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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.

Audacious Artefacts: Parisian Grand Guignol: Original Grand Guignol. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through May 16, $15-$30. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 377-4202,

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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: The best of the bunch. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 31, The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081,

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

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