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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Audacious Artefacts: Parisian Grand Guignol. As with just about any collection of short theater pieces, Thrillpeddlers' new sex-and-violence extravaganza is very much hit-and-miss — but at least this evening of one-acts gets much, much better as it goes along. Audacious Artefacts is a tribute to the Théâtre du Grand Guignol, the Parisian venue that specialized in deliriously lowbrow, exploitative shock fare from 1897 to 1962. In keeping with the Grand Guignol tradition, Thrillpeddlers presents four short plays — two horror tales and two sex farces — yoked together so that audiences find themselves torn between titillation and dread. Or, at least, that's the idea; in practice, the sex farces are more successful than the horror pieces. Best of all is the finale, a simple little romp called "The Discipline," which technically pre-dates Grand Guignol (it was written in 1788) and plays like a vignette out of a Laurence Sterne novel. It features two nuns lusting after the convent gardener, who ends up shtupping both of them in an outrageous shadow-puppet sex show. The piece climaxes, so to speak, with an ingenious, disorienting, lights-out phantasmagoric sequence featuring a giant floating penis that shoots glow-in-the-dark streamers toward a giant floating vagina. Hey, nobody ever went to the Grand Guignol for subtlety. Through May 16 at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), S.F. $15-$69; 377-4202 or (Chris Jensen) Reviewed April 29.

Faux Real.If you needed more signs that San Francisco bends gender rules other places don't even know exist yet, one of the hardest-working drag queens currently working the stage at Climate Theater boasts that she is actually a woman. Yet Monique Jenkinson — aka Fauxnique, also Miss Trannyshack 2003 — doesn't belabor the point, or even mention it in her 90-minute show. She lets audiences decide for themselves, not only whether they believe she's a biological female (her program bio says she is), but also what it means to be authentic in her drag world — or any world, for that matter. Jenkinson gives us rich little glimpses into that world by letting us in on the labor-intensive wig and makeup applications while she peppers us with stories from her past and present. The numbers flows easily between touching and lewd — one piece set to an interview with Maria Callas and a loving skewering of Madonna's many religious conversions are standouts. And the bits she shares about her life – such as the 20 albums that made her gay, or the copy of Miss Piggy's Guide to Life her mother gave her at age 10 — offer just enough of a taste of whoever the real Monique Jenkinson is to leave us wanting more. Through May 9 at Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), S.F. $15-$20; 704-3260 or (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed April 29.

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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 (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed March 25.

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

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, Bayfront Theater, 16 Marina (at Laguna), 474-6776,

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, Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Best of PlayGround 13: A Festival of Writers and New Plays: Starting May 7, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 31, The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081,

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