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Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Scene. Theresa Rebeck's 2006 drama bears many of the traditional hallmarks of a daytime soap. Set in various glamorous New York lofts, the play takes as its departure point a chance meeting at a party between out-of-work, married actor Charlie, and Clea, a twentysomething bimbo fresh from Ohio. He initially shows only contempt for her Barbie-doll looks and inane talk, but eventually finds himself unable to resist the siren's physical charms. SF Playhouse's strong cast and production team helmed by director Amy Glazer works hard to mine Rebeck's text for something to underpin the superficial excesses embodied by the characters and their world. In the first half, they don't have to look far to find an intelligent, satirical core. Aaron Davidman's urbane, dry-as-an-antiperspirant-ad Charlie expertly sets up his character for a spectacular fall with his smirks of derision and cooler-than-thou Manhattanite demeanor. Packed into figure-caressing dresses that make us think the name Clea can only be short for "cleavage," Heather Gordon imbues the ditzy Ohio transplant with just enough idiot-savant charisma to counterbalance her pitch-perfect Alicia Silverstone-in-Clueless impression. Unfortunately, the characters remain as bland as the trendy-looking, revolving concrete facades of Bill English's stylish, purposefully emotionless sets. Despite the company's brilliant casting and fluid staging, the actors and director fail to find a way around the hackneyed denouement of Rebeck's plot. The play ends up looking more like a soap opera than behaving as a critique of one. Through March 8 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $38; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Feb. 27.

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.

Sonny's Blues. James Baldwin's short story "Sonny's Blues" uses music as a prism through which to explore issues surrounding cultural roots and race. When the nameless narrator, an upstanding schoolteacher and family man, finds out that his younger brother Sonny, a jazz pianist, has been apprehended by the cops for dealing and using heroin, memories of his own past rush back. The narrator's reminiscences coupled with his evolving relationship with Sonny lead him to acknowledge the "blues" in his own life — and the darkness in society at large — that he had for so long ignored or suppressed. Despite featuring an original score by local jazz luminary Marcus Shelby, Word for Word and the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre's verbatim staging of the story suffers from a lack of musicality. Instead of creating tension or otherwise contributing new layers of meaning to the story, the score rarely performs any function other than setting a mood. It doesn't help that the music is recorded rather than played live and that actor Da'Mon Vann, as Sonny, is forced to act as though he's pouring out his soul in some smoky Greenwich Village speakeasy by caressing the surface of a beat-up table. Ultimately, the musicality of Sonny's Blues is right there in Baldwin's words. The staging serves only to impede our ability to hear it. Through March 8 at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $22-$36; call 474-8800 or visit www.lhtsf.org. (C.V.) Reviewed Feb. 20.

25 Questions for a Jewish Mother: Judy Gold spins anecdotes about parenting in this solo comedy show. Starting March 11, Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 & 7 p.m. Continues through March 23, $29-$75. Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (at Mason), 771-6900, www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com.

The Bacchae: One of Euripides' last works. Through March 9. Zellerbach Playhouse, Bancroft & Telegraph (UC Berkeley campus), Berkeley, 510-642-9988.

BATS: Sunday Players: Each week Bay Area Theatresports players pit their improv work against all comers as the audience votes them off one by one until the winner stands alone on the stage. Sundays, 8 p.m., $8, www.improv.org. Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina & Buchanan), 474-6776.

Beach Blanket Babylon: A North Beach perennial featuring crazy hats, media personality caricatures, a splash of romance, and little substance. Fridays, Saturdays, 7 & 10 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 4 p.m., $25-$65, www.beachblanketbabylon.com. Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Beard of Avon: A comedy about the "true" authorship of Shakespeare's literary canon. Starting March 7, Fridays-Sundays. Continues through March 16. Diego Rivera Theater/CCSF, 50 Phelan (at Judson), 239-3100.

Big City Improv: Actors take audience suggestions and create comedy from nothing. Fridays, 10 p.m., $15, www.bigcityimprov.com. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226, www.sheltontheater.com.

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