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Our critics weigh in on local theater

A Bowl of Rose Leaves. Imaginative Productions makes great use of its Studio 300 Theatre home, creating a interesting world where painter Alex must contend with the annoyances of fame, such as a visit from a wealthy couple from Peoria who come wanting more from Alex than just his paintings. All five cast members have some nice individual moments — Taylor Meritt has a fun turn as a housewife who fantasizes about black granite kitchen countertops. But the almost-two-hour play never coalesces as a whole. Part of this is because of Carlson's staging choices — the actors pace back and forth so persistently that there's rarely a moment to let the story about an artist and those he loves sink in. Playwright Fred Smith, himself a painter, spends all of the third act skewering the state of modern art, throwing about ideas that might be on point but that feel far removed from the careful character study of the first two acts. The play begins with a good idea, but the ultimate product doesn't deliver what it promises. Through Aug. 30 at Studio 300 Theatre, 442 Post, fifth floor (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $23-$25; call 981-6464 or visit www.imaginativeproductions.com. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Aug. 13.

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) sets John and his captors on an unlikely course. 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. 31 at Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at Martin Luther King Jr.), Berkeley. Tickets are $15-$25; call 433-1235 or visit www.crowdedfire.org. (Chloe Veltman) 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. Open run on Sundays at Fat City, 314 11th St. (at Folsom) S.F. Tickets are $25; call 866-811-4111 or visit www.pointbreaklive.com. (C.V.) Reviewed July 9.

Red State. The San Francisco Mime Troupe's latest politically charged musical comedy tackles its worthy subject — citizens must hold government responsible for how their tax dollars are spent — with its usual cheeky pluck. Yet overall the show fails to deliver either a rousing call to arms or a satisfying theatrical tale. On the theatrical front, this 90-minute show takes more than 30 minutes to get off the ground. We spend a lot of time simply hanging out with the hardscrabble folk of Bluebird, Kansas, learning about each one of them in painstaking detail before we get to the meat of the plot: It's Election Day 2008, the rest of the country has voted itself into a dead heat, and only Bluebird's votes can break the tie. Very few people in this country need to be told what hangs in the balance based on what Bluebird does, and yet the story quickly becomes not about the power of the vote but the power of not voting at all. Huh? Through Sept. 28 at parks and public sites across the Bay Area. Free; call 285-1717 or visit www.sfmt.org. (M.R.) Reviewed July 9.

Tea 'n Crisp. Writer and performer Richard Louis James' one-man show is a languorous homage to the gender-bending English raconteur Quentin Crisp. The show unfolds in two parts: The first half is a monologue advising the audience to embrace style as a form of consciousness, and the second half is an impromptu question-and-answer session. James' script, which owes much of its structure and tone to Crisp's own one-man show, is obviously supposed to be chatty — for instance, he spends the first five minutes asking theatergoers to turn off their cell phones. But even on its own rambling terms, the show is strangely unsatisfying. It's a respectful tribute but not an enlightening or invigorating one; audiences will walk away with some appreciation for Crisp's mannerisms and witticisms, but might be at a loss to recall any of them a few hours later. The best one-person shows don't simply succeed at reanimating a figure from the past — they find a way to tell us why the reanimation was worthwhile in the first place. Unfortunately, based on the evidence here, audiences with no prior exposure to Quentin Crisp would be forgiven if they thought him a bit of a bore. Through Aug. 31 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $26; visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed Aug. 13.

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