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Our critics weigh in on local theater

Wednesday, Jun 17 2009
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Fukú Americanus. After finding great success bringing Dave Eggers' novel You Shall Know Our Velocity to the stage (Sacrament, 2004), the Mission's Campo Santo is tackling Junot Díaz' Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It's a wildly ambitious task given that the novel covers three generations of a Dominican family emigrating to New Jersey, a good dose of Dominican history, a family curse (fukú), and overflows with references to '80s nerd pop culture. Much like the book, the first section of this adaptation, which introduces the overweight "ghetto nerd" Oscar (Brian Rivera), is a bit overwhelming in style and language. The English and Spanish dialogue is rapid-fire, with actors jumping around and shouting over each other. By the second section — when Oscar's punky sister, Lola (Vanessa Cota), and his mother (Maria Candelaria) and grandmother (Anna Maria Luera) are introduced — character and plot ground themselves and the audience can better appreciate Díaz' acrobatic language. The cast is rock solid; the highlight is Carlos Aguirre, who not only skillfully plays multiple roles but also beatboxes a live soundtrack over this whirling dervish of a play. This production is funny, energetic, and in-your-face; the exact qualities that make the book so original and wondrous. Through June 21 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), S.F. $15-$25; 626-2787 ext. 109 or www.theintersection.org. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed May 27.

Katya: What Becomes a Legend Most? J. Conrad Frank avoids the pitfalls of many drag shows that rely too much on kitsch, shakily sung parody songs, and trashy banter. Frank's alter ego, the Russian countess Katya Smirnoff-Skyy, is glamorous and tasteful, elegantly intoxicated (her last name says it all), and can sing, sliding easily from her high falsetto to a low tenor range. With each operatic song and through four gorgeous costume changes, Katya illuminates a new aspect of her history — from her humble beginnings growing up in Russia with a Gypsy father (Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" sung as torch ballad) through her brief career at the Metropolitan Opera to her stint as a wedding singer at endangered gay marriages (the quite stirring "Make Them Hear You," from Ragtime). Apparently fearing the show isn't gay enough, she also throws in an over-the-top medley featuring Cher, Judy Garland, Madonna, Queen, and the Village People. Katya is extremely popular in the local drag scene, winning major awards, but the night I attended felt off. The room's energy was low, jokes often fell flat, and occasionally her thick European accent and falsetto got tiresome. Yet I felt like I got to know a fully rounded persona — more than I can say for most other drag shows. Through June 27 at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Fell), S.F. $20-$29; 861-8972 or www.nctcsf.org. (N.E.) Reviewed June 10.

Man of La Mancha. Theater in gorgeous outdoor settings can be somewhat critic-proof, especially when the show in question takes place at the top of Mount Tamalpais. If you're in the mood to pack up cushions and take a lovely, zigzagging drive with the intention of getting sunburned in an amphitheater, then it won't matter to you that Mountain Play's production of Man of La Mancha is solidly mediocre. The 1965 musical — loosely based on Don Quixote — is pretty weak material to begin with, in part because its clumsy play-within-a-play structure keeps the audience at arm's length. That said, this production has at least one solid point in its favor: William Elsman's Don Quixote is exactly as hammy and lovable as he should be. But without a strong Aldonza, Man of La Mancha will always come up short — not least because her self-titled number is the show's most powerful song (and no, I'm not forgetting the karaoke standard "The Impossible Dream," diabolical earworm though it may be). Another major problem here is the choreography, which renders the play's key fight sequences as perplexing jumbles. But if the prospect of so-so theater doesn't concern you so long as you're looking down on Mill Valley from 2,400 feet, then just go. Through June 21 at Mount Tamalpais Amphitheatre, 801 Panoramic (at Highway 1), Mill Valley. $23-$40; 383-1100 or www.mountainplay.org. (Chris Jensen) Reviewed June 10.

At Home at the Zoo: Edward Albee's drama, directed by Rebecca Taichman. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Continues through July 5. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), 749-2228, www.act-sfbay.org.

BATS: Sunday Players: Each week Bay Area Theatresports players pit their improv work against all comers as the audience votes them off one by one until the winner stands alone on the stage. Sundays, 7 p.m., $5-$8, www.improv.org. Bayfront Theater, 16 Marina (at Laguna), 474-6776, www.improv.org/shows/bayfront.htm.

Beach Blanket Babylon: A North Beach perennial featuring crazy hats, media personality caricatures, a splash of romance, and little substance. Now with Rod Blagojevich! Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 6:30 & 9:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 5 p.m., $25-$80, www.beachblanketbabylon.com. 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, www.sheltontheater.com.

Brain-Dead Alive: June 19-20, 8 p.m.; June 26-27, 8 p.m., $20, www.primitivescrewheads.com. Great Star Theater, 630 Jackson (at Kearny).

