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Our critics weigh in on local theater

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.

Servant of Two Masters. Historically, Commedia dell'Arte plays were performed on the streets of Renaissance Italy by traveling troupes who played stock characters (most of them masked). The shows were unscripted, though formulaically outlined with a lovers' imbroglio and goofy servants. Pandhandler's Theater Company's Servant of Two Masters, adapted by Gabrielle Gomez and Rick Scarpello, is mostly true to its Commedia roots, featuring a servant clown, divided self-absorbed lovers, a horny and miserly father, and lots of dirty jokes. The actors have no fourth wall, so don't be surprised when the cast asks for advice, or even crawls onto your lap. The play is centered around Truffaldino (Frank Turco), a servant who attempts to serve two masters that turn out to be lovers. Turco is full of energy and delivers some of the show's funniest ad-libs (like chewing a piece of gum he first dropped on the floor and then into one audience member's wine cup). But this play could have been a lot tighter. Scarpello, who also directed, needed to exercise control over the actors' improv and ad-libs; it ran three hours, which is way too long for slapstick. The first few scenes of the second half were particularly tedious and felt a lot like SNL skits gone awry. Despite that, the mask work was wonderful, and there are some truly hilarious moments. Through Sept. 1 at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), S.F. Tickets are $20 general admission. Call 989-0023 or visit www.panhandlerstheater.com. (Nara Dahlbacka) Reviewed online Aug. 17.

The Three Musketeers. Intricate swordplay is central to Shotgun Players' ambitious outdoor stage adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' 1844 novel concerning d'Artagnan, a provincial, wannabe musketeer (the 17th-century French equivalent of a Jedi Knight or samurai) and his adventures with accomplished men-at-arms known as the Three Musketeers. One of the sharpest aspects of this otherwise lolloping production is co-adaptor/director Joanie McBrien's interest in presenting the good and bad sides of the characters in equal measure. You could say that each one of them — from the heroic Musketeers to the sly Milady DeWinter — is a double-edged sword. Yet the production's numerous physical fight scenes largely lack life. With the exception of one or two inspired moves such as an Indiana Joneslike interception of a macho duel by Milady (Fontana Butterfield) and another character's swinging from a beam above the door in the back of the makeshift set to kick his opponent in the chest, the combat sequences become predictable after a while. Each one is fought with the same level of enthusiasm and pedantic determination as its predecessor. Forget "One for all and all for one." "One like all and all like one" would be more accurate. Through Sept. 9 at John Hinkel Park, Southampton Avenue (near the Arlington), Berkeley. Tickets are free; call 510-841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org. (C.V.) Reviewed Aug 17.

Aaah! Rosebud
New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (at Eighth St.), 626-5416.
American Musical: Hopes and Dreams of the Working Class
Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina & Buchanan), 474-8935.
Angel Face
Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida (at 17th St.), 626-4370.
Avenue Q
Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.
Blues in the Night
Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Mason), 321-2900.
The Epic of Gilgamesh With a Long Prologue
The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley, 510-841-6500.
Facing East
Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.
GayProv
Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Greater Tuna
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.
Henry IV, Part I
Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University, 50 Acacia (at Grand), San Rafael, 499-1108.
Henry IV, Part II
Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University, 50 Acacia (at Grand), San Rafael, 499-1108.
How We First Met
Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).
Hysteria
Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.
Improv Revolution Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.
Indecision Collision
Shotwell Studios, 3252A 19th St. (at Folsom), 289-2000.
Joan Rivers Theatre Project
Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Marina & Buchanan), 441-8822.
Man of La Mancha
S.F. Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Marga's Hot Mondays
Empire Plush Room, York Hotel, 940 Sutter (at Hyde), 885-2800.
Rogue el Gato
Randall Museum Theater, 199 Museum (at Roosevelt), 554-9600.
Shakespeare: Un-Scripted
S.F. Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.
Steven Brinberg Is Simply Barbra!
Empire Plush Room, York Hotel, 940 Sutter (at Hyde), 885-2800.
Twelfth Night, Or What You Will
Film Night at Old Mill Park, 300th Block of Throckmorton Avenue, Mill Valley, 453-4333.
Urinetown
Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College (at Derby), Berkeley, 510-845-8542.
Very McVerry
New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

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