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Our critics weigh in on local theater

South Pathetic. In Jim David's solo show, he hilariously re-enacts his experience directing a god-awful production of Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire in Thermal City, North Carolina, at "the worst community theater in the South." David is a seasoned stand-up comedian in New York City — he had his own Comedy Central special — and his confidence, solid accents, and loving attention to Southern idiosyncrasy allow each cast member of this Streetcar (a stripper, a pot smoker, a diva, etc.) to be funny and avoid stereotyping. His Bosnian janitor is especially touching. We don't get to see this outrageous Streetcar until the end, when David performs all the parts at once, but we get a sense of it from the director's notes: "That's the first time I've seen the rape scene with Blanche on top." There are plenty of similarities to Waiting for Guffman, but David's comforting ease of personality, as well as his well-tuned comedic timing, illuminate this play's heart: Theater is community, not necessarily product. Through Aug. 23 at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Fell), S.F. $22-$40; 861-8972 or www.nctcsf.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Aug. 12.

Too Big to Fail. Theatrically speaking, Too Big to Fail is as solid as anything you'll see in the Bay Area this summer. The newest production from the Tony Award–winning SF Mime Troupe — now in its 50th season — features a disciplined and spirited ensemble serving up snappy dialogue and snappier musical numbers. Politically, however, the show is a bit more of a muddle. It's a wide-ranging satire on the downfall of America's financial system, though its writers (Michael Gene Sullivan and Ellen Callas) might have done well to spend less time with The Marx-Engels Reader and more time with The Economist. Theirs is an especially naive take on the current financial mess, even by the standards of left-wing agitprop. In a recent performance in a public park in Berkeley, the obviously sympathetic crowd became visibly uncomfortable by the time the Mime Troupe suggested, without apparent irony, that everyone forgo their debts in a "payment strike." The starry-eyed anticapitalism of Too Big to Fail is the kind of activism that creates resistance even among sympathizers: No matter how liberal you think you are, don't be surprised if you leave the play with the powerful urge to go shopping. Through Sept. 27 in locations throughout the Bay Area. Free; 285-1717 or www.sfmt.org. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed Aug. 12.

A View from the Bridge. A View from the Bridge is the most Greek of Arthur Miller's tragedies, featuring an intractable hero (Richard Harder) whose hubris lies in the delusion that his house is his castle — a delusion that leads only to jealousy, betrayal, and revenge. Off Broadway West has a tendency to select large ensemble dramas that exceed the depth of the company's ensembles; as a result, its productions always offer a few strong lead performances accompanied by much weaker supporting casts. This is especially problematic in a high-tension drama requiring a fair amount of dialect work, since even the strongest moments tend to falter when the wrong performer stumbles onto the scene. The company (now in its third season) might make better use of its obviously limited resources by choosing plays with smaller casts, giving dynamite actors like Harder more of a chance to control the stage. It might even be a good idea to let Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, and Tennessee Williams fend for themselves, and opt instead for more contemporary scripts by lesser-known playwrights. That's how Off Broadway West can begin making a more vital contribution — and avoid the risk of becoming just another middle-of-the-road community theater. Through Aug. 22 at Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), S.F. $30; 510-835-4205 or www.offbroadwaywest.org. (C.J.) Reviewed July 22.

AfroSolo Arts Festival's Black Voices Performance Series: Featuring stage works by Thandiwe Thomas De Shazor, Kai Hazelwood, Lance McGee, and Lauren Whitehead. Aug. 21-23. African American Art and Cultural Complex Center, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 922-2049, www.aaacc.org.

AfroSolo Arts Festival: Through Oct. 15, www.afrosolo.org. Multiple San Francisco locations.

August: Osage County: Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize–winning drama. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Sept. 6. Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (at Taylor), 551-2000, www.curran-theater.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.

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.

East 14th: True Tales of a Reluctant Player: Don Reed's solo show about growing up in Oakland. Fridays-Sundays. Continues through Aug. 30. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

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