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Our critics weigh in on local productions

Palomino. Starring in his one-man show, which he also wrote and directed, David Cale hardly looks the part of the character he's portraying — that of Kieran McGrath, a hot young Irish carriage driver in New York's Central Park, whose looks and charms are so irresistible, he becomes an accidental gigolo to upper-crust society women. Like the horse that bears the show's name, Palomino clips along at a steady pace, with only the occasional lull or veering off course, and the writing itself is quite touching, impassioned without seeming saccharine, and with stark snippets of the lonely and shattered that remind us to, as Robert Herrick once wrote, "make much of time." Cale plays seven characters of varying accents, genders, and sexual orientations with varying degrees of success. The females were hard to differentiate, as they all seemed to suffer from the same overwhelming urge to pee and didn't walk so much as flop about the stage. The most engaging character, Kieran's gay publisher Edward, unfortunately comes as the show is near its finish line, but it's almost worthwhile to hold out for his tale, whose narrative proves to be the most endearing. Through Dec. 5 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. $10-$55; 510-843-4822 or (Anna Pulley) Reviewed Nov. 24.

A Perfect Ganesh. The experience of modern-day India is nearly impossible to describe to a Westerner. It is simultaneously spiritual and maddening. This production of Terrence McNally's 1993 play beautifully and achingly captures India's contradictions and allure. It's a familiar premise: Two middle-aged women from Connecticut, old friends both devastated by the loss of a child, both seeking some intangible healing, travel to India. The subtle yet powerful sound design transforms the elegantly simple set into many moody locales: a hotel balcony looking over a nighttime sea of people in Mumbai; a train ride through a long, dark of tunnel; and the entrance lawn of the Taj Mahal. There's the obvious tension between one character who is content to see India from "a comfortable seat and a suitable distance," and the other who wants to walk among people and meet them. There is also the subtle tension of a foreign land drawing out the hurt and more primal emotion of the characters reminiscent of a Paul Bowles novel. The performances and production are pitch-perfect and conjure all the continent's mysterious magic. Through Dec. 19 at New Conservatory Theatre, 25 Van Ness (at Fell), SF. $18-40; 861-8972 or (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Nov. 24.

Babes in Arms: 42nd Street Moon presents this Rodgers and Hart classic. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 19. $24-$44. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469.

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. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100.

Booze, Boys and Brownies: A Musical Journey: One-woman show about a struggling young actress who moves from San Francisco to Hollywood. Starting Dec. 3. Thursdays, Fridays; Thu., Dec. 9. Continues through Dec. 11. $12. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

The Business: A Comedy Show: With Chris Garcia, Sean Keane, Alex Koll, and Bucky Sinister. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. $5. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987.

Caligari: Play based on the old silent film. Starting Dec. 2. Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 10. $10-$20. Studio 385, 385A Eighth St. (at Harrison).

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

Christmas in Hell: A new play by Jim Fourniadis about the two guys who saved Christmas. Starting Dec. 3. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through Dec. 18. $20. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987.

Cinderella: Annual production of the African-American Shakespeare Company; directed by Velina Brown. Starting Dec. 3. Fridays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 19. $10-$30. African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 922-2049.

Cora Values' Christmas Corral: A comic retelling of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Starting Dec. 3. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through Dec. 11. $20. 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. Tuesdays-Saturdays; Sun., Dec. 26; Through Dec. 31; Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues through Jan. 15. $30-$50. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.

Epicoene, or the Silent Women: Second installation of this season's Hidden Classics Reading Series. Sun., Dec. 5, 1 p.m. free. The Cutting Ball Theater, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 419-3584.

"Kangen: Reunited with Nature": Group exhibit of art on the theme of "rebirth to death." Through Dec. 11. free-$5. Fivepoints Arthouse, 72 Tehama (at Second St.), 989-1166.

It's All the Rage: One-woman show starring Marilyn Pittman. Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Dec. 5. $20-$35. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

The Lion in Winter: A play by James Goldman. Wednesdays-Saturdays. Continues through Dec. 11. Actors Theatre San Francisco, 855 Bush (at Taylor), 345-1287.

Match: Expression Productions; new play by Stephen Belber. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 19. $12-$28. Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa (at Harrison), 558-1749.

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