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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Equus. Peter Shaffer's dark, ambitious, profoundly strange hit from 1973 tells the story of a 17-year-old boy (Bobby Conte Thornton) who, for reasons nobody can fathom, decides to blind six horses with a metal spike. His therapist (Michael Shipley) sets out to discover why. Director Erin Gilley transfers the action from England to America and reduces the ensemble from 15 to six, but the fundamentals remain intact — Equus is still a disturbing and intellectually thrilling story about religious devotion, sexual perversion, and sudden violence. Thornton is a fantastic young actor, his cherubic face concealing a surprising amount of lust and rage, and his sex scene with Jill (Lili Weckler) is just as intense and unsettling as it should be. Shipley is less successful; he never seems fully comfortable with his dialogue, so the play fails to gain much momentum when he's around. As with other shows at Boxcar this season, the production design is totally worth the price of admission: Nick A. Olivero's wooden-plank set is the perfect complement to Krista Smith's haunting lighting design, and Marc Blinder creates a rich soundscape for the disorienting climax. The show may not always work as drama, but it's a fine spectacle all the same. Through Nov. 20 at Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), S.F. $25; 776.1747 or www.boxcartheatre.org. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed Nov. 10.

Shocktoberfest!! 2010: Kiss of Blood. The Thrillpeddlers are quintessential San Francisco: a bunch of freaks performing freaky shows. They emulate, celebrate, and reinterpret the Parisian shock and horror theater of the Grand Guignol with elaborate set pieces and lush, exotic costuming. Like San Francisco itself, artistic director Russell Blackwood and company aren't afraid to dabble in S&M, cross-dressing, sexual deviance, and plain old lusty fun — and this show is all of those. This round of three short plays involves severed fingers, gas masks, drag queens, botched brain surgery, and a giant functional guillotine at center stage. The Thrillpeddlers are very good at what they do, but I wish they would rely a little less on over-the-top campiness and more on what they advertise: danger, shock, and titillation. Through Nov. 19 at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), S.F. $30-$35; 800-838-3006 or www.thrillpeddlers.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Oct. 27.

Three Sisters: Final Cut. Let's begin with a caveat: A recent performance of Three Sisters: Final Cut coincided with the opening game of the World Series, leaving only three die-hard theatergoers in attendance. It's possible that the production suffered from a near-total absence of energy from the audience — but not likely. It's hard to imagine any audience, however energetic, making this show any less horrible. Adapted and directed by Oleg Liptsin, the production begins with Act 1 from Chekhov's original, then jumps directly to Act 4. Well, not directly: during intermission, we're treated to a 30-minute video that purports to relate the major events from Acts 2 and 3, but mostly just exploits the victims of the San Bruno gas explosion. Among the show's failings: The script doesn't sound like an adaptation so much as an amateurish improvisation. There's no clear sense of time and place — the setting appears to be Russia circa 1900, except with music from Toy Story and a reference to the iPhone 4. The pacing is erratic at best and glacial at worst. The story will make zero sense if you don't know the original, and hardly makes any sense if you do. It's a tiresome, pretentious, dramatically inert disaster. Avoid. Through Nov. 17 at Shelton Studios, 533 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. $14-$28; 433-1226 or www.sheltontheater.com. (C.J.) Reviewed Nov. 10.

All Atheists Are Muslim: A comic look at modern-day romance clashing with cultural tradition and religious doctrine across two generations. Thu., Nov. 18, 8 p.m. $20-$30. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433.

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.

Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Horse and Man: A multimedia production featuring more than 100 performers and 50 horses. Through Nov. 21; Through Nov. 24; Through Nov. 28; Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 12. $64.50-$139.50. White Big Top, Fourth St. (at Channel), 866-999-8111.

Comedy Ballet: A play by Dark Porch Theatre. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through Nov. 20. $15-$25. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

Coraline: A cautionary tale about attaining a perfect life that turns out to be not so perfect. Play and music by David Greenspan and Stephin Merritt. Continues through Jan. 15. $30-$50. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.

Habibi: A new play about Palestinian immigrants by Sharif Abu-Hamdeh. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through Nov. 21. $15-$25. Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-2787.

Hubba Hubba Revue: Secret Agents: Burlesque show featuring Alotta Boutté, F'risque, Kara Nova, Miss Honey Penny, Honey Lawless, GigiD;Flower, Diamond Daggers, Josie Starre, Professor Shimmy, Ariyana La Fey, Mynx d'Meanor, Bunny Pistol, Miss Balla Fire, Isabella Minx, Lil Miss Never, Charline Darlind, Tasty Temptress and the Hubba Hubba Go-Go Assassins and music by Thee Swank Bastards. Fri., Nov. 19, 9 p.m. $10-$15. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St. (at Folsom), 626-1409.

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