Captain Stormfield's Report from Heaven: The afterlife according to Mark Twain, with dinner starting at 6 p.m. on Fridays and 5 p.m. on Sundays. Fridays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 5:30 p.m. Continues through June 28, www.thepeoplestheatre.com. Pena Pachamama, 1630 Powell, 646-0018, penapachamama.com.

Circus Center Student Showcase: See the young talent on display in this showcase directed by Helene Turcotte and Stephan Haves. June 18-21. San Francisco Circus Center, 755 Frederick (at Arguello), 759-8123, www.circuscenter.org.

Circus Finelli: Slavic slapstick cabaret. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through June 21. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433, www.stagewerx.org.

Eccentrics of San Francisco's Barbary Coast ... A Magical Escapade: Historical magic show with Walt Anthony, David Miller, Brian Scott, and Ruth Fraser. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 27, $30, www.sanfranciscomagicparlor.com. Chancellor Hotel, 433 Powell (at Post), 362-2004, www.chancellorhotel.com.

Emperor Norton: The Musical: Melody! Comedy! Insanity! Third Child Productions revives its light-hearted look at the most famous kook in San Francisco history. Can Frank Chu: The Musical be far behind? Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through July 5, $20, www.emperornortonthemusical.com. Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987, www.darkroomsf.com.

Fukú Americanus: Based on Junot Diaz' novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Through June 21, 8 p.m., $15-$25. Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-3311, www.theintersection.org.

Fury Factory: Festival of works from nationwide ensembles. Through June 27, 7 p.m., $12-$75, www.foolsfury.org. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 292-1233, www.atjt.com.

The Golden Girls: More Gay Pride Episodes: Through June 26, 7 & 9 p.m., $20, www.trannyshack.com. The Golden Girls: The Gay Episodes – Special Benefit Shows: Heklina, Pollo Del Mar, Matthew Martin, Cookie Dough, Mike Finn, and Laurie Bushman perform two "very special episodes" to benefit the Rocket Dog Rescue (7 p.m.) and Western Roundup (9 p.m.) charities. Wed., June 17, 7 & 9 p.m., www.heklina.com. Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, 1519 Mission (at Van Ness), 690-9410, www.voicefactorysf.org.

Jericho Road Improvement Association: Hella Fresh Theatre's production about an Oakland police officer. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through June 27, www.hellafreshtheatre.com. Phoenix Arts Association Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023, www.phoenixtheatresf.org.

Krapp's Last Tape: Cutting Ball Theater's production of Samuel Beckett's drama. Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through June 21. Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 931-3847, www.sffringe.org.

The Land of Infants: Megan O'Patry's drama about grave diggers and a mob boss. Thursdays-Saturdays. Continues through June 27. El Teatro de la Esperanza, 2940 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 338-1341.

Lettuce Town Lies: Kenny Yun comes of age in Salinas. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through June 27. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

Love Humiliation & Karaoke: Enzo Lombard's play about losing everything, directed by W. Kamau Bell. Thursdays. Continues through June 25. Stage Werx, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 730-3433, www.stagewerx.org.

Mauritius: Theresa Rebeck's play about a dead mother's inheritance. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through June 28. Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org.

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, www.themarsh.org.

Monty Python's Spamalot: Based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through July 5. Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor (at Market), 551-2000.

My Life on the Craigslist: Jeffery Self's tale of "Men 4 Men." Through June 27. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

Not a Genuine Black Man: Brian Copeland's long-running drama about San Leandro. Through July 12. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656, www.cafearts.com.

Now and at the Hour: Christian Cagigal's magic show. Fridays, Saturdays. Continues through Aug. 15. Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 931-3847, www.theexit.org.

Pearls Over Shanghai: Through Aug. 16, $30. The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 377-4202, www.thrillpeddlers.com.

Point Break Live!: Bank-robbing surfers make audiences happy. Through June 30, 9 p.m., $25, www.myspace.com/pointbreaklive. CELLspace, 2050 Bryant (at 18th St.), 648-7562, www.cellspace.org.

Porgy and Bess: The story of the beggar and the woman he loves, directed by Francesca Zambello. Through June 27. War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330, www.sfwmpac.org.

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

ShortLived 2.0: Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 27, $15-$20, www.pianofight.com. Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 820-1656, www.cafearts.com.

So Many Ways to Kill a Man: The story of Aeschylus' Agamemnon, as told by Ragged Wing Ensemble. Through June 17, 8 p.m. Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), 621-7978, www.theatreofyugen.org.

Some Men: Playwright Terrence McNally marches through queer history. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through July 12. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

Sultry Summer Magic: Teatro ZinZanni's new show features a rotating crew of headliners during the run, including Melanie Stace, Edna Wright and Honey Cone, Melba Moore, Sally Kellerman, and Darlene Love. Wednesdays-Sundays, $117-$200, 438-2668. Teatro ZinZanni, Piers 27 and 29 (Embarcadero & Battery), www.zinzanni.org.

Three on a Party: Word for Word's production of works by Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein, and Armistead Maupin. Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through June 21. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079, www.therhino.org.

Wicked: The Tony Award–winning musical. Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through June 27. Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 551-2000.

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