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Our critics weigh in on local theater

June in a Box. Playwright Octavio Solis and composer Beth Custer's latest theatrical collaboration retells the story of one of the strangest and most brutal kidnappings of the 20th century. Close to three-quarters of a century after mysterious assailants kidnapped June Robles, the 6-year-old granddaughter of a wealthy Arizona businessman, and buried her in the desert in a metal cage, Solis and Custer resurrect the tale of this long-forgotten crime to create a subtle meditation on the impact of passing time on events and the human impulse to suppress painful memories. Part living newspaper-style play and part musical fable, the play reimagines the story of the kidnapping as the victim might tell it decades later in her old age. Laced with touches of magical realism, mythology, and original songs, the production foregrounds the surreal over the real, ultimately distancing us from the historical facts surrounding June's abduction. The remoteness we feel from the events of April 1934 and their subsequent fallout teach us an interesting lesson in how the collective imagination processes and ultimately discards information. But despite compelling performances, this shadowy slip of a play ultimately exists beyond our reach and, like the historical events it seeks to represent, evaporates to the point where it seems almost forgettable. Through March 31 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), S.F. Tickets are $10-$25; call 626-3311 or visit www.theintersection.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed March 19.

Mimetic. According to the dictionary, "mimetic" means "imitative." Given that this original play is set primarily at the San Francisco Zoo, the title could be referring to the actors mimicking animals. Or maybe the performers are playing animals mimicking humans. After 90 minutes, you can't be sure, which is frustrating. The company wrote the script collaboratively, and cites Anton Chekhov, Vsevolod Meyerhold's Biomechanics (movement for actors), and Theater of the Oppressed founder Augusto Boal as inspirations. The result is an absurdist play with a fuzzy plot involving a group of humans (animals?) taking a city bus to the zoo as a sort of spiritual retreat. There are random mentions of banana pistols, monkey dung, and crossing the "perimeter." The incongruous dialogue is sprinkled with thoughts of dharma and fate, but often feels like random Tourette's outbursts ("You move slower than a three-day fuck!" and "When you masturbate, God kills a Republican!"). There are some fine examples of skillful physical comedy, especially by cofounder Noah Kelley, and the group meshes well as an ensemble, with some hilarious moments such as the synchronized dancing at the end. But the play's humor is somewhat undermined by its absurdity, which often leaves the audience bewildered. On the night I attended, the audience member to my left kept mumbling, "What the fuck?" and then laughing bemusedly. I concur. Through March 29 at the Exit Theater, 156 Eddy (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $12-$20; call 673-3847 or visit www.theexit.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed March 19.

Romeo & Juliet and Other Duets. Longtime theatrical partners Deborah Gwinn and Jim Cave put their own quirky, captivating spin on Ionesco's The Chairs and Shakespeare's famous star-crossed lovers. With little more than a rack of clothes, a collection of chairs, and some stirring music by the likes of George Gershwin, Enrico Toselli, and Nino Rota, the two actors use these tales as a springboard to explore the relationships of couples old and young, caught in the moment and yet still looking to get through their day-to-day lives. There are times in this 90-minute excursion when the approach is more mildly amusing than deeply felt. Without any sense of the devastating loss that underpins Ionesco's original story, the make-believe between Gwinn and Cave's middle-aged couple seems like idle chatter rather than a conscious attempt to avoid dealing with their deep despair. And the section when Romeo and Juliet leave each other and then kill themselves feels oddly perfunctory. But the scenes where Romeo and Juliet first get into bed together, and their final moments after death, take us straight from the silly to the sublime. Through March 29 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 21st St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-$35; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed March 19.

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. (M.R.) Reviewed Jan. 2.

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).

L'Elisir d'Amore: Gaetano Donizetti's opera, directed by Robert Wineapple. Fri., March 28, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 30, 2 p.m. Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College (at Derby), Berkeley, 510-845-8542, www.juliamorgan.org.

Luv: A comedy that takes place on a suspension bridge, where three friends battle existential woes. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 5. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287.

Missing: A drama by Jessica Ferris about a secret family history. Wed., March 26, 7:30 p.m. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Monday Night Marsh: Each week a different lineup of musicians, actors, performance artists, and others takes the stage at this regular event; see www.themarsh.org for a lineup of future shows. Mondays, $7. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Mrs. Warren's Profession: George Bernard Shaw play, directed by Susannah Martin and produced by the Shotgun Players. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 19. The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley, 510-841-6500.

Murder Mystery Dinner: A murder mystery dinner that begins with detectives gathering to split $5 million in royalties from their latest book. Includes fruit and cheese reception and three-course dinner. One Saturday a month. Saturdays, 6 p.m., $95, www.incentivestointrigue.com. Queen Anne Hotel, 1590 Sutter (at Octavia), 441-2828.

The Pandora Experiment: A "slightly creepy" show by award-winning magician and illusionist Christian Cagigal. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 12, $12-$20, www.sffringe.org. Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Taylor & Mason), 673-3847.

Southern Comforts: A set-in-his-ways Yankee and a vibrant Southern belle find a second chance at love. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through March 30. Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield (at Embarcadero), Palo Alto, 650-903-6000.

Space: Experimental theater, including An Astronaut's Guide to Shooting Stars. Fri., March 28; Sat., March 29. The Garage, 975 Howard (at Sixth St.), 289-2000.

Student Gypsy: Rick Besoyan's spoof, described as "a Romberg operetta crossed with a zany Marx Brothers farce." Starting March 27, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 13. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469, www.eurekatheatre.org.

Teatro ZinZanni: A bewitching evening of European cabaret, cirque arts, theatrical spectacle, and original live music, all blended with a five-course gourmet dinner, set in the nightclub of your dreams, now in its eighth season in San Francisco. Current show is À La Folie, starring Liliane Montevecchi as Madame ZinZanni. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 6 p.m., $116-$140, 438-2668, www.zinzanni.org. Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery).

Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story: Stephen Dolginoff's take on the "thrill killers." Starting March 28, Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 4. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding: Be a part of the wedding reception at this interactive play. Thursdays-Saturdays, www.pier39shows.com. Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero).

Tragedy: A tragedy: A comedy directed by Les Waters, written by Will Eno. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 13. Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org.

Wendy Play: A play presented by ACT's MFA and Young Conservatory programs about a young playwright. Wednesdays-Saturdays. Continues through April 5. Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320.

Whistle Down the Wind: Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about a stranger claiming to be Jesus Christ. April 1-20. Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (between Taylor and Mason), 551-2000.

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