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Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) and Completely Hollywood (abridged). The founders of the Reduced Shakespeare Company (RSC) brilliantly anticipated society's chronic case of attention deficit disorder when The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) first appeared as a pass-the-hat act at California Renaissance fairs in the early 1980s. But these days, the RSC's CliffsNotes to theatricalizing Western civilization is wearing thin. Though riddled with hackneyed moments — such as the actors coming onstage at the start in nude body stockings with big green leaves over their privates — Bible is at some level engaging. Featuring a cavalcade of cartoon-sized Old and New Testament characters, witty songs about the Good Book (such as the one about the complexity of Old Testament family trees in which every other word is "begat"), and punchy jokes, the show at least makes for a fun way to fill an hour and half in between buying or exchanging holiday gifts. The show's main conceit is to send up movie clichés by boiling down the art of screenplay writing to a "12-step Hollywood program." The actors manage to touch upon 175 films during the process, though, as with all RSC shows, the emphasis is on quantity rather than quality. The jokes never rise above the sophomoric because the comedy relies so heavily on formulaic material. Through Jan. 6 at Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $38; call 771-6900 or visit www.reducedshakespeare.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Dec 26.

Camino Real. Tennessee Williams' 1953 stream-of-consciousness fantasia set in a timeless no man's land is difficult to stage. The largely plotless drama revolving around broken dreams and futile attempts to escape the confines of a dead-end, vaguely Latin American seaport features a staggering 36 characters and many extras. Some of them are products solely of Williams' imagination. Others are figures from legend and history, such as Don Quixote, Jacques Casanova, and Lord Byron. Biz Duncan's set design for Actors Theatre's ambitious but otherwise arrhythmic, navel-gazing production manages to conjure Williams' claustrophobic dreamscape with its high yet flimsy-looking walls. To their credit, directors Christian Phillips and Keith Phillips explore every corner of the space, setting scenes at ground level, overhead on balconies, and even up and down the aisles that flank the seating area. Unfortunately, the acting and pacing of the production don't live up to the creativity of the set. Each of the 16 multiple-part-playing cast members seems to be starring in his or her individual, private play. Williams helpfully announces each of the 16 scenes (or "blocks") in his play as it progresses. The blocks do not go by fast enough. Jan. 4-12 at Actors Theatre of San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $20-$30; call 345-1287 or visit www.actorstheatresf.org. (C.V.) Reviewed Nov. 14.

Cirque du Soleil: KOOZA. The last few Cirque du Soleil touring shows (Dralion, Varekai, Corteo) were so slick and so mass-marketed to general audiences that the action under the blue and yellow tent had become ho-hum. The company had strayed from circus' roots of bona fide danger and mystery and become quite Disneyfied. Not so with KOOZA, easily its best since the deliciously dark Quidam premiered more than a decade ago. Directed by David Shiner (who upstaged Bill Irwin in the Tony Award–winning clown extravaganza Fool Moon), this production feels like a heart-pumping cocaine binge for thrill addicts. The Indian-themed band has no problem blasting it out like Metallica while Darth Maul jump-ropers run like hamsters inside the mammoth "death wheel." One misstep could lead to devastating injury in many of these acts. A high-wire performer did indeed slip the night I attended, and was left precariously hanging by one arm as a reminder of the risks being taken for our entertainment. There's a peeing dog, a unicycle contortion act, Vegas skull girls, and a brilliant pickpocket, as well as clowns who are genuinely funny. And while this show is darker (one sinister character enters covered in crawling sewer rats), it is still beautifully grounded in the dreams — and nightmares — of a child. Through Jan. 20 behind AT&T Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza (at Third and King sts.), S.F. Tickets are $38.50-$90; call 800-678-5440 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Dec. 12.

Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge. Christopher Durang's inane yet witty spoof on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol might look at the very outset like a faithful retelling of the Victorian novelist's yuletide favorite. But things quickly derail. Instead of focusing on Ebenezer Scrooge's heart-warming journey from sourpuss to sweetheart, Durang turns his attention to Cratchit's wife, a hard-bitten protofeminist whose idea of a fun way to spend the holiday season (as Durang, not Dickens, would have it) is getting drunk alone in a bar before throwing herself off a nearby bridge. From the random appearances of characters from other Dickens novels such as Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop to the helium-filled song lyrics, Durang makes an eggnog shake out of Dickens' fable. SF Playhouse's cast and production team appear to relish every sip. Under Joy Carlin's bold but punctilious direction, the actors gleefully stamp up and down on set designer Kim A. Tolman's massive three-dimensional reconstructions of dog-eared hardback books, making a strong statement about the play's irreverent approach to so-called "classics." Through Jan. 12 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $38; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (C.V.) Reviewed Dec. 19.

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