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Our critics weigh in on local theater

First Day of School. In Billy Aronson's raucous comedy — making its West Coast premiere at SF Playhouse — well-to-do parents attend to their six-year-old children's prospects with a ferocity arising from barely repressed sexual frustration. We've seen this before, but Aronson adds an ingenious twist: His soccer moms and dads end up planning an annual swingers' party that feels less like a gangbang than a slightly off-kilter PTA function. Unfortunately, as with too many farces, the setup is more involving than the chaos that follows; the carefully modulated tone of the first act can't be sustained throughout the sexual shenanigans of the second and third. Still, the playwright offers a few dazzling speeches for his characters along the way, and all of the actors in director Chris Smith's sharp production relish the intense cleverness of the play's smartest passages. It's too bad that Aronson felt the need to include a blandly comforting ending — at its best, First Day of School is pretty devilish stuff, and it deserves a conclusion with more ironic punch. None of this is to say that you shouldn't see it. An ambitious new comedy is always worth checking out, even if its rewards don't quite negate its shortcomings. Through Nov. 7 at SF Playhouse, 588 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. $40; 677-9596 or www.sfplayhouse.org. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed Oct. 14.

Under the Gypsy Moon. Storylines don't really matter in a Teatro ZinZanni production; they just provide a loose framework for the circuslike acts everyone comes to see while they enjoy a fancy five-course meal. In the group's latest three-hour show, the Spiegeltent is invaded by thieving gypsies (so much for political correctness), who, in addition to being skilled swindlers, are also (surprise) skilled blues singers, jugglers, and acrobats. As one would expect, the trapeze work is impressive, especially the comic rope-play by Sabine Maier and Joachim Mohr, who manage to fall over themselves without falling down. The evening's most satisfying moments, however, happen on the ground. A juggling number set to Prince's "Kiss" is simple but delightful, and Mat Plendl dazzled the audience with his mastery of the hula hoop. Unfortunately, too many of the cabaret's comedy bits are lame. Punny punchlines delivered by a Henny Youngman-like character played by Geoff Hoyle (the original Zazu in the Broadway production of The Lion King) are especially groan-inducing. Those cheesy moments leave a bad taste in your mouth, as does some of the food, which is passable but not stellar. While Under the Gypsy Moon does deliver some magical moments, unless you've got a lot of disposable cash, it's an evening perhaps best left to the tourists to enjoy. Through Jan. 17 at the Spiegeltent, Pier 29 (at Battery), S.F. $117-$195; 438-2668 or www.zinzanni.org. (Will Harper) Reviewed Sept. 30.

Bald Soprano: Eugène Ionesco's absurdist masterpiece about dinner. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Nov. 22. Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 931-3847, www.sffringe.org.

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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.; 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.

Brain-Dead Alive: The Primitive Screwheads bring the blood. Thu., Oct. 29; Fri., Oct. 30; Sat., Oct. 31, www.primitivescrewheads.com. Great Star Theater, 630 Jackson (at Kearny).

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.

Creature: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein from the perspective of the monster. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Nov. 7, www.blackboxtheatre.com. The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081, www.thickhouse.org.

Destry Rides Again: Dance hall play, starring Connie Champagne. Oct. 31-Nov. 15. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469, www.eurekatheatre.org.

Dr. Kristov's House of Fun and Horror: Parisian Grand Guignol, sleight of hand, and amazing feats. Fri., Oct. 30, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 31, 8 p.m., $10-$20. The Garage, 975 Howard (at Sixth St.), 885-4006, www.975howard.com.

Ghosts of the River: Shadow theater play by Octavio Solis. Oct. 28-Nov. 8. Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. (at York), 641-7657, www.brava.org.

Goldfish: A comedy by John Kolvenbach. Through Nov. 8. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Marina & Buchanan), 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org.

Halloween in the Castro: New horror opera. Through Oct. 31, 8 p.m., $20-$40, www.lgcsf.org. Metropolitan Community Church, 150 Eureka (at 18th St.), 863-4434, www.mccsf.org.

Hasheesh Eater: Fritz Hugh Ludlow's play set in old San Francisco. Fridays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 31, www.sfbuffoons.com. Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, 1519 Mission (at Van Ness), 690-9410, www.voicefactorysf.org.

Her Naked Skin: A performance by the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 31. Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 820-3320, www.zeum.org/visitor/zeumTheater.html.

I Heart Hamas: Tragicomic solo show by Jennifer Jajeh, about the Middle East. Thursdays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 21, $20, www.ihearthamas.com. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656, www.cafearts.com/offmarkettheaters.

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