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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Reckless. It's Christmas Eve, and Rachel, a loving mother and wife, has just discovered that her husband has taken a contract out on her life. This realization causes her to step out the window — literally — and into a new life, where the only permanence is impermanence and "home" is wherever she can find it. Reckless examines the nature of identity: What happens to someone whose life is defined by family when she loses that family? Playwright Craig Lucas examines how we construct our sense of self in a series of rapid-fire, increasingly surreal scenes with the soft, psychoanalytic feel of Marc Chagall paintings. Bill English's pastel set and Jon Retsky's dreamlike lighting help illuminate Lucas' themes and tell the story of Rachel's yearlong journey. The cast is strong and clearly believes in the script. Mark LaRiviere, playing both Rachel's husband and her son, brings a convincing, angsty charisma to the stage. Rod Gnapp reveals impressive technical excellence and adds subtle emotional layering to Lloyd, a stranger who becomes an adopted father figure. Susi Damilano, as Rachel, is both attractive and compelling, finding truth in all the shades of her character and reminding us that wisdom often lies just on the other side of hardship. Reckless is a holiday treat. Through Dec. 30 at S.F. Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $18-60; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (Frank Wortham) Reviewed Nov. 22.

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.

BATS: Sunday Players
Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.
Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
Beyond Therapy
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Big City Improv
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Black Nativity
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.
A Christmas Carol
American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
Cinderella
Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.
Convenience
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.
Festival of Lights
Cowell Theater, Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason (Marina & Buchanan), 345-7575.
GayProv
Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
It Could Have Been A Wonderful Life
Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.
Jersey Boys
Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (between Taylor and Mason), 551-2000.
Luminescence Dating
Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.
Magic Holiday
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Manon Lescaut
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.
Monday Night Improv Jam
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 368-9909.
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.
Queer Carol
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
The Santaland Diaries
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Strip World
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
Tartuffe
Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller (at Evergreen), Mill Valley, 388-5208.
Trimming the Holidays: The Second Annual Shorts Project
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Twelve Days of Cochina
Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.
Two Gentlemen of Sonoma
Eureka Valley Recreation Center, 100 Collingwood (at 18th St.), 831-6810.
Velveteen Rabbit
ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), 863-9834.
A Very Brechty X-Mas
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
"Viva Variety"
Buriel Clay Theater, 762 Fulton (at Webster), for more information call 863-0741.
White Ash on Water
Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978.

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