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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Bad Habits.This is the inaugural production of new Bay Area–based theater company Square Mama. Its mission is to revive plays that, for one reason or another, closed on Broadway or never made it to San Francisco before getting due acclaim. This is an excellent but risky idea, because perhaps many of these plays closed for good reason. In the case of Terrence McNally's comedy Bad Habits, it was because of a severely flawed script. The concept is great: two one-acts, back-to-back, each set in a different medical retreat with radically different treatments. The first rehab encourages patients to indulge in their bad habits, while the second forbids every possible pleasure. The entire cast is hilarious, especially in the smaller roles: Remi Barron as the German butler wanting to give patients "rubdowns," Raúl Ramón Rubio as the Japanese S&M sex fiend, and Brian O'Conner channeling Bill Murray as the lecherous maintenance man ("I got desires, and I like to do 'em!") are brilliant. Too bad McNally offers us no plot or real drama. As a result, we're left with an unfinished and unsatisfying product despite the promising setup. Through Aug. 30 at Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), S.F. Tickets are $15-$25; call 861-5079 or visit www.squaremama.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Aug. 20.

The Ballad of Edgar Cayce (A Bluegrass Operetta). The relationship between the conscious and subconscious looms like an oversized reproduction of Marcel Duchamp's urinal over the quirky San Francisco–based writer and performer Gary Aylesworth's latest play. This Surrealist, music-infused "documentary fantasy" based on the life of the early-20th-century psychic and healer Edgar Cayce, one of the country's most famous spiritual mediums, takes theatergoers on an inscrutable journey. Aylesworth and longtime collaborator Peter Newton appear to have a great deal of fun exploring the cobwebby nooks of Cayce's unconventional life. In the first moments of the play, the actors enter performing Stephen Foster's song "Beautiful Dreamer" on recorders. This sweetly naive introduction sets the entire production's prevailing atmosphere of childlike playfulness. However, unless you read up on Cayce's life in advance, it's likely you'll get lost. With the exception of Cayce and Gloria Swanson (one of the medium's devotees), most of the other characters who appear lack definition, causing them to blend unhelpfully together. Similarly, the scenes slide past in such a dreamlike haze that it's hard to keep up with the action. Freud would have a field day with the production's reliance on seemingly random whimsy. But if you're not party to the inner workings of Aylesworth and Newton's brains, the effect is discombobulating and ultimately tedious. Through Aug. 30 at A Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at 17th St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-$20; call 831-1943 or visit www.constructioncrewtheater.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Aug. 20.

A Bowl of Rose Leaves. Imaginative Productions makes great use of its Studio 300 Theatre home (which doubles as director Shari Carlson's voice and acting studio during the day), 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.

Emo! The Musical. This play is kind of like The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee for goths. Oh, wait a second. Don't call them goths — call them emo kids, as in "emotional." They do wear black, put on eyeliner, and feel perpetually misunderstood, but these kids don't listen to the Cure (like I did back in my angst-ridden, drama club days). Emo kids now like bands such as My Chemical Romance and Bright Eyes — and they favor black, thick-framed glasses. This is the new generation of misunderstood, vampire-lovin' youth, and now they have a musical to call their own. This fun but trite production celebrates all things emo, but mainly pokes fun at the lifestyle ("We didn't choose to be emo. We were born emo. It's just like homosexuality!"). The plot is paper-thin — there's a mopey poetry slam, an intolerant jock, and a socially impossible romance between a cheerleader and an emo boy. Oh, and then there's an asteroid. Playwright Joey Price doesn't appear worried about story. He and his company Beards, Beards, Beards are focused on attracting a young, fresh audience to theater and having a little fun; he succeeds on both points. Through Aug. 30 at Boxcar Playhouse, 2926 Natoma (at Sixth St.), S.F. Tickets are $15-$30; visit www.beardsbeardsbeards.com.(N.E.) Reviewed Aug. 20.

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