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Our critics weigh in on local theater

American Joe Despite being given life by the same DNA donors and being raised in the same household, siblings often grow into people who bear little resemblance to each other. Liza Raynal explores this tension using the War on Terror as a backdrop in American Joe, her autobiographical solo show at the Marsh directed by David Ford. While she and her younger brother, Joe, grew up in a liberal Bay Area home where organic salad was served, they take radically different paths in adulthood. She becomes a schoolteacher; he drops out of high school and enlists in the military to fight for a cause his pacifist sister doesn't understand. There are some funny moments (such as when "Bad to the Bone" blares from the loudspeakers during Joe's graduation from basic training) and a few touching ones (some people in the audience looked as if they were wiping away tears at the show's end). But overall Raynal delivers an uneven product that loses our interest at times. The grownup Joe, as she portrays him, comes across as a two-dimensional oaf, almost a caricature of what an Army grunt talks like. Still, the piece does get across a poignant message: Often we love our family for the same reason some of us decide to serve our country — out of a sense of duty. Through Aug. 15 at the Marsh, 1074 Valencia (at 22nd St.), S.F. $15-$35 on Thursdays; $22-$35 on Fridays and Saturdays. Call 800-838-3006 or visit (Will Harper) Reviewed July 16.

The Listener. Set far in Earth's future in the last remaining human outpost (the majority of the world's population left centuries ago for the Moon, now imaginatively renamed "Nearth"), Liz Duffy Adams' latest world premiere tells an overwrought story of our planet's fate. At the start of the play the inhabitants of Junk City, a trash-strewn metropolis piled high with the detritus of a long-fled civilization, go about their day-to-day business. When enterprising "Finders" (the city's worker bees) Smak and Jelly capture a lone researcher from Nearth by the name of John, the fortunes of Junk City change overnight. John's plan to "save" the abandoned souls marooned on his ancestors' planet by bringing them "home" to Nearth goes awry. But a burgeoning friendship with the city's lonely "Listener" (a Dr.-Spock-meets-the-Dalai-Lama figure who spends her days cooped up in a hermit's cell patiently trying to make contact with life forms beyond the city walls) sets John and his captors on an unlikely course. Adams' previous collaborations with Crowded Fire (The Train Play and One Big Lie) have been among the most compelling Crowded Fire offerings in recent years. But overburdened as it is with preachy critiques of everything from celebrity culture to the war in Iraq, this clunky dystopian dramedy tries too hard to be deep and meaningful and ends up bordering on self-parody. Through Aug. 3 at A Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at 17th St.), S.F., and Aug. 15-31 at Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at Martin Luther King Jr.), Berkeley. Tickets are $15-$25; call 433-1235 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed July 23.

The Lorca Summer Festival: Blood Wedding. Plays by Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca can be tricky to produce. They juxtapose stylized prose with poetic verse, and are wide open for creative physical interpretation. Pangs Theater is offering three of his tragedies for its summer festival, and the first, Blood Wedding, struggles to balance these elements. First staged in 1933, Lorca's most famous play details two volatile lovers who marry others but can't ignore their original primal attractions. Ultimately, this leads to bloody tragedy. Lorca thickens the drama with the politics of marriage, land inheritance, and murder. Director Wolfgang Thompson has paced this stylized production very lethargically. Overly long scene changes and actors who speak in measured and emotionless cadences sap the tension (and even elicit laughter) in Lorca's script. The end of act one feels like the season finale of a Spanish telenovela. The lush costumes are fabulous and some scenes resonate, such as the initial awkward meeting of the in-laws, but this production hasn't properly meshed its style with the material. Through Aug. 2 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), S.F. Tickets are $12-$25; call 800-838-3006 or visit (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed July 23.

Point Break Live! Keanu Reeves' legacy looms large over this most excellent theatrical spoof of Kathryn Bigelow's 1991 film about a Los Angeles cop who goes under cover to infiltrate a gang of adrenaline-junkie surfing bank robbers. Never mind that the shoestring budget puts hiring Reeves, who starred in the film as FBI agent Johnny Utah, beyond the reach of the show's producers, New Rock Theater. While the plucky theatergoer selected at the start of each performance by audience applause to fill in for Reeves may not necessarily possess the star's cheekbones or surfer's physique, he (or she) will very likely manage to turn in at least as convincing a performance. Like Bigelow's movie, the stage adaptation hyperventilates. Familiarity with the film isn't mandatory, but it certainly helps us keep up with the hectic pace. The actors are so amped that they hardly ever stand still, and have a tendency to garble their lines in the drive to recreate action movie dynamics onstage. Yet it's impossible not to get swept up in the show's glorious chaos. Kevin Vasconcellos' animation sequence projected on a theater wall illustrates a wild car chase; an explosion at a gas station bursts before our eyes in a cataclysmic live fire-breathing display; and when the idiotic surfer bums suddenly don masks and morph into a gang of dangerous, bank-robbing criminals, the intensity of their assault takes us completely by surprise. Open run on Sundays at Fat City, 314 11th St. (at Folsom) S.F. Tickets are $25; call 866-811-4111 or visit (C.V.) Reviewed July 9.

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