By Josh Edelson
By Chris Hall
By Jonathan Curiel
By Jonathan Curiel
By Sherilyn Connelly
By Mollie McWilliams
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Browner
Dead Mother, or Shirley Not All in Vain. Like the ghost of an unpopular relative returning for a visit years after its demise, David Greenspan's surreal play is enjoying a belated — and totally transcendent — second coming at San Francisco's Traveling Jewish Theatre. Far from being "an angry play about a hateful mother," as The New York Times' powerful critic Frank Rich dismissively concluded 17 years ago during its only previous run, this contortionist comedy encompassing everything from Dante's Inferno to dentistry provides an engrossing workout for both the heart and mind. In some ways, there's so much going on in the play that it's easy to feel bewildered by it. We're treated to episodes of Marivaux-like domestic farce, two play-within-a-play scenes (one a reenactment of a Greek myth, the other a staged reading along Dantean lines), and multiple monologues dealing with the likes of driving through Los Angeles and the evolution of the microbe. And that's to say nothing of the random appearance of a philosophizing sperm whale several times during the show. Yet a feeling of disorientation may be just what the playwright is aiming for. For those among us able to kick back and just enjoy the ride provided Tony Kelly's bouncy, perceptive direction and the creativity and clarity of Traveling Jewish Theatre and Thick Description's fearless cast, the playwright's searing central message about the problems of patriarchy burns through. Through Feb. 17 at Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at 17th St.), S.F. Tickets are $31-$34; call 522-0786 or visit www.atjt.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 30.
Shopping! The Musical. The world is made up of two kinds of people — those who like musical revues and those who really, really don't. Writer and director Morris Bobrow's original compilation of song and skits is unlikely to convert anyone, but its 80 minutes are filled with plenty of amusing harmonized insights into everyone's favorite pastime. Who hasn't gritted their teeth at the quasi-ethnic knickknacks at street fairs? And, yeah, what exactly are handling fees? The evening could do with more variety of musical and performance styles; it falls back too often on the softly building show tune and the big-eyed, winking delivery. But as they enter the third year of their run in March, Bobrow and his cast and crew have honed an enjoyable formula that keeps you smiling — if not always singing — along. Ongoing at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $27-$29; call 392-8860 or visit www.shoppingthemusical.com. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Jan. 2.
Taking Over. Hip-hop theater artist Danny Hoch plays nine different characters in his provocative if overly simplistic new solo show concerning the effects of gentrification on urban communities — specifically the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. On the surface, the personalities and circumstances Hoch inhabits all seem very different. They include a multitasking, middle-aged white property developer, a foul-mouthed Dominican taxi dispatcher, and a black rap artist with a passion for Noam Chomsky. Hoch's eye for detail makes us believe that he's tackling the subject of gentrification from many different perspectives. But despite the range of characters he embodies during the course of the 90-minute show, he offers only one: the viewpoint of someone radically opposed to urban development, who believes that a community is defined solely by its long-term residents and that everyone else should stay away. You have only to look below the surface of the play to see what's really going on. While all of the "authentic" born-and-bred Williamsburg residents depicted by Hoch are likable — or at the very least worthy of empathy — the new arrivals are stupid, evil, or both. Through Feb. 24 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $33-$69; call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (C.V.) Reviewed Jan. 23.
Territories. Set during the Crusades and based on much conjecture, Betty Shamieh's play tells the story of a Muslim woman who changed the course of history. Alia (Nora el Samahy), a beautiful yet crippled noblewoman, is forced to employ the strategic manipulation of language and sex in the face of the inaction of two influential men who command opposing armies. Shamieh's dialogue veers between classical ("Get me their dirty prophet's bones") and crude modernism ("Do you have the balls to invade Mecca?"), which confuses the play's tone. Samahy does an admirable job playing her pivotal role with a buoyant energy reminiscent of Kate from The Taming of the Shrew, but it isn't enough. There is a depth of dialogue and essential chemistry between characters that is missing for an audience to fully buy into this plot. The final image of the strong and animated Alia smothered in the confines of a burka is devastating, and perfectly captures Shamieh's overarching theme of an unremembered woman guiding historical events. Unfortunately, this exquisite moment only reminds us of what Territories has the potential to be but doesn't quite deliver. Through Feb. 10 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center (Marina & Buchanan), S.F. Tickets are $20-$45; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Jan. 23.
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