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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Top Dog/Underdog. Suzan-Lori Parks took the sibling rivalry of Sam Shepard's True Westand David Mamet's obsession with street-level hustle, added a dash of racial intrigue, and concocted a slightly derivative brew that was compelling enough to earn her the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play opens in a ramshackle studio apartment shared by the brothers Booth and Lincoln; the names were their father's idea of a joke, and such blatant foreshadowing is a good example of the type of obvious poetic device that Parks seems most comfortable dealing. The brothers rehearse Lincoln's inevitable execution and ruminate on the nature of relationships, the fallout of divorce, and the ethics of three-card monte. We've seen this brand of dysfunctional male ennui dealt with in a sure-handed, subtle manner before, so the scenario can feel like a stale retread. Despite the familiarity of the situation, though, the final act of Top Dog brings moments of real poetry, dazzling card-shark skills, and an almost tangible awareness that the stakes are high for the common man. The solid actors David Westley Skillman and Ian Walker capture both the desperate grace and the moments of fleeting transcendence given only to the unlucky. Through Nov. 18 at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Sixth Floor, S.F. Tickets are $13-25; call 820-1460 or visit (Frank Wortham) Reviewed Nov. 1.

Walls. Americans love to fight, whether it's against communists or terrorists in a country on the other side of the planet or about artistic integrity in our own backyard. Walls, written in 1989 by local playwright Jeannie Barroga, taps into the myriad emotions following the Vietnam War and leading up to the building and unveiling of its controversial memorial in Washington, D.C. In the Asian American Theater Company's uneven production, two conflicts play out on a set that replicates the polished black marble monument. One drama focuses on the grab bag of characters (soldiers, mothers, hippies, buddies who avoided the draft) who visit the wall to wrestle with their unresolved anger and anguish. These characterizations have been done before and better in many of the great Vietnam films. What feels fresh and relevant here is the second conflict, the story of Maya Lin — the 21-year-old Chinese-American monument design contestant who "wasn't even 10 when [soldiers] were over there getting blown to bits." The shit storm her winning idea stirred up between her artistic vision and the countless opposing opinions of what a fitting memorial should look like explains why there's still an empty hole in south Manhattan five years after 9/11. What's disturbingly familiar about Lin's struggle more than 20 years ago is witnessing how paralyzed a country can become in simply choosing an architectural design, let alone hashing out the reasons for a war. Through Nov. 19 at the Buriel Clay Theatre, 762 Fulton (between Webster & Buchanan), S.F. Tickets are $10-20; call (800) 838-3006 or visit (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Nov. 8.

365 Days/365 Plays
Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, 953 De Haro (at Southern Heights).
Amazing Swindlini Circus and Sideshow
Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. (at York), 647-2822.
Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
Beyond Therapy
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Big Pharma The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Charley's Aunt
Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Coffee, Cosmos, and Come-ons
The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), Trinity Episcopal Church, 333-6389.
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Death of a Salesman
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.
Declaration of Codependence
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), 512-7770.
Down Broadway
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).
Dream House
Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.
Edward Scissorhands
Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.
Fiddler On The Roof
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro (at Mercy), Mountain View, 650-903-6000.
Flora the Red Menace
Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469.
Funny But Mean Goes to the Future
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
Hedda Gabler
Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck (at Berryman), Berkeley, 510-704-8210.
Ice Glen
Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Fort Mason, Bldg. C, Marina & Buchanan.
The Little Foxes

American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
The Living Corpse
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Razowsky Project
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Rude Boy
Marsh Berkeley, 2118 Allston (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 826-5750.
Suburban Motel: A Festival of One-Act Plays
Zellerbach Playhouse, Bancroft & Telegraph (UC Berkeley campus), 510-642-9988.
super: anti: reluctant
Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Taylor & Mason), 673-3847.
This May Feel a Little Funny
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Tings Dey Happen
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Twelve Days of Cochina
Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.

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