Holding the Man. Though this adaptation of Australian Timothy Conigrave's memoir treads a lot of familiar territory – gay men in the '80s struggling with relationships! And AIDS! – there is a sweetness and honesty suffused throughout the production that makes it often charming to watch. As Tim and John, the couple at the center of the story whose trials and triumphs we follow, Ben Randle and Bradly Mena have an open warmth that makes you root for them from the get-go. Director Matthew Graham Smith also keeps the action running smoothly on Jon Wai-keung Lowe's ever-rotating set. The two-and-a-half-hour play loses some of its steam after the intermission: Tim's journey through acting school feels underdeveloped, and all the ins and outs of his relationship with John, while well observed, do not always move the story along. Touches like Australian accents and Scott Ludwig's haunting puppets work well at some points and at others feel tacked on and distracting. But there is good reason Tommy Murphy won Australia's most prestigious playwriting award for his adaptation. The heart with which Smith and his ensemble embrace the tale reflects the humor and resiliency that the community embraced when it first started fighting back against AIDS. Through Nov. 4 at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $22-34; call 861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Oct. 17.

Six Degrees of Separation. It seems entirely unfair to blame a show for not being "New York" enough, as if somehow only New York held the key to good American theater. And yet what was missing from SF Playhouse's ambitious and heartfelt production of John Guare's beautiful play was the sense of watching a privileged, detached New York woman find connection and meaning in the most unlikely of places. As Ouisa and her husband Flan, Susi Damilano and Robert Parsons could just as easily be a wealthy couple living the good life in Marin. They capture the couple's charm and air of easy entitlement, yet they lack the bite and the drive people thrive on in New York high society. It is this ambition and neediness that we should see mirrored – and ultimately threatened – by a young black man who shows up on their doorstep claiming to be a school friend of their children. The production has many fine and funny moments in its crisp 90 minutes. But because Damilano and Parsons never exude the Manhattanites' darker side, the final moments of possible redemption never feel fully earned. Through Nov. at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $38; call 415-677-9597 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org.(Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Oct.10.

Song of Myself. It's easy to lump Walt Whitman in with all those other 19th-century writers who mistook themselves for invisible eyeballs and meandered aimlessly through the woods reciting passages from the Bhagavad Gita. But if anyone can talk us into reclaiming the American bard, it's John O'Keefe. The playwright and performer's abbreviated version of "Song of Myself" — Whitman's fecund ode to the pleasures of loafing — is an art song in spoken form. Poised halfway between a straight recitation and an imaginative interpretation of Whitman's poem, the performance plays with our intellect and emotions like an intoxicating piece of music. From the euphoric whoop of the opening line to the melting breath of the final thought as it dissolves into darkness, O'Keefe takes us through many keys, major and minor, as he explores Whitman's universe. At times, the poem races hectically forward, the performer lurching after the words like someone fielding simultaneous calls on a cellphone. Elsewhere during the performance, the mood is more reflective. O'Keefe cozies up to individual audience members, creating a bond of intimacy with us through Whitman's words. The poet's erratic, stream-of-consciousness style may be easier to digest while reading privately than listening to someone reciting his lines aloud. But thanks to the vitality and variety of O'Keefe's approach, it doesn't take much for us to feel a sense of affinity for Whitman's celebration of himself. Through Oct. 20 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 21st St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-25; call 800-838-3006 or visit www.themarsh.org. (C.V.) Reviewed June 13.

Also Playing

After the Quake

Berkeley Rep, 2071 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2972.

Appomattox

War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.

Attrition

Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 673-3847.

BATS: Sunday Players

Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.

Benedictus

The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081.

Big City Improv

Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.

Blues in the Night

Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Mason), 321-2900.

The Bluest Eye

Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), 474-8800.

Camino Real

Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287.

The Color Purple: The Musical About Love

Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.

Creepshow Live

Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987.

D'Arc, Woman on Fire

Shotwell Studios, 3252A 19th St. (at Folsom), 289-2000.

Every Inch a King

Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

GayProv

Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.

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