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Our critics weigh in on local theater

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.

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.

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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.

Boxcar Season Preview Gala: Sample the upcoming season. Sat., Aug. 29, 7 p.m. Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747, www.boxcartheatre.org.

Comedy of Errors: Enjoy outdoor theater at Free Shakespeare in the Park. Starting Aug. 29, Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Sept. 20, www.sfshakes.org. Presidio Parade Grounds, Lincoln & Montgomery.

Crass Act: Tom Orr's scandalous cabaret, for adults only. Starting Aug. 27, Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Sept. 12. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

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.

Good Boys and True: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's drama about a prep-school scandal. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Sept. 20. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

The Grapes of Wrath: Frank Galati adapts John Steinbeck. Wednesdays-Saturdays. Continues through Sept. 26. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287, www.actorstheatresf.org.

Happiness: Heather Harpham's physical theater piece about survival. Aug. 29-30. Shotwell Studios, 3252A 19th St. (at Folsom), 920-2223, www.ftloose.org/shotwell.html.

KML Patronizes the Arts: Killing My Lobster takes on the art scene. Starting Aug. 27, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Sept. 13, $5-$20, www.killingmylobster.com. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 292-1233, www.atjt.com.

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.

Moontel Six, Part 1: A.C.T.'s Junior Young Company performs a play set on the Moon. Through Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m., $15-$20. Hastings Studio, 77 Geary (at Grant), www.act-sf.org.

Only the Truth Is Funny: Rick Reynolds'one-man show. Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Aug. 30. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Pearls Over Shanghai: Thrillpeddlers brings back the Cockettes. Fridays-Sundays. Continues through Sept. 20, $30. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 377-4202, www.thrillpeddlers.com.

Shopping! The Musical: Songs and sketches about shopping. Fridays, Saturdays, $23-$29, www.shoppingthemusical.com. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100, www.sheltontheater.com.

Sultry Summer Magic: Teatro ZinZanni's new show features a rotating crew of headliners during the run, including Melanie Stace, Edna Wright and Honey Cone, Melba Moore, Sally Kellerman, and Darlene Love. Wednesdays-Sundays, $117-$200, 438-2668. Teatro ZinZanni, Piers 27 and 29 (Embarcadero & Battery), www.zinzanni.org.

Theater You Can Eat: Four dramas about food, by John Robinson. Through Sept. 6, 6 p.m., $19.95-$39.95, www.thepeoplestheatre.com. Peña Pachamama, 1630 Powell (at Union), 646-0018, www.penapachamama.com.

Uptown, Downtown, Motown Madness!: Musical celebrating Motown's 50th anniversary. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through Aug. 28. Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (at Embarcadero), 433-3939, www.theatre39-sf.com.

Wicked: Meet the witches of Oz. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Sept. 27. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 551-2000.

Word for Word Off the Page: Staged reading of T.C. Boyle's short story, "Killing Babies." Mon., Aug. 31, 7 p.m., $10-$15, www.zspace.org. Project Artaud Theater, 499 Alabama (at Mariposa), 626-4370, www.artaud.org.

Zombie: A New Musical: Anthony R. Miller and Brendan West pen a zombie play, set in Colma. Starting Aug. 27, Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Sept. 5. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433, www.stagewerx.org.

 
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