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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Big Pharma. Jennifer Berry takes exception to the fun and smiley television advertisements for antidepressants that feature women riding horses, running through grassy fields, and laughing while holding their adoring children. The first character Berry inhabits in her new solo show bashing these shameless ads is an unapologetic psycho-pharmaceutical ad executive blithely explaining the unsavory facts. With an annual budget of $120 million, she explains, drug companies are skipping the doctors and appealing directly to their target markets: children, minorities, and new mothers — with their biggest customers being women in their 30s. As a member of that last category, Berry depicts firsthand the fallout within her generation. While photographs of friends appear behind her, Berry deftly inhabits and portrays the distant, forgetful, and passionless people her loved ones have become after taking prescriptions of Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft. The message is frightening and sad, but one-sided. Because Berry chooses to tell only the terrible downside to these drugs, avoiding any success stories, her otherwise competent performance is shrouded in a depressive gloom, making the evening seem more like a personal vendetta than a compellingly thought-out argument. Through Dec. 10 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (between 21st and 22nd sts.), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Nov. 22.

Edward Scissorhands. From his controversial Swan Lake (featuring male dancers as swans) to his adaptation of Bizet's Carmen (entitled Car Man), British choreographer Matthew Bourne has earned an international reputation as a creator of loving lampoons of other artists' work. But in his Broadway-bound dance theater adaptation of Tim Burton's 1990 movie Edward Scissorhands, the choreographer's goofy, imitative style chafes against Burton's sinister fairytale concerning an insular, middle-American community's complex relationship with the "physically handicapped" Edward (an artificial human being with scissors where his fingers should be). The production is visually playful, musically evocative, and expressively performed by the members of the original London cast. But in recounting the story of Edward's adoption by the kindly Boggs family and his subsequent fortunes in the town of Hope Springs, the comedy mostly lurches between inane pastiche (such as the derivative use of rock 'n' roll steps to evoke the 1950s spirit) and (in the case of a scene that, out of context, would serve as a lively spoof of Michael Jackson's Thriller video) unintentional parody. Through Dec. 10 at Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), S.F. Tickets are $35-90; call 512-7770 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 29.

Hamlet: Blood in the Brain.Community-minded theater companies have long tried to reimagine Shakespeare's work in ever more meaningful ways. This collaboration between California Shakespeare Theater and Campo Santo follows that tradition. Developed through more than three years of community outreach efforts with East Bay residents, playwright Naomi Iizuka's Hamlet adaptation connects the windswept battlements of Medieval Elsinore with Oakland circa 1989. Set in a ghettoized "Oaktown" of drug kingpins, gang rivalries, and drive-by shootings, Braindeals with an eternal theme: the way in which violence permeates a community, spinning out of control and wreaking havoc on relationships, to the ultimate destruction of entire legacies. The production features powerful performances. As "H," a young man forced (like his Shakespearean counterpart) to confront the death of his father and the "o'er hasty" marriage of his mother ("G") to his usurping uncle ("C"), Sean San Jose throws himself against the bars of his existence like a caged lunatic. Contrastingly, as H's girlfriend "O," Ryan Peters is all warm, self-assured confidence. Yet Iizuka's adaptation doesn't go as far as it should. There's just enough of the original in her text to make Shakespeare's play stick out like bones from a shallow grave. If you're familiar with the source material, you're likely to be distracted by a largely futile game of comparison. And if you're not, the dully familiar cliché of "niggas" posturing in orange velour leisure suits and white Adidas sneakers, sporting 9 mm Glocks, probably won't impress. Through Dec. 10 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (between 15th and 16th sts.), S.F. Tickets are $9-20; call 626-3311 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 15.

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 (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 11.

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