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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Cabaret. Based on John Van Druten's play I Am a Camera (which in turn was adapted from novelist Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories) Joe Masteroff, Fred Ebb, and John Kander's 1966 musical tells the story of a couple of young expats living large in Weimar-era Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party. SF Playhouse's style-savvy production team understands how to work the cozy 99-seat Playhouse space. Kim A. Tolman's Art Deco–infused set design succinctly captures the Weimar aesthetic. The addition of a row of round cafe-style tables and chairs close to the stage further creates an intimate, nightclub aura. This feeling is underscored by the doubling-up of actors as cabaret musicians. The dexterous performers move seamlessly from dancing and singing to leaping up into the cubbyhole-like inner stage at the back of the main performance area where they tackle everything from an accordion to a bubblegum-pink clarinet. The prevailing moods of desperation and oversexualization seem a little tired in the wake of other landmark productions, especially Sam Mendes' famous 1993 version starring Natasha Richardson and Alan Cumming. As the cabaret's emcee, Brian Yates Sharber oozes androgyne raunchiness and an over-the-top Mitteleuropean accent. The Mendes-inspired bisexual riff on Kander and Ebb's song about threesomes, "Two Ladies," might have seemed risqué in the 1990s, but barely titillates today. Through Sept. 20 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $40-$55; call 677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Sept. 3.

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 undercover 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. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed July 9.

2008 Theatre Rhino Benefit Gala Starring Carol Channing: An evening of songs and a look-alike contest. Tue., Sept. 23, 6 p.m. $100. Levende Lounge, 1710 Mission (at Duboce), 864-5585.

All You Can Eat (the comeback tour): Backstage antics at a band's reunion tour, written by Steve Morgan Haskell and performed by the FoolsFury ensemble. Starting Sept. 18. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Oct. 11. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 522-0786.

The Best Man: Gore Vidal's political nail-biter follows two presidential front-runners. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Sept. 28. $40-$42. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

A Bronx Tale: Oscar-nominated actor Chazz Palminteri wrote and stars in this one-man play, adapted from his 1993 film. Starting Sept. 23. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 19. Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), 512-7770.

Family Baggage: A series of tragicomic vignettes by Errol Strider and Lou Montgomery exploring dysfunctional families. Starting Sept. 20. Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Oct. 18. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477.

The History Boys: A drama by Alan Bennett about eight English schoolboys vying for admittance to prestigious universities. Starting Sept. 19. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 26. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

Into the Woods: Broadway by the Bay presents Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award–winning musical comedy. Starting Sept. 19. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Oct. 5. San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 N. Delaware, San Mateo, 650-348-8243..

Macbeth: A surreal staging of Shakespeare's classic that incorporates Pop Art images of fascistic regimes. Fridays-Sundays. Continues through Sept. 28. The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), 333-6389.

Moby Dick: The Musical: When a financial crisis hits their school, the girls of St. Godley's Academy for Young Ladies decide to mount a musical version of Moby Dick. High-jinks and double entendres ensue. A musical by Robert Longden, Martin Koch, and Hereward Kaye. Starting Sept. 18. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 12. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.

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