Our critics weigh in on local theater

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. 29 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.

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 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), S.F. Tickets are $35-39; call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.isomusical.com. (Chloe Veltman) 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 www.sfmt.org. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed July 18.

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 15.

Teatro ZinZanni. It's no wonder that this popular dinner-theater extravaganza of "love, chaos, dinner" has a special place in the hearts of locals and city newbies alike. Set in a 1920s vintage big-top tent, ZinZanni offers guests a taste of cabaret, vaudeville, and circus merriment. A cast of ever-rotating characters regales audience members with flirty high jinks: illusionists, contortionists, and aerial dancers peddle their magic while also making sure to badger the guests, not in a bad Vegas nightclub way, but with an air that's as endearing as it is cheesy. The best thing is that everyone who works there is somehow tied into the show; waitresses dance and do can-can routines as they bring out the grub (a rich, five-course prix fixe that's a little French, a little Italian, and a little Californian). ZinZanni's show won't offend or make anyone's fur bristle; and while arty innovation isn't their forte, the performance is a lighthearted, old-fashioned romp that offers a welcome reprieve from the somberness of, say, a night at the opera. Open-ended run at Pier 29, Embarcadero at Battery. Tickets are $116-140. Call 438-2668 or visit www.zinzanni.org. (Nirmala Nataraj)

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