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Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Bald Soprano. In 1948, the French-Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco set about learning English. He didn't succeed. He did, however, manage to write an intensely ridiculous version of the dialogues he found in English-language primers ("This is my husband. We live in London. It is now three o'clock."). The result was The Bald Soprano (La cantatrice chauve). In Cutting Ball's new production, translated and directed by Rob Melrose, the play is as revelatory as ever, in part because it's much funnier than you might remember. That's very much to Melrose's credit, but he is helped tremendously by Paige Rogers, who finds just the right pitch for her batty housewife. (She manages to say things like "I don't know enough Spanish to understand myself" with the deranged dignity of someone who puts great stock in her own nonsense.) Crisply staged on a spare and handsome set, the play doesn't offer much of a story, which is more or less the point: Each character speaks without seeming to hear the others. Language conquers silence, but fails to deliver meaning. The whole thing builds to a gorgeously choreographed frenzy, with the actors shouting ragged bits of dialogue while throwing themselves against a wall. It's glorious and weird, and you absolutely shouldn't miss it. Through Nov. 22 at the EXIT on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), S.F. $15-$30; 800-838-3006 or www.cuttingball.com. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed Nov. 11.

Shocktoberfest!! 2009: Torture Garden. If you see only one show at the Hypnodrome this fall, see Pearls over Shanghai. Thrillpeddlers' deliriously camped-out tribute to San Francisco's very own Cockettes delivers more madcap invention in two hours than most theater companies manage in an entire season. It's surprising, then, that Shocktoberfest!! 2009: Torture Garden — currently showing in repertory alongside Pearls — is so much less successful, despite featuring almost the same cast. The show follows a formula that should be familiar to Thrillpeddlers fans: two short Grand Guignol–style plays, each offering up a little kick of the lascivious and the macabre. In this case, however, even the significant bloodletting can't make up for the relative tedium of the material. We get too much wooden dialogue and not nearly enough gut-churning moments of, say, ritual disembowelment or forced amputation. That said, the show does feature some strong work from the Thrillpeddlers ensemble, particularly Adeola Role as a femme fatale who seems to have embraced political assassination as some kind of fetish. But Torture Garden isn't the real story here: that would be Pearls over Shanghai, recently extended until Jan. 1. To miss it would be to miss a show that's outrageously San Francisco — and outrageously good. Through Nov. 20 at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Brannan), S.F. $25-$69; 377-4202 or www.thrillpeddlers.com. (C.J.) Reviewed Oct. 28.

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.

A Body of Water: A middle-aged couple tries to remember each other. Fridays-Sundays. Continues through Nov. 22, www.sparestage.com. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 931-3847, www.theexit.org.

Afterlife of the Mind: Questions of neuroscience and metaphysics. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 21, www.viragotheatre.org. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433, www.stagewerx.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.

Beautiful Thing: Two working-class London teenage boys who fall in love. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 3. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

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.

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