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Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Sugar Witch. Set in the tangle of a haunted Florida swamp in the late 1920s, The Sugar Witch has all the trappings of a Southern Gothic melodrama, or better yet, a Southern version of a Martin McDonagh play. In addition to mentions of flying cats, reptile women, and an ancient curse, there are two guys trying to have a romance, a fat woman killing palmetto bugs, a shotgun-wielding blonde, and, of course, a resident witch. Nathan Sanders' moody script does an admirable job tying these elements into a rich story about family secrets, murder, and attempting to break from sins of the past. The problem is that this production fails to commit wholeheartedly to the genre — something it needs to do twofold in order for an audience to believe this supernatural soap opera. Scenic designer Kuo-Hao Lo has created a gorgeously creepy set that looks as if it's sinking into the swamp's mysteries, but his terrific stage design is undermined by some of the acting and directing. While some actors are seriously grounded in this world, others appear to be camping it up. This discrepancy keeps Saunders' eerie play from truly spooking. Through April 11 at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Oak), S.F. $20-$40; 861-8972 or (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed March 24.

Truce. The first thing you'll see in Marilee Talkington's performed memoir of going blind, which she co-wrote with Justin Quinn Pelegano, is a thick scrim stretched entirely across the proscenium opening of the Noh Space stage. Talkington remains walled in by that diffusion the whole time: alone, always present, but never completely in focus. She lets loose with a personal history of the gradual, incurable macular degeneration she inherited from her mother — the privileged attention from doctors during girlhood; the quirk of warped peripheral vision that engendered extreme basketball prowess during high school but proved devastatingly short-lived; the cumulative terror, rage, loneliness, and potential self-annihilation that followed. And then something happens. Then she gets to the part about her blurry sex life, and starts touching that scrim. Suddenly it's full of sensual possibilities, like a silky piece of hosiery being slipped off. That's the real beauty of Talkington's brave, sexy, and self-revealing show, which benefits greatly from director Marissa Wolf's spatially elegant staging. It doesn't spout platitudes about adversity overcome, it actually wrestles with them. It doesn't tell; it shows. Beyond legal blindness there is total blindness. Talkington makes up for being unable to see by being watchable, totally. Through April 3 at Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), S.F. $12-$25; 826-1958 or (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed March 24.

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

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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,

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,

Dan Carbone: New Comedic Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Sat., April 3, 10 p.m., $8. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987,

City Solo: Solo artists in the Bay Area. Starting April 4, Sundays. Continues through April 30. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 336-0513,

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

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

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.

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

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,

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

Pearls over Shanghai: Thrillpeddlers brings back the Cockettes. Through Aug. 1, $30. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 377-4202,

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

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

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,

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

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

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