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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Phèdre. Neoclassical French drama is most famous for its rigid adherence to the theory that nothing interesting must ever be shown onstage. Instead, the plot is advanced by the characters confessing to each other all the amazing things that happened offstage. This makes the plot of Phèdre a game of telephone gone horribly wrong: Phèdre, wife of the missing King Theseus, confesses her love for her stepson, just after he has confessed his love for a political prisoner, who in turn confesses her love for him ... and by the time it all gets back to the returned king (who had some amazing adventures offstage), it has become an accusation of incest and political plotting. This leads to a suicide (which happens offstage), a brutal fight with a monster (which happens offstage), and a bloody death by chariot accident (which happens offstage), before everything is sorted out by — what else? — another confession. If anybody in Phèdre could keep a secret, the show would be 10 minutes long. Still, this A.C.T. production directed by Carey Perloff and presented in association with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival has plenty of virtues to brag about: The acting is exceptional (especially Roberta Maxwell as Oenone), the metallic set somehow manages to be beautiful and avant-garde without getting in the way, and the translation — seeing its world debut — by Timberlake Wertenbaker often leaps off the stage, sounding both naturalistic to Anglophone ears and eloquent in a way that would do author Jean Racine proud. Anyone who isn't put off by the idea of a play that is essentially a series of interlocking monologues will find Phèdre a treat. Everyone else should wait for the next production of dear old Shakespeare, who had the decency to kill his characters where we could see them. Through Feb. 7 at American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. $17-$82; 749-2228 or Wachs) Reviewed Jan. 27.

Akin: Noah Kelly and Sarah McKereghan's dark thriller returns to S.F. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Feb. 6. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 931-3847,

Animals Out of Paper: Rajiv Joseph's comedy, directed by Amy Glazer. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues through Feb. 27. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596,

Beauty of the Father: Presented by the Off Broadway West Theatre Company. Starting Feb. 5, Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through March 13. The Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Post), 989-0023,

Big City Improv: Actors take audience suggestions and create comedy from nothing. Fridays, 10 p.m., $15-$20, Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100,

The Bright River: A Mass Transit Tour of the Afterlife: Through Feb. 20, 8 p.m., $15-$35, Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. (at York), 641-7657,

Cosi Fan Tutte: The classic opera, directed by Alissa Walters Deeter. Starting Feb. 4, Thursdays, Saturdays. Continues through Feb. 14. SFSU Campus/Knuth Hall, 1600 Holloway (at 19th Ave.), 338-2580,

Doubt, A Parable: John Patrick Shanley's story about "improper relations" at a Catholic school. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Feb. 28. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972,

Eat, Pray, Laugh: Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, $20, Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 336-0513,

Fabrik: The Legend of M. Rabinowitz: Puppetry and Yiddish folktales, presented by Wakka Wakka Productions. Starting Feb. 4, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Feb. 28. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 292-1233,

Fiddler on the Roof: Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Feb. 21. Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), 551-2000.

Fiorello!: Based on the life of New York City mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia. Feb. 5-20. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469,

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune: Written by Terrence McNally. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Feb. 13. Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa (at Harrison), 558-1749,

Hearts on Fire: Thelma Houston, El Vez, and Christine Deaver perform in Teatro ZinZanni's new show. Starting Feb. 4, Sundays, 5 p.m.; Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.; Wednesdays-Saturdays, 6 p.m. Continues through May 16, $117-$ 145. Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.

In the Mood: Mon., Feb. 8, 7 p.m., $29.50-$45, all ages, Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs (at Fulton), Santa Rosa, 707-546-3600,

The Love Project: An "interactive experience" created and performed by Rhodessa Jones and Idris Ackamoor. Starting Feb. 4, Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 14. African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 922-2049,

Loveland: Ann Randolph's solo show. Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Feb. 26. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

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 for a lineup of future shows. Mondays, $7. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750,

Oedipus El Rey: Luis Alfaro re-envisions Oedipus. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Feb. 28, Fort Mason, Laguna & Bay, 345-7500,

Pearls over Shanghai: Thrillpeddlers bring back the Cockettes. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through April 24, $30. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 377-4202,

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