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Our critics weigh in on local theater

7 Sins. Halfway through James Judd's entertaining 75-minute solo show, 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. Through June 21 at the Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $20; call 931-1094 or visit www.theatrebayarea.org. (Will Harper) Reviewed April 16.

Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage. Ten centuries' worth of academic study and stultifying school assignments have managed to turn Scandinavia's premier sex symbol, Beowulf, into a yawning bore. Now, in an act of theatrical heroism bold enough to rival the warrior's fight with the fearsome monsters depicted in the 11th-century manuscript of his tale, the ever-inventive New York- and San Francisco-based theater company Banana Bag and Bodice, in collaboration with Berkeley's Shotgun Players, has managed to wrestle the legend's mangled reputation from the ravenous jaws of scholarship. Banana Bag and Bodice isn't the first company to have grasped rock music as the ideal metaphor for capturing Beowulf's unruly soul onstage. (That honor probably falls to a 1977 Canadian production.) But writer and actor Jason Craig's gut-gripping new rock opera (or "SongPlay" to use composer Dave Malloy's preferred descriptor for the piece) rages with an anarchic energy reminiscent of the most ardent anthems by Queen or Siouxsie Sioux. Yet despite restoring Beowulf to his rightful throne as pop icon extraordinaire, the genius of this inventively directed production lies in acknowledging a puzzling paradox that threatens to dampen the show's fiery rebelliousness: that Beowulf wouldn't be the literary king he is today if scholars hadn't given him his crown. Through June 22 at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at Martin Luther King Jr. Way), Berkeley. Tickets are pay what you can–$25; call 510-841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 4.

Bug. In one of the most startling scenes of Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Tracy Letts' skin-crawling 1996 melodrama about the human Petri dish otherwise known to us all as planet Earth, a troubled young man who claims to have escaped from an Army hospital squats over a microscope, scrutinizing a sample of his blood in a squalid Oklahoma motel room. At one level, the dramatist's outlandish story about a man who believes ruthless military doctors have planted tiny insects in his body as part of some evil government plot and manages to coerce an impressionable woman into believing it, too, makes us feel like the crew of the Enterprise stumbling upon some alien life form. We observe the characters' trailer-trash antics and outlandish conspiracy theories from a distance, as if the play were unfolding under a magnifying glass. But at another level, the passionate yet pathological relationship between the forlorn Agnes (a quietly defiant Susi Damilano) and her aphid-obsessed beau, Peter (played with Jack Nicholsonlike unpredictability by Gabriel Marin), feels anything but remote. Through June 14 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $38; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (C.V.) Reviewed May 28.

Headspace. Boxcar Theater prides itself on creating both experiential and experimental theater; the company did a past show on a moving bus, and is in negotiations to do next season's The American Dream in an IKEA store. Even settling into its fantastic new space in SOMA, Boxcar is still pushing boundaries and experimenting. With Headspace, writer Sarah Korda expands and fictionalizes a very personal 40-minute "self-revelatory" performance she originally performed as her thesis for a master's in dramatherapy. On a beautifully designed set, five actresses play different aspects of the personality of a young woman named Anna, who is struggling through a major life change. It's somewhat like crawling into a patient's head during a therapy session. This can be a healing process for the patient, but a bit tedious for an audience. Much of the metaphorical imagery and dialogue feels heavily clichéd: The character Free[dom] worries about being left behind, lots of heavy "baggage" is literally packed onstage, and a painting has a hole that can never be filled. The writing and production could be much less obvious and have subtler emotional hues to make it more than an ambitious experiment. Through June 14 at Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), S.F. Tickets are $14-$28; call 776-1747 or visit www.boxcartheatre.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed June 4.

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