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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Tings Dey Happen. Based on his experiences as a Fulbright Scholar studying oil politics in Nigeria (American's fifth-biggest oil supplier), solo performer Dan Hoyle drills deep beneath the surface of media hype and NGO cant to help us understand the forces at work behind the oil-rich country's escalating cycle of corruption and violence. On his journey backward and forward between Nigeria's oil capital, Port Harcourt, and the lawless hinterlands of the Niger Delta, Hoyle — with acute attention to physical detail (and an ear for pidgin) — embodies a soft-spoken, 23-year-old rebel sniper whose chief desire is to obtain a university degree; a warlord armed with four cellphones and a family photo album, like Marlon Brando in The Godfather; and a nerdy Japanese member of the Young Diplomats Club in Lagos working on a thesis about the Tanzanian cashew nut, among many others. Like Anna Deavere Smith, one of the most famous practitioners of this style of show, Hoyle takes a journalistic approach. But unlike Smith, whose slavish impersonation of the speech nuances of her interviewees seems more stenography than artistry, Hoyle filters his Nigerian experience through his vivid imagination, creating full-blooded characters that are as theatrical as they are real. Through April 19 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 21st St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-$22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (C.V.) Reviewed Jan. 10, 2007.

Wishful Drinking. Carrie Fisher's solo show feels less like a play and more like cocktails over at her house. Within five minutes, Fisher has kicked off her shoes, poured herself a massive glass of Diet Coke, lit a clove cigarette, and asked the audience if they have any questions. While obviously there's a scripted tale to be told about her life in and out of rehab and the tabloids, Fisher has a generous personality and clearly enjoys plenty of audience interaction. On a beautifully designed living room set by Alexander V. Nichols, images and bits of film are projected to accompany her tumultuous life. Fisher was the celebrity spawn of 1950s teen idols Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, and, as many know from her book Postcards from the Edge, she had quite an affinity for drugs ("Some say religion is the opiate of the masses, but for me, I took opiates religiously"). The Star Wars segment will seem all too brief for fans, but is highlighted with George Lucas' declaration that there is no underwear in space. Her marriage to Paul Simon is absorbing (who knew that much of his album Rhythm of the Saints was all about her?), but this play is rooted solidly in her diagnosis as a manic-depressive. Some segments border on self-indulgence, and 30 minutes could easily be trimmed, but it is undeniably appealing watching Fisher expose the beautiful and ugly bits of her life with such a big heart. Through April 12 at Berkeley Rep, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $16.50-$59; call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (N.E.) Reviewed March 12.

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. 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.

Below the Skin: Jodi Schiller's play about a mother regaining her womanhood. March 28-30. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.

The Better Half: The U.S. premiere of a lost Noel Coward play. Through May 3, 8 p.m., $20-$69. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900, www.hypnodrome.com.

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.

Billy Connolly Live!: The famed British comedian, alone on an S.F. stage. April 1-12. Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Mason), 321-2900, www.poststreettheatre.com.

The Comedy of Errors: Presented by the African-American Shakespeare Company. March 28-April 13, $20-$25, www.african-americanshakes.org. African American Art and Cultural Complex Center, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 394-5854.

Coronado: A drama about sex, murder, and money by Dennis Lehane, directed by Susi Damilano. Called "an film-noir ride through the lives and passions of Middle Americans," the play is by the author of Mystic River, on which Clint Eastwood's film was based. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 26, $20-$65. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org.

Four Breaths: Four short erotic works by Samuel Beckett, Anaïs Nin, Ian Walker, and Rick Burkhardt. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through March 29. Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.

The Government Inspector: Nikolai Gogol's play plays out in a backwater Russian village, where government leaders and local cronies are willing to give a visiting official money, women, and whatever else he wants — just as long as he gives them a good report back at the capital. Through April 20. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228, www.act-sfbay.org.

Insignificant Others: An open run of L. Jay Kuo's musical, directed by George Quick, about five friends who move to San Francisco from the Midwest. Daily, www.isomusical.com. Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).

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