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Our critics weigh in on local theater

An Anonymous Story by Anton Chekhov. Why turn a Chekhov story into a play? It can't just be because Central Works' stately but somehow cozy space in the Julia Morgan–designed Berkeley City Club works so well as a Russian drawing room. Perhaps to challenge the old master's own judgments about which of his tales worked better for the stage than on the page? In this case, Gary Graves' intelligent adaptation notwithstanding, the original author did seem to know what was best. In 1887 or thereabouts, a tubercular revolutionary (Richard Frederick) poses under a false name as the footman of a philandering St. Petersburg bureaucrat (Jordan Winer), presumably for access to the man's powerful father (also Winer). But the revolutionary's plan changes when he falls for his boss' mistress (Cat Thompson) and considers ditching his political quest to run away with her. There's no question of Chekhov's eloquence, here delineating conflicts between wise and weary worldviews as sharply as it does those between social classes, nor any complaint to register against Søren Oliver's undaunted direction or Frederick's quietly commanding central performance. (The game cast also includes Sandra Schlecter as our man's thieving fellow servant and Dennis Markam as his employer's hoggish aristocrat pal.) Maybe the problem has to do with the exposedness of theater foiling the relative seclusion of prose: How much anonymity can a man have if he's standing right in front of us? Through March 28 at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley. $14-$25; 510-558-1381 or (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed March 10.

Mirrors in Every Corner. Local young playwright Chinaka Hodge has taken a nontraditional and refreshing road examining the personal causes and effects of race relations. She presents us with a West Oakland African-American family: The father dies, three children remain, and a fourth is born, almost magically, with Caucasian skin ("white as crack"). The family unit, as well as the neighborhood, must come to terms with the issues of prejudice this brings up. Hodge skillfully deepens the debate by differentiating each sibling — a hyperintellectual, a gay in the military, and a drug dealer. She also tracks the family against cultural touchstones of the last 30 years: the Loma Prieta earthquake, the L.A. riots, the AIDS crisis, the Iraq war, and Hurricane Katrina. The tremendously talented cast (with standouts Daveed Diggs and founding Campo Santo member Margo Hall) grounds and gives heart to this ambitious story. What are most fascinating are the internal and familial struggles of the white daughter as she finds her identity. She feels the oppressed history of the African-American blood raging inside her, but enjoys the privileges her white skin offers. This ability to frame this debate from all sides makes this story stand out. Through March 21 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), S.F. $15-$25; 626-2787 ext. 109 or (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed March 10.

... And Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi: Presented by Cutting Ball Theater. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 11. Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 931-3847,

Baby: A Musical: Presented by Ray of Light Theatre. Starting March 18, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 19. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 336-0513,

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,

Caddyshack Live!: March 19-27, 8 p.m., $20. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987,

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory: Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through March 28. Young Performers Theatre, 204 Bay St., Fort Mason (Marina & Buchanan), 346-5550,

Corpus Christi: Terrence McNally's retelling of the Jesus story. Fri., March 19, 7 p.m. Grace Cathedral, 1100 California (at Taylor), 749-6300,

Death Play: Presented by Thunderbird Theatre Company. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through March 27. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 931-3847,

Den of Thieves: A story about crime by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues through April 17. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596,

Eat, Pray, Laugh: Through March 31, 8 p.m., $20, Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 336-0513,

Fo/Faux!: Presented by Eastenders Repertory Company. Through March 21. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469,

Golden Boy: Tuesdays-Thursdays. Continues through March 25. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100,

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

HyperReal: Sara Kraft's theatrical fusion of text, song, sound, movement, and interactive video. March 18-20. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third St.), 978-2787,

Juliet: Presented by the College of the Creative Arts at San Francisco State University. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through March 20. SFSU Campus/Little Theater, 1600 Holloway (at 19th Ave.) (Creative Arts Bldg.), 338-2467,

KML Preaches to the Choir: Killing My Lobster's new show. Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays. Continues through March 28. The Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 292-1233,

Love, Humiliation & Karaoke: Directed by W. Kamau Bell. Sun., March 21. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433,

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