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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 www.centralworks.org. (Jonathan Kiefer) 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, www.sffringe.org.

Antigone: Sophocles' play, featuring Pi: The Physical Comedy Troupe. March 25-April 17. Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747, www.boxcartheatre.org.

Baby: A Musical: Presented by Ray of Light Theatre. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 19. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 336-0513, www.cafearts.com/offmarket.

3 For All: BATS Improv. Fri., March 26, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 27, 8 p.m., www.improv.org. Bayfront Theater, 16 Marina (at Laguna), 474-6776, www.improv.org/shows/bayfront.htm.

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.

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

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

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

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, www.sfplayhouse.org.

The Diary of Anne Frank: Presented by Custom Made Theatre Co. Starting March 26, Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 1. The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), 333-6389.

Director's Cut: BATS improv. Fri., March 26, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 27, 8 p.m., www.improv.org. Bayfront Theater, 16 Marina (at Laguna), 474-6776, www.improv.org/shows/bayfront.htm.

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

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

Halka: Presented by Pocket Opera. Sat., March 27, 2 p.m.; Sun., March 28, 2 p.m. Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave. (at Clement), 863-3330, www.thinker.org.

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.

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, www.atjt.com.

Master Class: Terrence McNally's drama, directed by Arturo Catricala. Starting March 27, Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through May 2. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

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

Now and at the Hour: Christian Cagigal's popular magic-themed show. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through March 27. Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847, www.sffringe.org.

Othello: Presented by African-American Shakespeare. Starting March 25, Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 18. African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 922-2049, www.aaacc.org.

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

Point Break Live!: The boys are back in town again. Fridays, Saturdays, 9 p.m. Continues through May 1, www.pointbreaklivesf.com. Metreon, 101 Fourth St. (at Mission), 369-6030, www.westfield.com/metreon.

Ramble-Ations: Through April 3, 8 p.m., $10-$25. Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. (at York), 641-7657, www.brava.org.

Real Americans: Dan Hoyle's new show, about small-town America. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 18. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Scalpel!: D'Arcy Drollinger's musical. March 30-April 17, $20-$35. Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St. (at York), 641-7657, www.brava.org.

Sheherezade X: A short-play festival presented by the Playwrights' Center of San Francisco. Through March 27. The Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Post), 989-0023, www.phoenixtheatresf.org.

Shopping! The Musical: Songs and sketches about shopping. Fridays, Saturdays, $23-$29, www.shoppingthemusical.com. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100, www.sheltontheater.com.

Suddenly Last Summer: Tennessee Williams' play, directed by Christian Phillips. Through April 10. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287, www.actorstheatresf.org.

Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding: Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Fridays, 7 p.m., $88.50-$115.50, www.tonyandtinasanfrancisco.com. Swiss Louis Restaurant at Pier 39, 2 Beach (at Embarcadero), 421-2913, www.swisslouis.com.

Vigil: A comedy by Morris Panych. Starting March 25, Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through April 18. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228, www.act-sfbay.org.

Virgin Play Series: Staged Readings: Our Dad is in Atlantis by Javier Malpica. Mon., March 29, free. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org.

Wicked: Meet the witches of Oz. Through April 11. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 551-2000.

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