By Joseph Geha
By Jonathan Kiefer
By Katie Tandy
By Mollie McWilliams
By Jennifer Baires
By Jonathan Curiel
By Sherilyn Connelly
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Developed over two years in India, British director Tim Supple's version of Shakespeare's comedy of love and bewitchment not only features an all-Asian cast, but also disposes of about 50 percent of Shakespeare's language. Over the course of the show, the actors intersperse bits of the original English verse with lines translated into Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Sinhalese, Malayalam, Marathi, and Sanskrit. At one level, being forced to abandon all hope of understanding what's being said onstage is liberating. Without language, our responses to the action are utterly visceral. We start to hear the sounds coming out of the actors' mouths not as words but as music, and every string, wind, or percussion note played by the three company musicians seems rich and strange. Sumant Jayakrishnan's massive bamboo climbing frame backdrop and riotously hued Asian-themed costumes and Zuleikha Chaudhari's passionate lights play as significant a role in the action as the performers' intense facial expressions and extreme physicality: We rely on the interplay of all these elements to draw meaning from the play. When Archana Ramaswamy's Titania chases PR Jijoy's Oberon down the wooden rungs of the set, viciously pulling his hair, cries of "Ouch!" ricochet around the audience. And when Joy Fernandes' Bottom ambles onstage with raffia donkey ears and what looks like a giant acorn squash attached to the front of his pants, we hoot with laughter. Yet at another level, feeling linguistically challenged conveys the frustration Shakespeare's Athenian lovers experience at the mercy of their uncontrollable passions. Through June 1 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $35-$80; call 512-7770 or visit www.shnsf.com. (C.V.) Reviewed May. 14.
ShortLived. PianoFight productions encourages audience members to brown-bag their own booze; the crew even throws a couple of Budweisers and miniature whiskey bottles into the crowd right before the lights go down. But you don't have to be drunk, or even buzzed, to have a rip-roaring good time. ShortLived is a three-month competition of original short plays where the audience votes which ones make it to the next round. The night I attended, five of the eight plays (each under 10 minutes) were very funny and the other three quite gripping. Most were sustained short bursts of bizarre hilarity, such as a wedding involving ninja costumes and antidepressants, and a man trying unsuccessfully to use a coupon at a supermarket. One, called The Stand In, involved a woman who had actually answered a Craigslist ad to come in unrehearsed and act opposite a sock puppet. Artistic directors Rob Ready and Dan Williams (both stars in their own right) lead an acting company that is irreverent, skilled, and clearly loves to have a good time. Obviously the content changes, but the show I saw was better than most Saturday Night Live editions. Through June 28 at Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-$20; call 820-1656 or visit www.pianofight.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed May 21.
'Tis Pity She's a Whore. John Ford's 17th-century tragedy takes an exuberant interest in taboo and revenge. It isn't a prim play. The plot concerns a coquettish maiden who gets knocked up by her amorous brother; at show's end, the dead pretty much outnumber the living, and somebody's heart has been skewered on a dagger. It would be a mistake, however, to invest any of this with high seriousness — the play is always aware that its lavish bloodletting borders on slapstick. What a relief, then, to find that Impact Theatre's production is just as cheerfully sleazy as its source material. Under the freewheeling direction of Melissa Hillman, this is not a particularly polished show. Still, the fights are scrappy, the deaths are messy, and the cast members are young, attractive, and eager to rip off each other's clothes. The first act is stronger than the second, in part because Jai Sahai, as Bergetto, dies extravagantly just before intermission. This guy is such a font of rapid-fire comic invention that the world will be a slightly darker place if he doesn't achieve some form of major stardom. 'Tis Pity is good filthy fun, but if you sit in the front row, beware: Experience dictates that you might just get blood splattered on your shoes. Through June 7 at Impact Theatre, 1834 Euclid (at Hearst), Berkeley. Tickets are $10-$15; call 510-464-4468 or visit www.impacttheatre.com. (Christopher Jensen) Reviewed May 21.
The BrEaST of Sherry Glaser: The founder of Breasts Not Bombs sets out to save the world. Through June 14. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.
Buried Child: Sam Shepard's drama about a Midwestern family. Through June 12. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287.
Don Pasquale: A Pocket Opera production of Gaetano Donizetti's work. Sat., May 31, 1 p.m.; Sun., June 1, 1 p.m. Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave. (near Clement), 863-3330.
It's Murder Mary: Murder mystery set in a Russian River resort. Through June 28. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.