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Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Last Yiddish Poet. To kick off its 30th season, Traveling Jewish Theatre is revisiting one of its first productions, which explores "Yiddish without nostalgia, sentimentality, or trivialization." It focuses on the notion of an archetypal "last" Yiddish poet wandering through an abridged history of the Jewish people, from the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai through the stereotype of the Jewish immigrant to the gassing of the Jews in Lublin, Poland. Even in covering this sometimes somber and troubling history, this play is grounded with a subtle sense of humor and almost magical whimsy — much like the Yiddish language itself. Much of the beauty and resonance of the play, as well as the spoken Yiddish, comes from Aaron Davidman's assured and gentle portrayal of the Poet and Corey Fischer's ominous and tired Nakhman (a historical Hasidic rabbi). The dialogue here, a fervent exchange of ideas woven into a tapestry of Yiddish and English, poetry and song, captures the true essence of this play — a beautiful celebration of a dying language's life and soul. Through Dec. 14 at Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at 17th St.), S.F. $15-$34; call 292-1233 or visit www.atjt.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Nov. 19.

The W. Kamau Bell Curve. After the election of Barack Obama, what could an African-American comedian with a gift for uncovering the nuances of race possibly have to say in our obviously post-race society? Well, it turns out W. Kamau Bell has plenty to say in his latest one-man show. In his laid-back, conversational style, he deftly deconstructs the ponytail Michelle Obama sported when she voted on Election Day; how the world would be a better place if the government would curb anonymous Internet postings with the Say It to My Face Act; and the racism inherent in that hipster staple, superskinny jeans. Not all his musings and observations hit the mark. An extended riff on how John McCain is evil not only seems like an easy target (or "so Bay Area," as Bell would say) but also already old news in what is otherwise a very current and thought-provoking show. Bell has no brilliant solutions to share with us about how we can fix race relations for good, but that's one of his main points. For all the power of electing the country's first black president, there are still some racial issues – a lot of racial issues – where there can be no real meeting in the middle. This show encapsulates beautifully how far we all have come, and how far we've yet to go. Through Dec. 13 at Climate, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), S.F.; Jan. 6-Feb. 28 at SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $25 (2 for 1 if you bring a friend of a different race); 263-0830 or www.climatetheater.com. (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Nov. 19.

The America Play: Suzan-Lori Parks' drama about the American Dream. Through Dec. 14. The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081.

As Bees in Honey Drown: In this drama by Douglas Carter Beane, a young gay writer captures the eye of a mysterious woman in black. Through Dec. 21. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

Ben Franklin in Paris: A musical concerning Franklin's forays in France. Nov. 28-Dec. 14. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469, www.eurekatheatre.org.

Dame Edna — Live and Intimate in Her First Last Tour: Through Jan. 4. Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Mason), 321-2900, www.poststreettheatre.com.

No Parole: An autobiographical comedy by Carlo D'Amore. Through Dec. 13. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck's drama about California migrant field workers during the Great Depression. Through Nov. 29. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287.

The Phantom of the Opera: The famous musical, directed by Harold Prince. Through Jan. 4. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.

Squeezebox: Ann Randolph's solo show chronicles working in a homeless shelter and looking for love. Through Nov. 30. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

The Velveteen Rabbit: The beloved holiday classic performed by ODC/Dance. Nov. 28-Dec. 14. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Novellus Theater, 700 Howard (at Third St.), 978-2787, www.ybca.org.

 
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