betray this young group's lofty ambitions. That said, I can't think of another local company that's aiming so high. Through Oct. 21 at Traveling Jewish Theater, 470 Florida (at 18th St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-30; call 626-0453, ext. 108, or visit www.foolsfury.org. (Frank Wortham) Reviewed Oct. 4.

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, Janisdocuments 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 Nov. 12 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.

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