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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Traces. This isn't the adrenaline-fueled, spandex-wearing, thrilling but ultimately faceless performance that Cirque du Soleil has been cranking out for more than 20 years. Traces has only five cast members, who share their real personalities through intimate confessions spoken into a microphone that swings around the stage. Four boys, old friends, trained for a decade at the Circus Center San Francisco, played hoops, and skateboarded together. Two years later they met Heloise, a sexy young circus girl from Paris, and now, after touring the four corners of the Earth, they've returned with a show that calmly redefines modern circus. On an impressive set that's part Brooklyn artist's loft, part junkyard clubhouse, these remarkably skilled performers keep things simple, acrobatic, and breathtaking. A hip indie-rock soundtrack — some of it played by the cast on a plywood piano — underscores such impressive (if traditional) acts as Chinese poles, aerial straps, and hoop-diving. Here they feel organic and new, but what defines the show are the more subdued moments: a standard basketball used as a dance partner, street skateboarding stunts gently choreographed to jazz violin, and a poetic wrestle with a lounge chair. While at times the pace idles, the sense of casualness, calm, and intimacy makes this achingly gorgeous performance rise to the top of the more than 100 circuses I've witnessed around the world. Through Jan. 1, 2007, at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater, 3301 Lyon (at Bay), S.F. Tickets are $20-45; call 392-4400 or visit (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Dec. 20.

43 Plays for 43 Presidents
La Val's Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid (at Hearst), Berkeley, 510-234-6046.
Beyond Therapy
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
The Circle American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
Death of a Salesman
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.
Emperor Norton, The Musical
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
In Bed With Fairy Butch for Women, Transfolks, & Their Pals
12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission (at 22nd St.), 970-9777.
Jersey Boys
Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (between Taylor and Mason), 551-2000.
Killing My Lobster Faces the Music
ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), 863-9834.
Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St. (at Capp), 863-7576.
Murder Mystery Dinner
The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.
Rock & Roll Theatresports Tournament
Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina & Buchanan), 474-8935.
Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.
Strangers We Know
Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.
Tings Dey Happen
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

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