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Our critics weigh in on local theater

American Hwangap. Magic Theatre's artistic director, Loretta Greco, is very keen to compare American Hwangap and its Korean-American playwright, Lloyd Suh, to Sam Shepard and his plays of severe family dysfunction set on the edges of the American desert. It's quite a stretch. The setup of a damaged family reunion is similar to Shepard's Buried Child, but Suh's work is much lighter fare. The Korean ritual of hwangap is the celebration of the completion of the 60-year zodiac cycle. In this case, it's the 60th birthday celebration and return ("a little weekend of apologies and fistfights") of an absent dad (Keone Young) who abandoned his family in Texas to return to Korea for some unknown reason. The three children and mother left behind are long into adulthood, but still scarred from the emotional wreckage of his selfish departure. The script and production feel unsatisfying when the bits of reconciliation occur. They are unearned both in writing and performance. The deserted mother (Jodi Long) seemingly forgives her deadbeat husband with a hug; one son, crippled by nervousness and still living in his mom's basement at 29, forgives with a brief fishing trip. Suh could be credibly compared to Shepard if he weren't so intent on family healing and happy endings. Through May 3 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Building D (Marina and Buchanan), S.F. $40-$45; 441-8822 or www.magictheatre.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed April 22.

The Homecoming. In Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, we're confronted with the most unpleasant family reunion imaginable — and that's just the first act. The show concerns the long-absent Teddy (Yusef Lambert) who returns to the North London home of his youth, finding his father and two brothers reduced to various states of physical decay and sexual longing. Teddy brings his wife to meet the family, and before we get to intermission, she's already canoodling with her husband's predatory siblings. All of this action unfolds in Pinter's trademark style — a style that generates a steady thrum of melancholy and menace, punctuated by stabs of mordant humor. Viewers unfamiliar with Pinter will find Off Broadway West's new production of The Homecoming a good place to witness the playwright's style: The cast may be as uneven as their British accents, but the three roles that absolutely need to be strong — Graham Cowley's Max, Nick Russell's Lenny, and Sylvia Kratins' Ruth — are very strong indeed. When those three interact, Pinter's sly touch and deliberately off-kilter rhythms come through beautifully. Larger ensemble scenes, however, often fail to sustain a similar level of comic tension and dread, so hard-core Pinter fans might be better off sitting this one out. Through May 2 at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), S.F. $30; 510-835-4205 or www.offbroadwaywest.org. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed April 22.

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 May 9 at the Cutting Ball Theater at the Exit, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), S.F. $15-$30; 800-838-3006 or www.cuttingball.com. (N.E.) Reviewed March 25.

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

And the World Goes Round: Songs for kids by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Starting May 1, Fridays-Sundays. Continues through May 10. Randall Museum, 199 Museum (at Roosevelt), 554-9600, www.randallmuseum.org.

Assisted Living: Staged reading of Deirdre O'Connor's play about family. Tue., May 5, free. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Marina & Buchanan), 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org.

Audacious Artefacts: Parisian Grand Guignol: Original Grand Guignol. Through May 16, $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.

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