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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Three Seconds in the Key.Deb Margolin's baseball-themed play is as much about sport as it is about life. Based on the author's own struggle against cancer, the drama explores how a middle-aged single mother overcomes Hodgkin's disease with a little help from the New York Knicks. Over the course of one long two-hour act, realities nudge each other as the woman shuffles in her pajamas between her exhausted existence with her 8-year-old son and a hallucinogenic, TV-inspired fantasy world of conversations and card games with the Knicks' troubled star player. The text offers fleeting moments of beauty, and is also, at times, disarmingly funny. But a dope-induced haze soon settles over the play like snow over a hockey rink. Conversations between the woman and the Knicks player about the differences between blacks and Jews seem like little more than excuses to create dramatic tension, and intermittent prayer meeting scenes feel particularly random. But thanks to director Leigh Fondakowski (The Laramie Project, The People's Temple) and the slam-dunk cast, the production allows us to forget — almost — Margolin's rambling text. From Bill English's black-box-defying set (which includes part of a basketball court) to the cast's choreographic precision (which allows five hulking blokes bouncing a ball around in Knicks gear to look as if they're dancing Swan Lake), the production delivers a powerful message for sports and life: It's possible to overcome bad odds with teamwork. Through Feb. 17 at S.F. Playhouse, 533 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $36; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 24.

Tings Dey Happen.Based on his experiences as a Fulbright scholar studying oil politics in Nigeria (American's fifth biggest oil supplier), solo performer Dan Hoyle drills deep beneath the surface of media hype and NGO cant to help us understand the forces at work behind the oil-rich country's escalating cycle of corruption and violence. On his journey backward and forward between Nigeria's oil capital, Port Harcourt, and the lawless hinterlands of the Niger Delta, Hoyle — with acute attention to physical detail (and an ear for pidgin) — embodies a soft-spoken, 23-year-old rebel sniper whose chief desire is to obtain a university degree; a warlord armed with four cellphones and a family photo album, like Marlon Brando in The Godfather; and a nerdy Japanese member of the Young Diplomats Club in Lagos working on a thesis about the Tanzanian cashew nut, among many others. Like Anna Deavere Smith, one of the most famous practitioners of this style of show, Hoyle takes a journalistic approach. But unlike Smith, whose slavish impersonation of the speech nuances of her interviewees seems more stenography than artistry, Hoyle filters his Nigerian experience through his vivid imagination, creating full-blooded characters that are as theatrical as they are real. Through March 31 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (between 21st and 22nd Sts.), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 10.

American $uicide
The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081.
Bakla Show
Bindlestiff Studio, 185 Sixth St. (at Howard), 974-1167.
BATS: Sunday Players
Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.
Bay One-Acts Festival
Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469.
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.
Dead Certain
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Dying Gaul
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Family Jewels
Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.
Farm Boys
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
GayProv Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Hedda Gabler
American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
How We First Met
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).
Jersey Boys
Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (between Taylor and Mason), 551-2000.
Legally Blonde
Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), 512-7770.
Love, Chaos & Dinner
Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.
The Love Edition
Bindlestiff Studio, 185 Sixth St. (at Howard), 974-1167.
Martha
Florence Gould Theater, 34th Ave. & Clement (at Palace of the Legion of Honor), 863-3330.
Monday Night Improv Jam
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 368-9909.
Monday Night Make Em Ups
San Francisco Comedy College, 414 Mason, #705 (at Geary), 921-2051.
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.
Murder at the Next Stage
The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), Trinity Episcopal Church, 333-6389.
Odd by Nature II: The Stranger Journey Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
Pinocchio New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Pleasure and Pain Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.
Rock & Roll Theatresports Tournament
Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina & Buchanan), 474-8935.
Rust Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.
Serve by Expiration
Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Taylor & Mason), 673-3847.
Shopping! The Musical Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Young Caesar
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard (at Third St.), 978-2787.

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