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Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Farm. Shotgun Players and director Jon Tracy have radically "remixed" George Orwell's Animal Farm into a seething hip-hop, postapocalyptic, dystopian fantasy — and it works. Production designer Nina Ball fiendishly delivers Mad Max costuming, black-inked tattoos, and a rusted metal set welded onto the back of a burnt-out delivery truck. Dance and animalistic choreography (by Elena Wright) mixed with singing, rapping, beat-boxing, and a drum set made out of oil barrels give this production the gritty, revolutionary feeling of an underground hip-hop concert mixed with Off-Broadway's Stomp. Tracy doesn't stray far from the book — a cautionary, anti-Stalinist tale about an idealistic farm animal revolution and the greed, corruption, and ignorance that follows — though you do have to listen carefully to understand the rapid-fire delivery that is sometimes too wordy for its own good. Orwell was offering up a dark warning in 1945 about power going unchecked by a willfully ignorant populace, which feels even more vital in today's political climate. Bravo to Tracy and company for keeping the message but delivering it in a modern voice of revolution. Through Sept. 13 at John Hinkel Park, 41 Somerset (at Devon), Berkeley. Free-$10; 510-841-6500 or www.shotgunplayers.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Aug. 26.

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.

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.

Bohemian Cowboy: Raymond King Shurtz' play about his father's disappearance. Starting Sept. 11, Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through Sept. 19. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656, www.cafearts.com.

Brief Encounter: Emma Rice adapts the work of Noël Coward in this theater/film/music extravaganza. Starting Sept. 11, Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 4. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228, www.act-sfbay.org.

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

Crass Act: Tom Orr's scandalous cabaret, for adults only. 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 Oct. 10. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Forever Never Comes: A reading of Enrique Urueta's play, as part of the Matchbox Reading Series. Mon., Sept. 14, 7 p.m., free. San Francisco LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market (at Octavia), 865-5555, www.sfcenter.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.

KML Patronizes the Arts: Killing My Lobster takes on the art scene. 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.

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.

Romeo & Julien: Based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, adapted by Nick A. Olivero. Sept. 9-Oct. 3. Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747, www.boxcartheatre.org.

San Francisco Fringe Festival: The annual festival returns with more than 40 offbeat shows. Sept. 9-20, www.theexit.org. Multiple San Francisco locations.

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.

Tings Dey Happen: Dan Hoyle's award-winning solo show returns. Starting Sept. 10, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Sept. 26. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Under the Gypsy Moon: Teatro ZinZanni's new show features Duffy Bishop, Geoff Hoyle, and a traveling troupe of Gypsies. Thursdays-Sundays, $117-$195, 438-2668. Teatro ZinZanni, Piers 27 and 29 (Embarcadero & Battery), www.zinzanni.org.

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

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