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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. 26 at Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission St. (between Fifth and Sixth sts.), S.F. Tickets are $20; call 1-800-838-3006 or visit (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 (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 (C.V.) Reviewed Aug. 1.

Insignificant Others. Despite a goofy plot revolving around five friends from Cleveland in their early 20s who move to San Francisco and endure various romantic mishaps, including two love triangles (one straight, one gay,) and an ill-advised encounter with a pre-op transsexual, this new homegrown musical by local composer and lyricist L. Jay Kuo shows significant promise. It's not simply that Kuo knows how to write a catchy tune. He's also a witty lyricist. In "Gay or Straight," for instance, Kuo hilariously compares the domestic habits of homosexual men with their straight counterparts. As ex-Ohian Jordan (Jason Hoover) prowls around the apartment of his desirable co-worker Erik (Justin McKee) after his date has passed out on the couch, we find out about Erik's peculiar, "on the fence" lifestyle. "What about his DVDs? They won't be accidental," Jordan's friend Margaret (Sarah Kathleen Farrell) advises over the phone. The results prove inconclusive: "There's a pile of action movies," Jordan reports. "Wait! There's Beaches and there's Yentl!" However, the musical feels about an hour too long. For every memorable song, there are two bland ones that could be cut, such as Erik's sentimental ballad about his childhood "There's a House" and the syrupy-insipid "Christmas in the City." Also, while Kuo's gay characters are full-bodied, the straight ones — with the notable exception of fag-hag Margaret — are utterly flimsy. Insignificant Others feels like a work in progress. Yet there's enough wit and verve in the material and strength in the performances (led by Sarah Kathleen Farrell's endearingly buxom Margaret) to portend a bold future. Extended through Sept. 23 at Zeum Theater, Yerba Buena Gardens, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard Street), S.F. Tickets are $35-39; call 1866-811-4111 or visit (C.V.) Reviewed Aug. 8.

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 (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 (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 (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.
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).
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.
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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