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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Coronado. Dennis Lehane is the current go-to guy for gritty drama soaked in family tragedy. He wrote books that were adapted for the screen for Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone and Clint Eastwood's Mystic River. In 2004, he joined the writing staff of The Wire, HBO's brilliant and critically lauded crime drama. As for his theater work, Lehane wastes no time getting down and dirty. Within the first five minutes of Coronado, we're drawn into a world of missing diamonds, bullets to the head, blackmail, and murder. On an absolutely stellar set (with SF Playhouse artistic director Bill English doing double duty as set designer and actor) depicting a rundown bar on the edge of a desert, a group of stories unwind and intertwine, linking each character to a heady world of adultery and deception. Stacy Ross is electric as a woman trying to forget her past ("There are worse crimes than murder") while simultaneously blackmailing and carrying on an affair with her therapist. Lehane's script and Susi Damilano's direction give this production a slick, sexy cinematic vibe but don't ignore the haunting undercurrent of transgression and regret. At its dark, twisted heart, Coronado is a reflection of the crossroads we encounter, the (sometimes disastrous) choices we make, and the regret we're forced to live with. This is heavy stuff, but this skillful production makes it all eminently pleasurable to watch. Through April 26 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $20-$65; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed April 2.

Future Me. Edward Albee makes us feel compassion for a man who commits bestiality in The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, thus flying in the face of widely held beliefs about deviant sexuality. British playwright Stephen Brown doesn't go as far as Albee did, with his wide-ranging theatrical exploration of the journey of a pedophile from handcuffs to rehabilitation. Yet the dramatist's 360-degree view on society's treatment of sex offenders, receiving its world premiere in a TheatreFIRST production directed by Dylan Russell, similarly challenges audiences' expectations. Brown's compelling dramatic narrative tells the story of Peter, a successful London lawyer with a closeted interest in prepubescent girls. When Peter's computer malfunctions, accidentally sending an e-mail bearing an explicit attachment to his entire address book, the unwitting spammer finds himself hauled off to prison for three years. Despite Brown's unorthodox and at times unflinching view of a difficult subject and sensitive performances from all cast members, the actors don't seem altogether comfortable with the play's British accents and setting. Much of the play's sharp comedy gets lost in translation, which, in combination with the script's relentlessly episodic structure, undermines our ability to engage fully with the issue at hand. Through May 4 at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley. Tickets are $14-$28; call 510-436-5085 or visit www.theatrefirst.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed April 16.

7 Sins. Halfway through James Judd's entertaining 75-minute solo show at Theatre Rhinoceros' studio, it dawns on you: Who the hell is this guy and why am I laughing so hard? While autobiographical one-person shows are nothing new, it's one thing to keep an audience's attention when you're someone famous like Carrie Fisher (whose run at the Berkeley Rep just ended), and quite another when you're a nobody. Judd, the nobody in question here, gets the audience to root for him as he recounts his life's not-so-serious struggles, from his ill-fated attempt in the fifth grade to be honored for giving the best book report (he unwisely chooses My Search for Patty Hearst) to his stint as a stand-up comedian working in sleazy Las Vegas hotels. Along the way, he always manages to say something during his misadventures that, in retrospect, he knows he probably shouldn't have. When, for instance, a man sitting next to him on the ski lift boasts that his woman is waiting for him at the hotel, Judd, who is gay, retorts that his boyfriend is at home doing his taxes. "I'm going to get a blow job and a refund," he gloats. 7 Sins began years ago as a group show; Judd later adapted it for himself and kept the title, which is somewhat misleading. The deadly sins play, at most, a marginal role in his personal stories. The second half of the show wanders some and could be tightened, but this is a minor gripe. In the end, you'll still leave with a smile on your face. Through May 17 at Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), S.F. Tickets are $10; call 861-5079 or visit www.therhino.org. (Will Harper) Reviewed April 16.

Strange Travel Suggestions. Jeff Greenwald has a mantra when embarking on one of his many treks to far-flung global destinations: "May all of your travels make a fool of you." In the return of this sublime 90-minute night of improvised storytelling, Oakland resident Greenwald, a best-selling travel writer, ponders the primal nature we take with us on journeys and the soulful adventures to be had when veering off a planned itinerary. His stories are different each night, and solely dependent on the spin of a beautiful wheel covered with hieroglyphics placed center stage. On the night I attended, the wheel stopped at "oracles," "meals of misfortune," and "magicians," and rip-roaring tales were told with Nepal, Iran, and Northern India as their backdrops. While Greenwald often finds himself in dangerous or awkward situations (such as trying to smuggle an endangered snow leopard to safety in Katmandu), he has a deep knowledge of local religions and customs, which keeps this from being a clichéd evening about bumbling tourists in strange lands. While indeed improvised, these stories are beautifully formed and truly riveting. The legendary and neurotic New York monologuist Spalding Gray always dreamed of moving to Northern California to become more of a wizened, worldly sage. If he had, he might have become the wonderful Jeff Greenwald. Through April 26 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 21st St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-$35; call 800-838-3006 or visit www.themarsh.org. (N.E.) Reviewed April 9.

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