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Blood Brothers “Tell me it's not true,” go the lyrics of the show's final song, echoing my sentiments about this musical by Willy Russell (Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine). Petula Clark plays Mrs. Johnstone, a Liverpool dole mom who cannot seem to stop having babies. Pregnant with twins when her husband walks out, she agrees to give one of the infants to the rich, childless woman whose house she cleans. Of course, after giving Mrs. Lyons (Priscilla Quimby) the pick of the litter, she's fired. So Mickey (David Cassidy) — the twin Johnstone keeps — grows up poor but happy, and his brother Eddie (Tif Luckenbill) grows up pampered and bored. But the boys are drawn to each other and become the blood brothers of the title even as their mothers try to keep them apart. There are endless scenes in which Cassidy, Luckenbill and a bunch of other adults lark about the stage pretending to be kids — one recurring sight gag is the “boys” spitting into the air and then getting hit with it (ha-ha-ha!). There's an omnipresent Narrator (Mark McGrath) who keeps singing about the devil and Marilyn Monroe. There's Quimby doing a very convincing psycho-mommy, and Cassidy in short pants doing somersaults. Oh, dear. I was looking forward to seeing Clark, the “Downtown” queen herself, but though she does her valiant best, the show defeats her at every turn. It's musical melodrama at its hokiest, blending soft-rock elevator music (by Russell) with dreadful lyrics (Russell again) to produce laughs where they are not intended and embarrassment in place of humor. As street life takes its toll on Mickey and he languishes in jail, he queries plaintively, “What am I doing here, Eddie?” That's what we want to know. Plays Tues-Sat 8 pm, also Wed & Sat 2 pm, Sun 3 pm (through 3/12). Golden Gate Theatre, Taylor & Market, S.F. $25-48, 776-1999.

Mari Coates

San Francisco Ballet: Program Two How does the presence of AIDS affect the confined world of the ballet studio? How does it change dancers' relationships, their motivation and hopes for the future? With The Dance House, David Bintley attempts to answer these questions with a hallucinatory situation comedy on pointe (set and costumes by Robert Heindel). Seven ballerinas take their first position at a neon red barre. Stripes of thick crimson slice the middle of their leotards from throat to crotch. The backdrop floats overhead with an amorphous sketch of a house, its colors vibrantly out of kilter with the costumes. In comes (what must be) Mr. HIV, his face and limbs painted blue, his head covered by a black fright wig. It's not exactly clear, but his presence seems to make the dancers either embrace, smile or accelerate. Joanna Berman clutches Ashley Wheater; one leg of Berman's tights is drenched in red dye and hangs down like a piece of bloody meat. The moody jump-cuts of the Shostakovich score highlight more bathos than pathos, and by the time Christopher Stowell and Kristin Long (dressed in what look like striped baby bibs) do their stunning, youthful, don't-let-it-bring-you-down pas de deux, it's hard to take anything in this crazed dance house seriously. Also on Program Two: The return of Mark Morris' Maelstrom, a study in how to dance Beethoven with precision but without passion, and Val Caniparoli's Pulcinella, a playful romance about hellos and goodbyes in a train station. Plays Thurs-Fri 8 pm, Sun 2 pm (ends 2/26). War Memorial Opera House, 401 Van Ness, S.F. $7-80, 865-2000.

Katia Noyes

What's My Mantra? Veteran standup comedian Mick Berry takes a thoughtful jaunt in the way-back machine to Transcendental Meditation's late 1970s heyday in this engaging autobiographical solo show. Berry begins his humorous saga as an intense, neurotic New Orleans high school student with a passion and talent for drumming. Introduced to T.M., the earnest lad embarks on the equally single-minded pursuit of total bliss (a paradox that does not escape him). Instead of the familiar teenage sex-and-drugs coming-of-age saga, Berry paints an endearing portrait of youthful idealism and amazing self-discipline leavened with a wry dash of adult self-mockery. Berry wrestles with his destiny in episodes amusing and poignant, from his father's Big Easy ice factory to the bizarre campus of Maharishi International University, but the show lacks a turning point or dramatic peak that would raise the stakes. Along the way the actor showcases a rubbery face that Jim Carrey might envy, a gift for mimicry and a sure touch on the drums and hammer dulcimer. His background as a comic notwithstanding, Berry disdains easy targets and cheap guffaws — to his detriment. His honest, even reverent, approach to his personal history is admirable, yet unavoidably reduces the show's laugh quotient. Dan Chumley directs with a greater emphasis on blocking than pacing. Plays Mon 8 pm (open-ended). Cable Car Theatre, 430 Mason, S.F. $12, 956-8497.

Michael Fox

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Tags: David Cassidy Petula Clark Priscilla Quimby Willy Russell

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