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Our critics weigh in on local theater

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.

Katya: What Becomes a Legend Most? J. Conrad Frank avoids the pitfalls of many drag shows that rely too much on kitsch, shakily sung parody songs, and trashy banter. Frank's alter ego, the Russian countess Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, is glamorous and tasteful, elegantly intoxicated (her last name says it all), and can sing, sliding easily from her high falsetto to a low tenor range. With each operatic song and through four gorgeous costume changes, Katya illuminates a new aspect of her history — from her humble beginnings growing up in Russia with a Gypsy father (Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" sung as torch ballad) through her brief career at the Metropolitan Opera to her stint as a wedding singer at endangered gay marriages (the quite stirring "Make Them Hear You," from Ragtime). Apparently fearing the show isn't gay enough, she also throws in an over-the-top medley featuring Cher, Judy Garland, Madonna, Queen, and the Village People. Katya is extremely popular in the local drag scene, winning major awards, but the night I attended felt off. The room's energy was low, jokes often fell flat, and occasionally her thick European accent and falsetto got tiresome. Yet I felt like I got to know a fully rounded persona — more than I can say for most other drag shows. Through June 27 at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Fell), S.F. $20-$29; 861-8972 or www.nctcsf.org. (N.E.) Reviewed June 10.

Man of La Mancha. Theater in gorgeous outdoor settings can be somewhat critic-proof, especially when the show in question takes place at the top of Mount Tamalpais. If you're in the mood to pack up cushions and take a lovely, zigzagging drive with the intention of getting sunburned in an amphitheater, then it won't matter to you that Mountain Play's production of Man of La Mancha is solidly mediocre. The 1965 musical — loosely based on Don Quixote — is pretty weak material to begin with, in part because its clumsy play-within-a-play structure keeps the audience at arm's length. That said, this production has at least one solid point in its favor: William Elsman's Don Quixote is exactly as hammy and lovable as he should be. But without a strong Aldonza, Man of La Mancha will always come up short — not least because her self-titled number is the show's most powerful song (and no, I'm not forgetting the karaoke standard "The Impossible Dream," diabolical earworm though it may be). Another major problem here is the choreography, which renders the play's key fight sequences as perplexing jumbles. But if the prospect of so-so theater doesn't concern you so long as you're looking down on Mill Valley from 2,400 feet, then just go. Through June 21 at Mount Tamalpais Amphitheatre, 801 Panoramic (at Highway 1), Mill Valley. $23-$40; 383-1100 or www.mountainplay.org. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed June 10.

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

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