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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Mike Daisey's The Last Cargo Cult. Let me be audacious. Theater is about storytelling, and Mike Daisey is the best storyteller out there. He has a simple style, similar to Spalding Gray's monologues, of sitting at a wooden desk, with a glass of water and some notes he occasionally refers to. He doesn't stutter, search "naturally" for lines, or ever say "umm"; he is intense, has a barely contained madness behind his eyes, and hardly pauses for two thrilling hours. The subject of this monologue is money, the "liquid that bonds us together and corrodes all our relationships" and yet lets us obsessively buy "awesome shit." While weaving a fascinating, Indiana Jones–style tale of traveling to the South Pacific to an "island just beyond the reach of money," Daisey confronts us, as well as himself, with funny and painful anecdotes of our devotion to the religion of the dollar, educates us about the recent financial crash, and celebrates our obsession with "wanting." It's clear all along that Daisey is a masterful artist, unafraid to be unsympathetic, and to be the perpetrator and as well as the victim in his stories. This is a must-see theatrical experience. Through Feb. 27 at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. $29-$73; 510-647-2949 or www.berkeleyrep.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed Jan. 26.

Treefall. It's the end of the world as we know it, and three teenage boys who've formed a happenstance family don't feel fine at all. In Henry Murray's postapocalyptic doomfest directed by Ben Ranle, sunlight can kill you, foraging for abandoned canned tomatoes is your best shot at dinner, and people are scarce, hostile, or infected with a mysterious deadly virus. In this world, three boys attempt to carve meaning out of chaos by adopting traditional gender roles and daily rituals: Flynn (Evan Johnson) plays the father, August (Josh Schell) the mother, and Craig (Sal Mattos) the son. Their uneasy familial ceremonies are soon disrupted by a wayward scavenger named Bug (Corinne Robkin), the first girl they have encountered in years, and who swiftly, yet unintentionally, upends the tenuous identities they've created. The dilapidated, near-absence of a set adeptly conveys the bleakness of the play's tone. Though the writing could be sharper, Treefall's provocative confrontations mostly conquer a few overwrought lines of dialogue. I could've done without Craig's continual recitations from Romeo and Juliet, as well as his irritating ruminations with a doll, but his escapism wasn't entirely unwarranted, and the struggle to come to grips with his homosexuality heightened the tension of the already fraught norms of his all-male nuclear family. Expect nudity and violence, but also a sense of hope amid the cultural and spiritual decay. Through Feb. 27 at the New Conservatory Theater, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. $24-$40; 861-8972 or www.nctcsf.org. (Anna Pulley) Reviewed Feb. 9.

All Atheists Are Muslim: Zahra Noorbakhsh's one-woman show. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. $20-$30. www.zahracomedy.com. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433.

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Avenue Q: Broadway musical about trying to make it in New York City. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Feb. 27. $50-$99. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 551-2000.

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.

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.

Clue: Based on the movie based on the board game; adapted for the stage by Peter Matthews and Nick A. Olivero. Through Feb. 25. $25-$30. Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747.

The Dog and Pony Show: Solo show by Holly Hughes. Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays. Continues through Feb. 27. $15-$50. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

Harper Regan: A woman walks away from her home and family and doesn't turn back until her entire life is on the verge of coming undone. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues through March 5. $40-$50. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 677-9596.

Hobo Grunt Cycle: Production mixes life-size puppets and performers; it deals with wounded soldiers and illegal dog fighting in addition to hierarchies of military personnel and circus performers. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through March 5. $15-$25. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

Loveland: Solo show by Ann Randolph. Saturdays; Continues through Feb. 26. $20-$50. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

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 www.themarsh.org for a lineup of future shows. Mondays. $7. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

Obscura: A Magic Show: Christian Cagigal's one-person narrative involving magic and audience participation. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through April 16. $15-$25. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

Pearls over Shanghai: Thrillpeddlers brings back the Cockettes. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through April 9. $30. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 377-4202.

Secret Improv Society: Underground improvisational theater. Saturdays, 10 p.m. $15. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100.

Shopping! The Musical: Songs and sketches about shopping. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. $23-$29. www.shoppingthemusical.com. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 882-9100.

Silvia Girardi Acting: "All I Wanted to Say": Sat., Feb. 26, 7 p.m. $12-$25. Red Poppy Art House, 2698 Folsom (at 23rd St.), 826-2402.

Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding: Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Fridays, 7 p.m. $88.50-$115.50. www.tonyandtinasanfrancisco.com. Swiss Louis Restaurant at Pier 39, 2 Beach (at Embarcadero), 421-2913.

Upper Cut Improv Showcase: Improv and sketch comedy. Fridays, 7 p.m. $5. San Francisco Comedy College, 414 Mason (at Geary), 921-2051.

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