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Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Model Apartment. Comedy may be tragedy plus time, but sometimes a tragedy is so immense that it can only devolve into savage farce. Donald Margulies' The Model Apartment, currently playing at Traveling Jewish Theatre, considers the limits of comedy by focusing on a pair of Holocaust survivors in their golden years. Lola (Naomi Newman) and Max (Jarion Monroe) are retirees making the twilight move from Brooklyn to Florida. But their new condo isn't ready, so they relocate temporarily to a model apartment in which everything is a shining, useless surface — the cigarette tray is glued to the coffee table, and the refrigerator is an unplugged prop. As they settle down to sleep, they're confronted by their Nazi-obsessed daughter, Debbie, played here in an aggressively comic and frankly stunning performance by Amy Resnick. For the rest of the night, Lola and Max find themselves dwelling on past horrors, all the while surrounded by the more banal horrors of the present. This production, smartly directed by Amy Glazer, works best whenever Debbie is onstage to dredge up her mother's unreliable memories from the concentration camp — long-buried traumas that emerge amid the oppressive Miami pastels of Lisa Clark's pitch-perfect set. The result is a disorienting, inconclusive fever dream designed to mock the notion that time heals all wounds. Through April 5 at Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at 17th St.), S.F. $15-$34; 292-1233 or www.atjt.com. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed March 11.

Thom Pain (based on nothing). This play, as its subtitle suggests, is a one-man Beckettlike riff about "nothing," written by the incomparable Will Eno. The script was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, and this production, directed by Marissa Wolf, is solidly one of the best pieces of theater I've ever witnessed. So much so, it leaves me speechless. That said, let me first riff some honest, yet terribly clichéd, adjectives: mind-blowing, confronting, difficult, heady, hilarious. If this sounds like hyperbole, let me then quote from Charles Isherwood's review of the Off-Broadway production from The New York Times: "astonishing ... audacious ... grabs us by the throat ... a small masterpiece." So really, what is this show about nothing really about? A young man (the thrilling Jonathan Bock) stands alone on a blank stage. He delivers, in a measured and controlled Rod Serling–esque tone, a stream-of-consciousness monologue about the horror and beauty of being alive. It's menacingly funny. Bock makes serious eye contact with the audience, breaking down the fourth wall and asking questions. Don't worry, you don't have to answer — they're rhetorical, aren't they? The guy seated to my right captured it best: "This show has all the emotion in that moment before a first kiss ... or a fist fight." It's brilliant. Through April 19 at the Cutting Ball Theater at the Exit, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), S.F. $15-$30; 800-838-3006 or www.cuttingball.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed March 25.

Act a Lady: Gender bending in a small, Prohibition-era town. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 26. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

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Actors Reading Writers: Popular local actors read modern and classic short stories. First Monday of every month, 7:30 p.m., free. Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-848-7800, www.berkeleycityclub.com.

American Hwangap: Lloyd Suh's drama about a Korean immigrant reuniting with his family. Starting April 4, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 3. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org.

Ascension of the Blues: An American Musical Journey: Fri., April 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 4, 8 p.m., $38-$48. 142 Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton (at Madrona), Mill Valley, 383-9600, www.142throckmortontheatre.com.

Audacious Artefacts: Parisian Grand Guignol: Through May 2, $15-$30. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 377-4202, www.thrillpeddlers.com.

Baptized to the Bone: A comedy by Dave Johnson about a theater producer scrambling for money. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 3. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

BATS: Sunday Players: Each week Bay Area Theatresports players pit their improv work against all comers as the audience votes them off one by one until the winner stands alone on the stage. Sundays, 7 p.m., $5-$8, www.improv.org. Bayfront Theater, 16 Marina (at Laguna), 474-6776, www.improv.org/shows/bayfront.htm.

Beach Blanket Babylon: A North Beach perennial featuring crazy hats, media personality caricatures, a splash of romance, and little substance. Now with Rod Blagojevich! Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 6:30 & 9:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 5 p.m., $25-$80, www.beachblanketbabylon.com. Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Big City Improv: Actors take audience suggestions and create comedy from nothing. Fridays, 10 p.m., $15-$20, www.bigcityimprov.com. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100, www.sheltontheater.com.

Chains of Dew: Susan Glaspell's play about a poet in the '20s, produced by San Francisco Free Civic Theatre. April 2-5, free. Randall Museum, 199 Museum (at Roosevelt), 554-9600, www.randallmuseum.org.

Confessions of a Refrigerator Mother: Carolyn Doyle's play about a day in the life of her autistic son. Starting April 2, Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through April 25. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Discussion and Performance: Jews and Hip-Hop: Featuring Dan Wolf of Angry Black White Boy as well as the show's director, Sean San Jose. Wed., April 1, 5 p.m., free-$10. Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission (at Third St.), 655-7800, www.thecjm.org.

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