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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Cirque du Soleil: Ovo. Cirque du Soleil's worldwide success has fed its dilemma of needing to invent something original with each successive touring show while adhering to its lucrative formula. Ovo distinguishes itself from the last handful of shows, much to the credit of Brazilian director and choreographer Deborah Colker and the concept, in her words, of "creating a world of insects with the emphasis on constant movement and color." Shows in the past have had vague thematic elements that were hastily abandoned when the circus power acts rolled out, but not in this case. Colker and the creative crew have gone to great lengths to bring to life the festive and miniature world as seen by insects. Each act is performed by different bug families — spiders, fire ants, grasshoppers, and even a dragonfly doing an acrobatic dance on a blade of grass. Gringo Cardia's set evokes forests, caves, webs, nests, and beautifully blooming giant flowers, all in which the insects work, eat, flutter, play, and fight. The clowns are a little lackluster in this edition, but the acts are better than ever — upside-down slackwire unicycling, a jaw-dropping display of foot juggling, and a unique rock climbing/trampoline act. Through Jan. 24 at AT&T Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, S.F. $45.50-$135; 866-624-7783 or www.cirquedusoleil.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Dec. 23.

The 39 Steps.This production being a Broadway import, you might expect just another generic and generally unchallenging extravaganza. Arguably, it is, but how appealing that the most technically elaborate thing about it is the well-oiled machine of its ensemble performance. (Okay, and the terrific shadow puppets.) Claire Brownell, Ted Deasy, Eric Hissom, and Scott Parkinson rip right through this funny, hammy, riotously paced retelling of the 1935 British spy thriller about a man who finds himself embroiled in a life-threatening conspiracy and a high-stakes chase across the U.K. Officially, it's called Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, but as the program explains, it was adapted by Patrick Barlow, based on an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, and based on the book by John Buchan. So if anyone is counting, that's more writers than actors. Between them, however, those actors play too many characters to count, and with consistently, infectiously entertaining aplomb. Instead of an adulteration of the movie with which Hitchcock first caught Hollywood's eye, director Maria Aitken here delivers a winning testament to its enduring popularity. Through Jan. 3 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (at Mason), S.F. $35-$80; 512-7770 or www.shnsf.com.(Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed Dec. 23.

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.

Aurélia's Oratorio: Circus-themed show by Aurélia Thierrée. Through Jan. 24, 2010. Berkeley Repertory's Roda Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.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.

Dames at Sea: A sly look at Hollywood musicals of the 1930s. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 17. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

Fun-derful Holidaze: Unique Derique clowns around. Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Jan. 3. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Here Comes Boswick the Clown: Through Jan. 1. 11 a.m. & 1:30 p.m., $7-$9. Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747, www.boxcartheatre.org.

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