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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Disney & Deutschland. Imagining a 1935 meeting between Walt Disney and Adolf Hitler is a great spark for a play, but playwright and director John J. Powers' production never ignites. The 20-minute history lesson that starts the 90-minute play fails to build up the excitement before the big get-together. Once Disney and Hitler are in the same room, along with Hitler's right-hand man Joseph Goebbels and his personal filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, there is hardly any dramatic action to push the play along. There are occasionally tense moments, such as when Hitler wonders how much of a Jew hater can Disney really be if he works in Hollywood. But most of the hour is spent sitting around a big oak table, drinking sherry, and swapping tales of German efficiency and American pluck. Powers teases us with some provocative themes, such as the true roots of Disney's fantasy playland for children, but the tease never pays off. Through Feb. 24 at the Garage, 975 Howard (at Fifth St.), S.F. Tickets are $10-$20; call 829-2301 or visit (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Feb. 13.

Inside Albert's Head/Lost & Found. The first play in this double-header by Canadian scribe David Ackerman is, as its title suggests, a mishmash of thoughts from inside a man's head. While Damian Lanahan-Kalish has an assured, easy-going delivery in his 20-minute monologue about dentists, industrial parks, orange juice, and uncirculated pennies, it still feels more like a crazy man talking to you on the Haight Street bus than a comprehensible story. Lost & Found, on the other hand, is a great piece of theater in the vein of early work by John Patrick Shanley (Danny and the Deep Blue Sea) or Sam Shepard (Fool for Love). Beginning after a night of hot sex on an inflatable mattress, this new play skillfully paints the portrait of two lost souls trying to connect without any lies or secrets. Company member Ian Riley, who delivered a knockout performance in Sleepwalkers' last production Use Both Hands, again proves his undeniable talent as the soft-spoken Colby, trying not to lie while penetrating the hardened heart of Rita (Sarah Savage). Ackerman's script provides a solid framework, but the actors' (especially Riley's) subtle and assured performances give this show its charisma. As a new theater company dedicated to producing new works at a low cost, Sleepwalkers, in its first season, is on a roll. Through Feb. 23 at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), S.F. Tickets are $12; call 814-3914 or visit Eaton) Reviewed Feb. 13.

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 (M.R.) Reviewed Jan. 2.

Slavs! Tony Kushner's quirky rumination on the political fate of Russia in the 1980s and 1990s could easily be seen as nothing more than a clever intellectual exercise. Yet the combination of our own heady political times and the snappy production by Custom Made Theatre Company makes the story about how a world power chooses and then lives with its future more than just frivolous banter. Is it better, as party faithful Smukov asks, to "not move until we know where we are going"? Or should we cast aside such measured, stultifying caution and, as the suddenly unblind Upgobkin proclaims, leap into the unknown? Kushner ponders these and many more questions, adding theatrical whimsy and plain old human greed into the mix to maintain our attention. Director Brian Katz keeps the 90-minute production moving swiftly, and Megan Briggs gives a standout performance as Katherina, the bored and feisty lesbian who guards the pickled brains of once-great leaders. The mostly good cast embraces Kushner's dense language with gusto, leaving us with the question of how people can decide what they want from their country when, as Upgobkin puts it, "not even the dead can see what is to come." Through Feb. 23 at the Custom Stage at Off Market, 965 Market (at Fifth St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-$25; call 651-4251 or visit (M.R.) Reviewed Feb. 6.

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 (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 23.

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