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3 Vanek Plays. Before becoming the president of Czechoslovakia in 1989 and after spending four years in jail as a political dissident, Václav Havel wrote these three plays. Each of these semiautobiographical shorts contains the same protagonist, Ferdinand Vanek, an activist playwright who is less a character per se and more a dramatic principle of morality. In the first Kafkaesque short, "Audience" (the weakest of the bunch), Vanek (Craig Souza) works at a brewery and his boss (Jeff Thompson) engages him in a spiraling drunken conversation about the mounting pressures of an omnipresent "they" watching over operations. Thompson deliriously works himself into a sweaty, paranoid mess but it is frustrating to navigate his character's oblique and absurdist dialogue. The second play, "Unveiling," is delightful and very funny, as Vanek finds himself having drinks with a couple (Amanda Krampf and Wylie Herman) obsessed with image and material possessions while being hilariously disdainful of his poor writerly lifestyle. The third and most powerful offering, "Protest," offers a view into the articulate and guilty mind of a TV producer (Craig Dickerson) who secretly sides with Vanek's political dissidence, but struggles to go public. Dickerson is a tour de force of anguished tics and pauses, and captures Havel's theme of navigating difficult morality choices, capping a truly engaging night of theater. Through May 18 at Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, 1414 Walnut (at Rose), Berkeley. Tickets are $15-$20; call 800-838-3006 or visit (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed May 7.

Best of PlayGround 12: A Festival of New Writers & New Plays: Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 25. The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081.

Book of Mark: A solo performance written and performed by Charles Pike. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through May 17. The Garage, 975 Howard (at Sixth St.), 289-2000.

Breast of Sherry Glaser: The founder of Breasts Not Bombs sets out to save the world. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through June 14. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

Bug: A cocktail waitress and an AWOL Gulf War veteran hide out together. Through June 8. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.

Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again: A solo show by Wes "Scoop" Nisker. May 16-24. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

Curse of the Starving Class: A dark satire by Sam Shepard. Through May 25. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.

It's Murder Mary: Murder mystery set in a Russian River resort. May 17-June 28. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

Octopus: Four men, one night. A drama by Steve Yockey, coproduced by the Magic Theater and Encore Theatre Company. Through June 8. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Marina & Buchanan), 441-8822.

The Odd Couple: Oscar and Felix, together again. Through June 7. The Custom Stage, 965 Mission St. (at Sixth St.), 838-3006.

Peddling Rainbows: Celebrating the songs and poetry of E.Y. "Yip" Harburg. May 15-25. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469.

The Rosenbach Company: A Pop Opera: By graphic novelist Ben Katchor and composer and singer Mark Mulcahy. Wed., May 14, 8 p.m. $15-$22. Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California (at Presidio), 292-1200.

San Francisco Young Playwrights Festival: A selection of plays by local high school students. May 15-18. Diego Rivera Theater/CCSF, 50 Phelan (at Judson), 239-3100.

Squeeze Box: Ann Randolph's solo show about her minimum-wage life. May 17-June 29. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

The W. Kamau Bell Curve: The comedian is back for more in his solo show. Thursdays. Continues through June 12. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-1226.

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