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Our critics weigh in on local theater

tempestuous(ness) or, HIStory Is Told by the Victors. You can get on Shakespeare's case about a lot of things — say, his being responsible for Timon of Athens. But unless you're in very uptight academic circles, you'll find it difficult to make a sustained case for his systematic mistreatment of women, at least when you consider that women comprise the majority of his most enduring characters (especially in the comedies). Even so, writer and director Scott Baker attempts to take Shakespeare to task for misogyny in tempestuous(ness), a fitful exploration of a very minor character in The Tempest, the Bard's last (and perhaps most opaque) play. By "very minor character," I mean a character who doesn't even appear onstage — the witch Sycorax, mother of Caliban, who is discussed in a single monologue by Prospero. Among other theories, Baker seems to think she is a stand-in for Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" (a pretty random conjecture, considering that The Tempest postdates the Sonnets by more than a decade). Sycorax' backstory could make for great theater (in fact, it has), but Baker's rambling succession of scenes never manages to accumulate any dramatic (or comedic) momentum. His script is full of invention but short on ideas; for all its scattershot potshots at a 400-year-old play, tempestuous(ness) fails to illuminate either Shakespeare's work or Sycorax' marginality. Through Oct. 3 at the Garage, 975 Howard (at Sixth St.), S.F. $10-$12; 585-1221 or www.pustheatre.com. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed Sept. 23.

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

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.; Saturdays, 6:30 & 9:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 5 p.m.; Fridays, 6:30 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. Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 21, $73-$94. Teatro ZinZanni, Piers 27 and 29 (Embarcadero & Battery), 438-2668, www.zinzanni.org.

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

Brilliant Traces: Cindy Lou Johnson's play about loss and loneliness. 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. Through 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.

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

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.

Loveland: A solo comedy by Ann Randolph. Starting Oct. 1, Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 14. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Mitch Mikinos: Jim Strope retells Agamemnon. 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.

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.

Pearls Over Shanghai: Thrillpeddlers brings back the Cockettes. Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Nov. 22, $30. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 377-4202, www.thrillpeddlers.com.

Rent: Starring original cast members Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp. Starting Oct. 6, Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 18. Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (at Taylor), 551-2000, www.curran-theater.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.

Shocktoberfest 2009: Grand Guignol terror plays. Starting Oct. 1, Thursdays, Fridays. Continues through Nov. 20. 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.

Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty: Sexuality and disability are explored, led by people with disabilities. Oct. 2-4. Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. (at York), 641-7657, www.brava.org.

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