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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.

#5 Angry Red Drum: Philip Kan Gotanda's play about a postapocalyptic universe. Starting Sept. 26, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 17. The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081, www.thickhouse.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.

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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.

Breve: An abbreviated version of Under the Gypsy Moon, for lunch. Starting Sept. 26, Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 21, $73-$94. Teatro ZinZanni, Piers 27 and 29 (Embarcadero & Battery), 438-2668, www.zinzanni.org.

Brilliant Traces: Cindy Lou Johnson's play about loss and loneliness. Starting Sept. 24, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 17. The Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Post), 989-0023, www.phoenixtheatresf.org.

Call Me Madam: Irving Berlin's 1950 musical. Sept. 23-Oct. 18. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469, www.eurekatheatre.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.

First Day of School: Billy Aronson's comedy about the iconic day. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 7. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.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.

Ty Cobb: The Greatest Player That Ever Played the Game: Norm Coleman's solo show about Ty Cobb. Sun., Sept. 27; Sun., Oct. 4. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656, www.cafearts.com/offmarkettheaters/solo.

Heidi Chronicles: Wendy Wasserstein's award-winning play. Starting Sept. 25, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 24. The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), (415) 333-6389.

I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I'm Afraid to Tell You: Tragicomic solo show by Jennifer Jajeh about the Middle East. Thursdays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 24. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656, www.cafearts.com/offmarkettheaters/solo/.

Insides OUT!: Katie Rubin's solo show about abuse and growing up. Sun., Sept. 27, 6 p.m. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656, www.cafearts.com/offmarkettheaters/solo.

Little Dog Laughed: Douglas Carter Beane comedy, directed by Ed Decker. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Nov. 8. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

Mitch Mikinos: Jim Strope retells Agamemnon. Starting Sept. 25, Fridays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 18. The Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Post), 989-0023, www.phoenixtheatresf.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.

The Nightman Cometh: Thu., Sept. 24, 8 p.m., $29.50-$49.50. Nob Hill Masonic Center, 1111 California (at Taylor), 776-4702, www.masonicauditorium.com.

Not a Genuine Black Man: Brian Copeland's solo show opens once again. Fridays, Saturdays. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656, www.cafearts.com/offmarkettheaters/solo.

Pearls Over Shanghai: Thrillpeddlers brings back the Cockettes. Fridays-Sundays. Continues through Nov. 22, $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. Through Oct. 3. Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747, www.boxcartheatre.org.

Several Solos: Short solo works by Al Gonzales, Mike Spiegelman, and Ira Brightman. Sun., Sept. 27, 2 p.m. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656, www.cafearts.com/offmarkettheaters/solo.

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.

South Pacific: Bartlett Sher directs the famed musical. Through Oct. 25. Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), 551-2000.

Tings Dey Happen: Dan Hoyle's award-winning solo show returns. 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.

Walking on the Moon: Kosho's solo show about the economy and shopping. Sundays. Continues through Oct. 11. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656, www.cafearts.com/offmarkettheaters/solo/.

Wicked: Meet the witches of Oz. Through Jan. 3, 2010. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 551-2000.

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