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Our critics weigh in on local theater

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. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed June 10.

Apocalypse Puppet Theatre: Sun., June 28, 9 p.m., $7-$10. Amnesia, 853 Valencia (at 20th St.), 970-0012, www.amnesiathebar.com.

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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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.

Brain-Dead Alive: Through June 27, 8 p.m., $20, www.primitivescrewheads.com. Great Star Theater, 630 Jackson (at Kearny).

Captain Stormfield's Report from Heaven: The afterlife according to Mark Twain, with dinner starting at 6 p.m. on Fridays and 5 p.m. on Sundays. Fridays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 5:30 p.m. Continues through June 28, www.thepeoplestheatre.com. Pena Pachamama, 1630 Powell, 646-0018, penapachamama.com.

Confessions of a Pulpiteer: A musical and theatrical performance by Lee Boek, Mitch Greenhill, and Roberta Levitow. Wed., June 24, 8 p.m., $19.50, all ages. Freight & Salvage Coffee House, 1111 Addison (at San Pablo), Berkeley, 510-548-1761.

East 14th Street: Don Reed's solo show about growing up in Oakland. Through July 18. 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.

Emperor Norton: The Musical: Melody! Comedy! Insanity! Third Child Productions revives its light-hearted look at the most famous kook in San Francisco history. Can Frank Chu: The Musical be far behind? Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through July 5, $20, www.emperornortonthemusical.com. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987, www.darkroomsf.com.

Fury Factory: Festival of works from nationwide ensembles. Through June 27, 7 p.m., $12-$75, www.foolsfury.org. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 292-1233, www.atjt.com.

Golden Girls: More Gay Pride Episodes: Starring Heklina, Pollo Del Mar, Cookie Dough, and Matthew Martin. Through June 26, 7 & 9 p.m., $20, www.trannyshack.com. Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, 1519 Mission (at Van Ness), 690-9410, www.voicefactorysf.org.

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

The Land of Infants: Megan O'Patry's drama about grave diggers and a mob boss. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through June 27. El Teatro de la Esperanza, 2940 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 338-1341.

Lettuce Town Lies: Kenny Yun comes of age in Salinas. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through June 27. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Love Humiliation & Karaoke: Enzo Lombard's play about losing everything, directed by W. Kamau Bell. Thursdays. Continues through June 25. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433, www.stagewerx.org.

Mauritius: Theresa Rebeck's play about a dead mother's inheritance. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through June 28. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org.

Monday Night Marsh: On select Mondays a different lineup of musicians, actors, performance artists, and others takes the stage at this regular event that's hosted local celebs like Josh Kornbluth and Marga Gomez in the past; see www.themarsh.org for a lineup of future shows. Mondays, $7. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

My Life on the Craigslist: Jeffery Self's tale of "Men 4 Men." Through June 27. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

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