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Our critics weigh in on local theater.

The History Boys. Set in the northern English town of Sheffield in the 1980s, Alan Bennett's penetrating 2004 play tells the story of a group of eight high school seniors and their quest to win coveted places at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Unlike most students who made it into these prestigious palaces of higher learning at that time, the lads in Bennett's play, though intelligent, don't come from especially privileged backgrounds. They attend a state-funded school whose students rarely if ever take the Oxbridge entrance exams. But when the school's ambitious headmaster notices that he has a batch of particularly bright young men on his hands, he pushes them towards the "dreaming spires" in the hopes of improving his institution's standing in the academic league tables. What follows from this premise is essentially a profound interrogation of three different pedagogical approaches through which the playwright demonstrates how easy it is to mistake phony scholarship for the real thing. Currently enjoying an extended run at San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre Center, director Ed Decker's rhythmically directed, thoughtfully cast, and energetically performed production faithfully captures some complex ideas about what constitutes a meaningful education at the play's heart. Through Nov. 8 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $22-$34; call 861-8972 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Oct. 22.

100 Years of Queer Theatre: A rotating series of eight short plays produced by Eastenders Repertory Company explores the impact of gay and lesbian playwrights over the past century. Wednesdays-Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 23. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.

Angry Black White Boy: Dan Wolf's adaptation of the novel by Adam Mansbach is a satire about race, pop culture, identity, and violence that uses a hybrid of theatrical storytelling, poetry, rapping, beatboxing, ballet, and hip-hop dance. Directed by Campo Santo's Sean San Jose. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 16. $15-$25. Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-3311.

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Ghost Train Coming: A struggling sex worker is visited by the reincarnation of Elvis, in this gritty, surreal, and campy comedy by Charles Pike. Starting Oct. 30. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 22. The Garage, 975 Howard (at Sixth St.), 289-2000.

My Hot Lobotomy: A multidisciplinary comedy by David Szlasa that explores how far one character will go for peace of mind. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Nov. 2. CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission (at Ninth St.), 626-2060.

Quality of Life: World views collide when a religious Midwestern couple visits a free-spirited couple. This drama by Jane Anderson stars Laurie Metcalf, JoBeth Williams, and Dennis Boutsikaris. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Nov. 23. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228.

Rocky Horror Picture Show: A live version of the film cult classic, produced by Ray of Light Theatre. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 15. Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St. (at Capp), 863-7576.

Rogue El Gato: A very bad cat attempts to save his hometown from pollution, in this family-friendly parable. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 8. Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-3311.

Shocktoberfest!! 2008: Elemental Horror: A collection of one-act plays in the style of Grand Guignol terror theater, pitting the players against ice, fire, electro-magnetism, and each other. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 22. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900.

Towle's Hill: A drama by Mark Kenward that tells the story of Gundlach Bundschu, California's oldest family-owned-and-operated winery. Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Nov. 21. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom with Sleeping Beauty, or Coma: In these two comedies by Charles Busch, vampiresses meet up in Sodom and a young office temp becomes the face of the 1960s. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 1. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell).

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