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Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Pillowman.Unraveling in some unspecified, vaguely mittel-European "totalitarian state," Anglo-Irish dramatist Martin McDonagh's 2003 play follows what happens when a couple of police officers interrogate a writer named Katurian Katurian about the relationship between his ghoulish fairy tales (in which, almost invariably, "some poor little kid gets fucked up") and the gruesome murders of three local children. As told through director Les Waters' pulse-pumping production for Berkeley Rep, McDonagh's vicious little yarn plays itself out like a bedtime story of the most frightening and funny kind. The faded splendor of Antje Ellermann's police interrogation room set, Russell H. Champa's sickly, lurching lights and Obadiah Eaves' eerie soundscape, help to make this Pillowman pungent. As Katurian and his older brother, Michal, respectively, Erik Lochtefeld and Matthew Maher achieve a pristine balance between savagery and tenderness. Meanwhile, Tony Amendola and Andy Murray's turns as cops Tupolski and Ariel combine a brutality akin to the Officer's in Kafka's horrifying torture story "In the Penal Colony" with a touch of the frazzled, sitcom dad. The upshot of the experience of seeing the production is a profound sense of awe at the potential of theater as a storytelling medium. Through March 11 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St (at Shattuck,) Berkeley. Tickets are $45-61; call (510) 647 2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 31.

Rose. This sweeping journey across the life of one woman — and, through her, the life of Old World Jews — treats us to a handful of clear-eyed ideas that are both beautiful and rarely tackled on stage. What do the survivors of World War II, now old men and women, do with the anger that once protected them and now haunts their lives? Who, if anyone, gets to decide who is "Jewish enough" to lead Israel into the future? That these issues are so pressing makes it all the more frustrating that this 2 1/2-hour solo show is at least a half-hour too long. Bay Area favorites Naomi Newman and director Joan Mankin bring out many of the lovely, arresting little moments created by playwright Martin Sherman (wisely cutting out many more), and the final twist in Rose's tale packs a punch. But how startling and affecting this play would have been if we spent considerably less time in the nooks and crannies of Rose's life and dove head first into the heart of her grief. Through Feb. 25 at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave. (at Martin Luther King), Berkeley. Tickets are $15-44; call 522-0786 or visit www.atjt.com. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Jan. 10.

365 Plays/365 Days
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
All the Great Books (Abridged)
Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic (at Locust), Walnut Creek, 925-943-7469.
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 Death & Little Death
Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.
The Birthday Party
Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
Dead Certain
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Family Jewels
Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.
Fears of Your Life
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, 701 Mission (at Third St.), 978-ARTS.
Fiction
Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.
GayProv
Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Guys and Dolls
Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic (at Locust), Walnut Creek, 925-943-7469.
Hedda Gabler
American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
Improv Revolution
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Jersey Boys
Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (between Taylor and Mason), 551-2000.
Long Day's Journey Into Night
San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio (at South Third St.), San Jose, 408-367-7255.
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.
Menopause the Musical
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero), 433-3939.
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 at the Next Stage
The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), Trinity Episcopal Church, 333-6389.
Murder Mystery Dinner
The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.
Emperor Norton, The Musical
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Odd by Nature II: The Stranger Journey
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
Pleasure and Pain
Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.
The Rose Tattoo
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.
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 for God
Marsh Berkeley, 2118 Allston (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 826-5750.

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