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Our critics weigh in on local theater

>The Diary of Anne Frank.There is probably a special place in hell for obscure, junior-grade theater critics who would use what few column inches they have to pick on a tiny, independent, church-adjacent production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Well, say a prayer for me. But as Wendy Kesselman's "newly adapted" version of the 1955 play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett makes clear, good intentions aren't always enough. Custom Made's production feels a little creaky, and therefore does at least convey the sense of hiding for 25 months in an attic in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. The hard part is to haul these characters out from under the symbols they've become while keeping them from seeming like just another group of actors awaiting their cues. Casting an African-American actor, Fred Pitts, as Anne's father, Otto, accords well with the play's idea of dignity rebuking bigotry, but director Leah S. Abrams' other choices seem regrettably less bold. Julia Belanoff's performance as Anne is calibrated to amplify the heroine's precocity and optimism, perhaps because the dramatization of destroyed potential is a lot to ask of any teenager, or audience. Through May 1 at the Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), S.F. $18-$28; 651-4251 or www.custommade.org. (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed April 14.

Master Class. Master Class begins strongly, and abruptly, with the appearance of opera's great diva, Maria Callas (played by Michaela Greeley). There is no transition into theatrical "space" — the lights stay on, the actors come onstage, class begins. Greeley has an immediate presence most actresses should envy. She draws you in even as she pushes you away — the hallmark of a diva's charisma. That's a good thing, because Master Class rests entirely on her. There is no plot to follow: Callas is giving a master class to opera singers, and gets through three of them (in two acts, with two monologues) before it ends. There are no other characters to speak of; yes, there are other actors onstage, and they have names and lines, but they're all foils for Callas. This is a one-woman show with human props. Everything hinges on the diva. Doesn't it always? For the most part, Greeley pulls it off: She's charming, abrasive, insightful, and deep, but wonderfully inconsistent. The only thing she can't do as Callas is be vulnerable (which makes the monologues problematic), but generally she embodies the role in grand style. Like her students, you learn nothing about voice or opera. Divas can never really teach you about their art — their only real subject is themselves. But you certainly pay attention during the lesson. Through May 2 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. $22-$40; 861-8972 or www.nctcsf.org. (Benjamin Wachs) Reviewed April 14.

An Accident: Lydia Stryk's play about recovery. Through May 9. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Marina & Buchanan), 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org.

Acts of Life, Love & Lunacy: A comedy by Rey Carolino. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through April 24. The Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Post), 989-0023, www.phoenixtheatresf.org.

... and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi: Presented by Cutting Ball Theater. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 25, 800-838-3006, www.cuttingball.com. Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), www.sffringe.org.

Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?: Josh Kornbluth's comedy. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 16. The Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 292-1233, www.atjt.com.

April Fools Festival: Clown-based performance fest. Through May 2. Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 263-0830, www.climatetheater.com.

Ashes to Ashes: Presented by Second Wind Productions. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through May 8. The Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Post), 989-0023, www.phoenixtheatresf.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.

DIVAfest: Fest featuring women writers, directors, and performers. Through May 1. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847, www.theexit.org.

Eat, Pray, Laugh!: Alicia Dattner's solo show. Wednesdays. Continues through May 26. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 336-0513, www.cafearts.com/offmarket.

Evolution of a Kiss: A comedy by Cynthia Brinkman. Starting April 23, Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through May 1. Shotwell Studios, 3252A 19th St. (at Folsom), 920-2223, www.ftloose.org/shotwell.html.

Frau Bachfeifengesicht's Spectacle of Perfection: Fridays-Sundays. Continues through April 25, www.circusfinelli.com. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433, www.stagewerx.org.

Hearts on Fire: Thelma Houston, El Vez, and Christine Deaver perform in Teatro ZinZanni's 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.

La Rondine: Presented by Pocket Opera. Sat., April 24; Sun., May 9. Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave. (at Clement), 863-3330, www.thinker.org.

La Semilla Caminante/The Traveling Seed: Multimedia performance work directed by Cherrie Moraga. April 23-25. Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-2787, www.theintersection.org.

Macho Bravado: Alex Park's play about a soldier. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through April 25. The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 401-8081, www.thickhouse.org.

The Mama Rhino New Works Festival: Rhino Residency at Mama Calizo's. Through May 2. Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, 1519 Mission (at Van Ness), 690-9410, www.voicefactorysf.org.

Monday Night ForePlays: PianoFight's female-driven variety show. Mondays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 26. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 336-0513, www.cafearts.com/offmarket.

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