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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Eavesdropper. It's easy to identify with the young man who finds himself trapped in a bathtub for the entire duration of S. Lamar Jordan's play. On the run from the cops (though the reason for his flight is never quite made clear), the pursued ducks into a nearby house only to discover a party raging around him. As the intruder cowers behind the hostess' shower curtain wondering when he might be able to escape, various party guests stumble into the bathroom to powder their noses and reveal their most intimate secrets and desires. If the show feels like an improv class aimed at aspiring television soap and sitcom actors rather than a fully developed stage play, it's probably partly due to the fact that the cast members don't have much of a script to work with. The characters are so one-dimensional that it's almost as if the playwright had given each actor a single personality trait like "angry lesbian," "bored cop," or "oafish frat boy" and simply told them to get up on stage and act out the clichés. The unripe, improvisational atmosphere is further underlined by the fact that all the action takes place in a narrow wedge of space in the middle of the cluttered stage. Billed as "L.A.'s Currently Longest Running Play," the show is currently being performed both in L.A. and San Francisco and is enjoying an extended run in both towns. It's hard to understand why. The relationships remain stupefyingly superficial. Through Aug. 25 at Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission St. (between Fifth and Sixth sts.), S.F. Tickets are $20; call 1-800-838-3006 or visit www.cafearts.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed July 4.

Glengarry Glen Ross. Who'd ever think the inside world of a small real estate office would contain such colorful dialogue as: "Ever take a dump that makes you feel you slept for 12 hours?" Leave it to David Mamet to transform the seemingly mundane world of selling property into a seething stew of deceit, desperation, and verbal violence. This production of Mamet's Tony Award-winning play, depicting ruthless salesmen doing absolutely anything to seal the deal, is sharply realized by the Actors Theatre of San Francisco. Director Jennifer Welch does not let the pace or tension lag in this 90-minute racehorse that starts out like a great caper film and ends as a tense whodunit. Despite an unremarkable set and a few cast members who can't naturalize Mamet's choppy dialogue, this Pulitzer Prize-winning script is practically foolproof. As real estate agents, Andre Esterlis is deliciously sinister and Aaron Murphy provides the great comic relief of an innocent in a cutthroat world. Even after two decades of stage productions and a Hollywood film adaptation, it still feels razor-sharp and brutally honest. Through Sept. 1 at Actors Theatre, 855 Bush (between Taylor and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $10-30; call 345-1287 or visit www.actorstheatresf.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Aug. 8.

Grandpa It's Not Fitting. By the time you leave a Will Franken performance, you barely know which way is up. At one point in his latest solo show, the comic performer imitates the voice and aspect of a cheesy History Channel documentary presenter. "The 1960s. A time of change and exploration," he chimes, poking fun at baby boomer nostalgia. Suddenly, without warning, we're thrown backward into a different era: "The 1860s. A time of chaos and exploitation." In another bit, Franken takes on the role of a Muslim suicide bomber, quietly reading the Koran on a plane with a bomb strapped to his tummy. When the plane goes down owing to some non-terrorism-related technical malfunction, he tries to enlist potential survivors to declare him responsible for the act. Elsewhere, Christianity is ridiculed when Franken, posing as a blustering British vicar, tucks references to Noam Chomsky and the Beatles into a cataclysmic religious debate. Sometimes, though, the performer's dense layering of cultural references, tangled viewpoints, and stream-of-consciousness style becomes disorienting. Franken's opening skit concerning a discussion between a terminal breast cancer patient named Mrs. Wit and her physician, one Dr. Posner, about the movie version of the patient's life, contains so much oblique content that the performer risks losing us at the start. As hard as it is to keep up with Franken, he's still San Francisco's patron saint of misrule. Through Sept. 1 at the Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia St. (between 21st and 22nd sts.), S.F. Tickets are $15-35; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (C.V.) Reviewed Aug. 1.

Making a Killing. The San Francisco Mime Troupe's latest political comedy has plenty of wit and insight that would have been better served by trimming its excess plot. The story at the heart of this play is one of individual responsibility — will our Army field reporter continue to tell only the Iraq feel-good stories his bosses want him to, or get the guts to tell the truth about the corruption and devastation brought by the American invasion? It's a fine message at a time when ordinary citizens feel at a loss to make any difference, served up with the usual Mime Troupe song-and-dance flair. But it also comes cased in a courtroom drama that drags, and a lot of time spent with Dick Cheney. Don't get me wrong, Ed Holmes well deserves his kudos for nailing the absurdity of our vice president. There are many easy shots at Cheney, including a subplot about his quest to boost his popularity. Such distractions are fun for a time — and make the call for all of us to step up and do our part — but ultimately lose their punch. Through Sept. 29 at parks and other public sites across the Bay Area. Tickets are free; call 285-1717 or visit www.sfmt.org. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed July 18.

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