By Joseph Geha
By Jonathan Kiefer
By Katie Tandy
By Mollie McWilliams
By Jennifer Baires
By Jonathan Curiel
By Sherilyn Connelly
Every Inch a King. This show, while sweet and mildly funny, doesn't live up to the capable talents of its actresses or writer and director Gary Graves. It's a slight affair, following the story of three grown daughters as they wrestle with what to do with a cranky old man with 1,000 acres of valuable land and a habit of wandering outside in the nude. The actresses — all three of whom were part of the original Central Works production in 2002 — bounce off one another with ease. Sandra Schlechter is particularly endearing as Gwen, a kindergarten teacher and amateur apothecary. Yet when the fireworks of long-term grudges finally erupt, they are quickly patched over. What we are left with instead is a slapstick search for dad that doesn't pack the punch and the wickedly funny family insight promised by the rest of the play. Through Nov. 18 at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley. Tickets are $9-25; call 510-558-1381 or visit www.centralworks.org. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Nov. 7.
The Rainmaker. In his production notes, director Mark Rucker describes N. Richard Nash's 1950s play as "a valentine to a sweeter time." It's easy to see this romance-laced domestic drama, in which a mysterious stranger turns up at a drought-blighted family farm claiming rain-inducing powers, through rose-tinted glasses. With its cast of hillbilly homesteaders, old-fashioned courting rituals, and conversations that revolve around heifers, bookkeeping, and five-cylinder Essex automobiles, the play might seem on the surface like an episode of The Waltons. Yet despite its cheery outlook and Rucker's ill-advised efforts to anchor A.C.T.'s production in a 1930s landscape of cowboy boots and Stetsons, the play resists being tied to the past. It feels very fresh, mostly thanks to the acting. Wearing a frumpy, schoolmarmish dress and an austerely coiffed brunette wig which clings as tightly to her skull as the character clings to her failing hopes at ensnaring a beau, René Augesen wears her lack of sex appeal as the unhappily unmarried farmer's daughter Lizzie Curry with a kind of clever pride. She might be as "plain as old shoes," but she knows that pretending to be a coquette would make her even uglier. Meanwhile, Geordie Johnson's Bill Starbuck, an outsider with questionable weather-changing powers, is total charisma. Peopled with sympathetic, loving characters. the play might be unfashionably upbeat in its outlook. But Nash's core message about the power of self-belief as an essential tool for survival and growth in a difficult world comes as a valentine to our own embittered times. Through Nov. 25 at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $17-82; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 7.
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. 17 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $38; call 677-9597 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (M.R.) Reviewed Oct. 10.
Use Both Hands. Audience members shouldn't be deterred by Sleepwalkers Theatre's don't-give-a-shit facade. The company prints its handwritten programs on binder paper, uses the word "fuck" more than a hundred times in its script and press materials, and eloquently calls its brand of original entertainment "Hella Fresh Theatre." Bottom line, though, its shit is good. Two years in development, Use Both Hands, by local playwright John Rosenberg, starts out like Swingers with two old buddies (Tore Ingersoll-Thorp and Damian Lanahan-Kalish) headed to "America's Valhalla" (Reno) for one long night of gambling in a somewhat desperate fashion. And then, in a journey into the compellingly dark realm of Leaving Las Vegas, they meet Marie (Holly Chou), who has hit a suicidal bottom. Rosenberg has perfected hilariously long non sequitur rants and prolonged awkward moments, and Ian Riley gives one of the most stellar performances I've seen in years. As the White Sox–loving, threesome-wanting husband, Riley (a recent UC Santa Cruz Theater grad) is undeniably charismatic and brings a controlled danger to his pro-war and sexist dialogue. The script is too long and starts to repeat itself in the end, and some of the performances are uneven, but Rosenberg and Sleepwalkers have tapped solidly into the vein of youthful and gripping theater. Through Nov. 17 at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), S.F. Tickets are $15; call 567-5618 or visit www.sleepwalkerstheatre.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Nov. 7.