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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wreckage.Two siblings find themselves alone on a strange beach, then embark on a gender-bending odyssey — it's a premise that worked beautifully for Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. In Wreckage, currently making its premiere at Crowded Fire, playwright Caridad Svich takes that premise into far less subtle territory, placing her two main characters in lurid situations to highlight the fluidity of gender roles. As if that weren't heavy enough, she loads the script with poetic language that strains under its own importance, full of portentous phrases like "the cold massacre of night" and words like "beauteous." None of the ideas are especially fresh and none of it feels especially human, at least by the time one of the main characters is raped in a scene more exploitative than the "culture of brutality" Svich intends to critique. Too bad, because the production looks fantastic: Tim Szostek's smart lighting design makes the most of Evren Odcikin's elegant set, and Wesley Cabral's multimedia segments serve as the show's stylish high points. The actors, meanwhile, try their best with the dialogue, but they're given lines that no performer could sell. It's not their fault that they signed up for drama and got stuck with kitsch. Through June 6 at Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), S.F. $15-$25; 433-1235 or www.crowdedfire.org. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed May 27.

Fukú Americanus. After finding great success bringing Dave Eggers' novel You Shall Know Our Velocity to the stage (Sacrament, 2004), the Mission's Campo Santo is tackling Junot Díaz' Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It's a wildly ambitious task given that the novel covers three generations of a Dominican family emigrating to New Jersey, a good dose of Dominican history, a family curse (fukú), and overflows with references to '80s nerd pop culture. Much like the book, the first section of this adaptation, which introduces the overweight "ghetto nerd" Oscar (Brian Rivera), is a bit overwhelming in style and language. The English and Spanish dialogue is rapid-fire, with actors jumping around and shouting over each other. By the second section — when Oscar's punky sister, Lola (Vanessa Cota), and his mother (Maria Candelaria) and grandmother (Anna Maria Luera) are introduced — character and plot ground themselves and the audience can better appreciate Díaz' acrobatic language. The cast is rock solid; the highlight is Carlos Aguirre, who not only skillfully plays multiple roles but also beatboxes a live soundtrack over this whirling dervish of a play. This production is funny, energetic, and in-your-face; the exact qualities that make the book so original and wondrous. Through June 21 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), S.F. $15-$25; 626-2787 ext. 109 or www.theintersection.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed May 27.

At Home at the Zoo: Edward Albee's drama, directed by Rebecca Taichman. Starting June 5, Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues through July 5. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228, www.act-sfbay.org.

The Barber of Seville: Pocket Opera's production of Gioachino Rossini's piece. Sat., June 6, 2 p.m.; Sun., June 14, 2 p.m. Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave. (at Clement), 863-3330, www.thinker.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.

Captain Stormfield's Report from Heaven: The afterlife according to Mark Twain. Fridays, Sundays. Continues through June 28, www.thepeoplestheatre.com. Pena Pachamama, 1630 Powell, 646-0018, penapachamama.com.

Circus Finelli: Slavic slapstick cabaret. Starting June 5, Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through June 21. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433, www.stagewerx.org.

Dead Man's Cell Phone: Sarah Ruhl's comedy about technology. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues through June 13. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org.

East 14th Street: Don Reed's solo show about growing up in Oakland. Fridays-Sundays. Continues through June 14. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Eccentrics of San Francisco's Barbary Coast ... A Magical Escapade: Historical magic show with Walt Anthony, David Miller, Brian Scott, and Ruth Fraser. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 27, $30, www.sanfranciscomagicparlor.com. Chancellor Hotel, 433 Powell (at Post), 362-2004, www.chancellorhotel.com.

Fukú Americanus: Based on the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Through June 21, 8 p.m., $15-$25. Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-3311, www.theintersection.org.

FURYfactory 2009: Festival of works from nationwide ensembles. June 9-27, www.foolsfury.org. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 292-1233, www.atjt.com.

Jericho Road Improvement Association: Hella Fresh Theatre's production about an Oakland police officer. Starting June 4, Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through June 27, www.hellafreshtheatre.com. Phoenix Arts Association Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023, www.phoenixtheatresf.org.

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