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Our critics weigh in on local theater

DIVAfest Cabaret: Sassy & Seductive. This short and sweet one-hour cabaret returns as part of the larger DIVAfest and is presented in the back room of the old Original Joe's Italian Restaurant down in the Tenderloin. As the title suggests, this evening is all about Bay Area divas and it's hosted by the biggest diva of all, the wonderful Sean Owens. Though the music is composed by a man (the accomplished Don Seaver), the three vocalists are women and the lyricists are women. Unfortunately, the vocalists are a bit stiff and, though they have fine and varied singing voices, aren't well matched up with their material. An unexpected highlight of the evening is poet Pireeni Sundaralingam of Sri Lanka. With her accent and piano accompaniment, she delivers a mesmerizing performance, playfully borrowing lines from Gone With the Wind and Bride of Frankenstein.The true star of the show, though, is first-time lyricist Mia Paschal. Using a broad range of styles, Paschal has no trouble transitioning from a scorching ballad titled You Don't Love Me Yet, to the finale — a fun alphabetical tirade bashing men with lines like "P is for the prick who texted me goodbye." Through May 12 at Original Joe's Restaurant, 144 Taylor (between Eddy and Turk), S.F. Tickets are $10; call 673-3847 or visit www.sffringe.org. (N.E.) Reviewed May 2.

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 pentothal 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.

Past Perfect. Nicky Silver's latest play opens in the middle of a crisis for the well-to-do Dunham family. Thirtysomething siblings Betsy and Seth have returned to the nest to pay their last respects to their father, Philip, who is about to die of cancer. Seth, a bratty, unemployed gay actor, and Betsy, a recovering alcoholic divorcee who's still in love with her abusive ex-husband, aren't in particularly good shape at the start of the action. So when their mother, Dina, announces her plans to cash out her chips the moment Philip cashes his in and leave never to return, the siblings struggle to make sense of their feelings of loneliness and abandonment. Like the playwright's explosive 2004 drama, Beautiful Child (which received its west coast premiere at Theatre Rhino in 2005) Past Perfect addresses the theme of conditional versus unconditional love between parents and their children. Beautiful Child's brisk sense of humor and jaw-dropping narrative about a well-mannered young schoolteacher's return home following the fallout of a romantic relationship with one of his 8-year-old students, leaves us feeling disturbed and deeply moved. But Past Perfect only makes us yearn for the tragicomic perfection of its predecessor. Through May 20 at Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (between Mission and South Van Ness) S.F. Tickets are $15-25; call 861-5079 or visit www.therhino.org. (C.V.) Reviewed May. 2.

Private Jokes, Public Places. Until the final moments of this satirical skewering of the elite architectural world, playwright Oren Safdie has his characters and his language right on the money. Primed with the inside knowledge that comes from being the son of famous architect Moshe Safdie, Oren Safdie's creates two equally renowned and deliciously vicious architects who relish making mincemeat of hapless graduate student Margaret's thesis project, crushing her vision as they fill themselves up with hot air. You wait with anticipation to see what Margaret will do when she's pushed too far — and actors Robert Parsons and Charles Dean have a ball pushing her as far as they can. But when Margaret finally snaps, the play loses it punch and becomes a serious drama about her struggles through life. Part of the problem is that as Margaret, M.J. Kang is unable to harness the depths of emotion needed to make her outbursts moving. But the greater problem lies in the sudden shift from a fresh, delightfully detailed story of architectural ambition to a generic, well-trodden story of individual sacrifice and inner strength. By trying to force his play to be something more — it's not just about architecture, get it, but about life — Safdie ends up making it something less. Through May 13 at Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $38; call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org. (M.R.) Reviewed May 2.

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. 10.

BATS: Sunday Players
Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.
Beach Blanket Babylon
Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.
Best of Playground 11: A Festival of New Writers & New Plays
Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.
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).
Citizen Josh
Z Space Studio, 131 10th St. (at Mission), 626-0453.
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.
Fear and Misery of the Third Reich
Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.
First Person Shooter
SF Playhouse, 536 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
GayProv
Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Glass Jungle
Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978.
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).
Hurlyburly
Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287.
Hypnodrome Head Trips
The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900.
Live from the Front
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard (at Third St.), 978-2787.
Love, Chaos & Dinner
Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.
Lysistrata
Live Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck (at Berryman), Berkeley, 510-704-8210.
Memoir of a Bar Room Floozy
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.
Menopause the Musical
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero), 433-3939.
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.
Mother on Fire
Women's Building, 3543 18th St. (at Valencia), 431-1180.
Murder Mystery Dinner
The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.
Past Perfect
Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.
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.
Songs for a New World
Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469.
Take Me Out
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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