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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Hypnodrome Head Trips. It's a titillating concept to revive the Grand Guignol, the terror theater that ran for 65 years in Paris around the turn of the 20th century. Tucked away underneath the Hwy. 101 overpass in SOMA, the Hypnodrome is the perfect setting for a Guignol revival with its player pianos, lanterns, and "shock box" seating that vibrates and is curtained off. The priest at the bar opens beers with his battle ax and reminds patrons they can do anything they want behind those curtains. This is the world of the Thrill Peddlers, the blood-splattering theater company that is up to its usual shocking mischief in a new production of six twisted shorts. In one short, a curious daughter finds a floating head kept alive in an antique machine (brilliant design by Jonathan Horton) and decides to pleasure herself with it; in another, a cross-dresser huffs sodium pentothol and is inspired to burn people's faces off with a hot iron. Maybe modern audiences accustomed to slasher films will find such moments ho-hum, but they won't be yawning during the second-act segment "Orgy in the Lighthouse," a whore-burning scene that manages to be both arousing and disturbing. Through June 2 at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (between Bryant and Division), S.F. Tickets are $25; call 800-838-3006 or visit www.thrillpeddlers.com. (N.E.) Reviewed April 11.

Terre Haute. Gay writer Edmund White's drama imagines a series of meetings at Terre Haute prison between writer Gore Vidal and Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh and Vidal never met in person in real life. But the two men entered into a correspondence and McVeigh invited Vidal to witness his execution. At one level, the play could be seen as the product of an ageing queen's festive imagination. The Vidal character, re-cast in White's play as "James," is an impeccably turned-out, wealthy American expat living in Paris, as proud of his role as "gadfly of the nation" as he is of his no-nonsense approach to sex. Conceived as the handsome revolutionary "Harrison," the McVeigh character, meanwhile, looks great in a prison jumpsuit, especially when unzipped to the waist. But the play isn't simply a prison fantasy tinged with homoerotic overtones. Director Christopher Jenkins' tight American premiere production lucidly draws out the connections between Harrison and James blurring the supposedly clear lines between right and wrong, public and private, and freedom and imprisonment. Through May 6 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave. (at Market) S.F. Tickets are $22-34; call 861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. (C.V.) Reviewed April. 25.

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. Extended run through May 25 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (between 21st and 22nd sts.), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (C.V.) Reviewed Jan. 17.

Actors Reading Writers
Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
Aftermath of War: In Their Own Words
Diego Rivera Theater/CCSF, 50 Phelan (at Judson), 239-3100.
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.
Blackbird American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.
Blue Door
Berkeley Repertory's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.
Brown Bag Theatre
SFSU Campus, 1600 Holloway (at 19th Ave).
Crystal Daze
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
Death of a Salesman
Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida (at 17th St.), 626-4370.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden (at Park), San Jose, 408-277-5277.
DIVAfest Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
DIVAfest Cabaret: Sassy & Seductive
Original Joe's, 144 Taylor (at Eddy), 775-4877.
GayProv Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
First Person Shooter
SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Good Doctor
The Actors Center of San Francisco, 3012 16th St. (at Mission), 389-8975.
Great Puppet Musical!
SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
How We First Met
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).
Hypnodrome Head Trips
The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900.
Improv Revolution
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
In Bed With Fairy Butch for Women, Transfolks, & Their Pals
12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission (at 22nd St.), 970-9777.
Love, Chaos & Dinner
Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.
Lynda Carter
Empire Plush Room, York Hotel, 940 Sutter (at Hyde), 885-2800.
Lysistrata
Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck (at Berryman), Berkeley, 510-704-8210.
Menopause the Musical
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero), 433-3939.
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave. (near Clement), 863-3330.
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.
Orpheus in the Underworld
SFSU Campus/McKenna Theater, 1600 Holloway (at 19th Ave.) (Creative Arts Bldg.), 338-2467.
Past Perfect
Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.
Purgatorio
The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), Trinity Episcopal Church, 650-326-0656.
Queen of Spades
Florence Gould Theater, 34th Ave. & Clement (at Palace of the Legion of Honor), 863-3330.
Shopping! The Musical
Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.
Siddhartha, The Bright Path
The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Terre Haute
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
The Global Age Project
Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
Water Engine
Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Z/Magic Mondays
Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822.

 
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