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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins. Coming out as a gay teen has never been easy, despite what you may have seen on Bravo. Three decades ago, however, it was damn near impossible, especially in light of the nationwide antigay crusade led by former beauty queen and evangelical Christian Anita Bryant. Anita Bryant Died for Your Sins, directed with admirable sincerity by Dennis Lickteig and written by Brian Christopher Williams, is much more personal than political, despite its title. It chronicles the gay coming-of-age of the bright-eyed Horace Poore (Michael Doppe) in the '70s during a time of war, political scandal, and a terrible recession, which you'll find nicely parallels our current cultural landscape. You'll also find far too many gay rites-of-passage clichés here as well: a conservative small town; a family with strict gender roles; humor as a weapon against a society; internalized homophobia; and even a gym teacher crush. While Anita approaches such tropes with cheeky panache and soft-boiled sentiment, there's nothing particularly original about Horace's plight, and the play hums along at a sloping sitcom pace until its melodramatic pinnacle, which is just as quickly diffused. There are a few good laughs and a few more touching moments, though nothing quite as memorable as the re-enactment of Bryant getting a pie in the puss. Through Oct. 24 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. $24-$40; 861-8972 or www.nctcsf.org. (Anna Pulley) Reviewed Oct. 13.

Compulsion. In this world premiere, playwright Rinne Groff does a masterful job of dramatizing the life of author and playwright Meyer Levin, who obsessed over bringing The Diary of Anne Frank to the stage. Levin secured, and then lost, an agreement with Anne's father, Otto, to write the stage adaptation of the bestseller. This disappointment spun Levin into a righteous and obsessive spiral for the rest of his life. As the character of Levin (named Sid Silver in this play), Broadway superstar Mandy Patinkin is passionate, paranoid, sanctimonious, pitiful, and awe-inspiring — all the elements that make this portrait of an artist undeniably brilliant. Matte Osian and the talented Hannah Cabell play all the other characters, while the spirit of Anne herself is embodied by a haunting marionette. Compulsion grapples with artistic ambition, moral obligation, Hollywoodizing history, and neurotic blindness all in one thrilling night of theater. Through Oct. 31 at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. $10-$73; 510-647-2949 or www.berkeleyrep.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Sept. 29.

The Shining: Live. Catching a show at the Dark Room is a crapshoot. The theater feels like something that might be in a trailer park or the back of a bowling alley, complete with cheap chairs and a stage that's no bigger than a walk-in closet. The company has been quite successful in translating horror and sci-fi movies to the stage. It did a fun The Blob, and a fantastic Star Wars. The latest, an adaptation of The Shining, isn't as strong. Director Jim Fourniadis does a good job capturing all the iconic scenes, including the spooky twins in Room 237, Jack hacking through the door with the ax, the hedge maze chase, and, most inspired, little Danny's talking finger (6 feet tall and walking around in this version). The best moments come from Bryce Byerly, channeling a hilarious and scandalized Stephen King, commenting on the production from the side of the stage. But owing to too many one-noted performances and the serious source material, much of the comedy falls flat. If this were a 10-minute sketch, it'd be great, but at 75 minutes it isn't. Through Oct. 23 at the Dark Room, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), S.F. $20; www.darkroomsf.com. (N.E.) Reviewed Oct. 13.

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9 Circles: The newest play by Bill Cain tells the story of a young American soldier on trial for his life. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Nov. 7. $32-$53. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller (at Evergreen), Mill Valley, 388-5200.

"The Autumn LaughtHER Factor": All-woman sketch comedy. Mondays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 25. $20. www.pianofight.com. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 336-0513.

Beach Blanket Babylon: Steve Silver's musical revue spoofs pop culture with extravagant costumes. Wednesdays-Sundays. $25-$130. Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

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.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: Tennessee Williams' 1955 play. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Oct. 22. $15-$25. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287.

Equus: This psychological thriller explores the reasons that a teenager blinded six stable horses; it's loosely based on actual events. Starting Oct. 22. Fri., Oct. 22; Sat., Oct. 23; Sun., Oct. 24; Tue., Oct. 26; Wednesdays-Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 20. $10-$25. Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Cult classic includes appearance by performance troupe the Bawdy Caste. Sun., Oct. 24, midnight. $7-$8. Guild, 949 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 266-9260.

Habibi: A new play about Palestinian immigrants by Sharif Abu-Hamdeh. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 7. $15-$25. Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-2787.

Hail Caesar!: Teatro ZinZanni's new production. Through Oct. 31. $117-$145. Teatro ZinZanni, Piers 27 and 29 (Embarcadero and Battery), 438-2668.

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