If you've ever spent a few sodden early morning hours in the International House of Pancakes peering into a chipped mug of weak coffee, you may warm to Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead, a tale of outcasts who frequent an all-night cafe. In Wilson's biblically referential drama, however, the cafe is actually one of the few sources of comfort for the drug pushers, pimps, and petty thieves who come there looking for companionship, as well as sex and booze. Wilson, whose critically acclaimed dramas include Burn This and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Talley's Folly, sets this off-off-Broadway play deep in Manhattan, with a cast of 22 actors exploring the seamy, desperate, and often cyclical lives of night-crawling drifters who've found vinyl booths to call their own. San Francisco's 12-year-old Encore Theater Company, no strangers to salty dialogue after staging David Mamet's Meteor Girl and Let's Play Two, produces the show, which opens Friday at 8:30 p.m. (and runs through July 13) at the Magic's Northside Theater, Building D, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $12-20; call 441-3687.
-- Heather Wisner