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Encore 

Our critics weigh in on local theater

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Blood Relative. In the opening scene of Traveling Jewish Theatre's Blood Relative, a young man returns home with a broken nose and a bloodied shirt. His external appearance -- which quickly extends to the state of his surroundings, as he proceeds to trash his formerly tidy, modestly furnished apartment -- only hints at the battle raging inside him. The son of a Jewish mother and an Arab father, Avraham (or Ibrahim, depending on your ethnic affiliation) belongs at once to both communities and neither, a dangerous place to exist in a society that demands exclusive allegiance to a single side. Blood Relative has been three years in the making, and this mesmerizing ensemble production proves itself well worth the wait. Weaving together powerful storytelling, caustic humor, bold characterizations, and lyrical music and dance, the artists involved in TJT's Middle East Project have taken a subject so bogged down with the rhetoric of political and religious fundamentalism as to seem practically abstract, and shaped it into something touchingly human and bitterly real. Through April 17 at Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (between 17th Street and Mariposa), S.F., and continuing April 21-May 1 at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College (at Ashby), Berkeley. Tickets are $12-35 (pay-what-you-can on Thursday and Friday nights); call 285-8080 or visit www.atjt.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed March 23.

Blue. The old saying "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world" finds its apotheosis in Charles Randolph-Wright's domestic comedy. This semi-autobiographical riff on the relationship between the playwright and his mother charts the highs and lows of growing up as a member of the Clark household, a prosperous, African-American, funeral homeowning family in South Carolina. At the center towers Peggy Clark (Anise Ritchie), a domineering yet loving matriarch in fluffy, high-heeled mules, whose passions in life include buying furniture, controlling the lives of her two sons, and swaying to the music of jazz singer Blue Williams (Shadee Rashada). As Randolph-Wright's piece meanders across a landscape of soulful songs, voluminous 'fros, and takeout dinners disguised as home cooking, it seems there's more to Peggy's infatuation with Williams' creamy, Luther Vandrosslike voice than meets the eye. Despite the incoherent correlation between Nona Hendryx's songs and the plot -- there appears to be little motivation behind Rashada's intermittent musical outbursts -- and some dragging, arrhythmic direction, the cast brings the Clark family to life with relaxed good humor. Through April 17 at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $25-32; call 474-8800 or visit www.lhtsf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed April 6.

Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom. Gillian Slovo and Victoria Brittain's play aims to be a catalyst for political transformation. Based on the verbatim testimonies of prisoners detained at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as well as interviews with lawyers, politicians, and prisoners' families, it exposes the mistreatment of inmates by the military and the government. There are no full-frontal torture scenes here, but the matter-of-fact descriptions of prison life by the detainees, and the growing sense of helplessness among the lawyers and family members trying to free them, speak volumes. The accusations leveled against the U.S. government (and, in turn, the British government for its support of George Bush's war on terror) are direct: The administration is portrayed as being above the law -- ruthlessly determined to obliterate the enemy even if hundreds of innocent lives are squandered in the process. Discussing Guantánamo in terms of its theatrical merits is beside the point. If you're looking for fully fledged characters, resonant metaphors, climax, catharsis, and snazzy lighting effects, you'll be disappointed. For Guantánamo is not so much a play as a weapon. What Slovo and Brittain have achieved is the transformation of abstract reports from a faraway place into a concrete, utterly present reality. Through April 17 at Brava Theater Center, 2789 24th St. (at York), S.F. Tickets are $30-45; call 647-2822 or visit www.brava.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed April 6.

I Look Like an Egg, But I Identify as a Cookie. In her solo show, Heather Gold recounts the journey from Niagara Falls (where she spent the first 19 years of her life) to her current role as San Francisco's resident lesbian domestic goddess -- while baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies in front of a live audience. Even as she's plunking bits of soggy dough onto a battered metal baking tray and babbling on about her rugby-playing days as a law student at Yale, Gold, wielding her remarkable improvisation skills, creates an atmosphere of cozy intimacy. Certain parts of her monologue ramble on for too long, but even during the show's most half-baked moments, it's easy to understand why the audience gets so involved: Gold makes for an endearingly slapdash cook. Each performance involves a special guest, and it's a sheer pleasure to see a food-themed show that's not about battling one's body image (as is so often the case with productions by female artists -- e.g., Eve Ensler's The Good Body) and a program stuffed with recipes for delicacies like gingersnaps and caramel chocolate squares. Through April 25 at Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $30-50; call (800) 838-3006 or visit www.subvert.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 12.

Not a Genuine Black Man. It's not easy being green, but try being a black kid in San Leandro in the early '70s. When Brian Copeland got there -- just a few months after the Summer of Love, he points out -- it was one of the most viciously racist suburbs in America. Now it's officially the most diverse. "Take that, San Francisco," Copeland chides. He's earned that attitude, not just for going through his hell of growing up, but also for extracting from it such affirmative, hilarious stuff. Copeland's rightfully popular one-man show is wrought from pain and rage but never really succumbs to bitterness. "Is that black?" he asks, and proves that it is. Some of his best stereotype-busting material doesn't feel especially new, but it does feel good. Besides, it's the stereotypes that have passed their expiration dates: Copeland's title comes from an accusation flung at him by a cranky listener who called in to his KGO radio program. This show is his response. With help from declarative lighting and David Ford's direction, Copeland creates an affecting hybrid of the dramatic monologue and the rollicking stand-up act. Through April 30 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Jonathan Kiefer) Reviewed June 2, 2004.

One Big Lie. Getting "god-fucked," as Liz Duffy Adams so eloquently puts it in her dark musical comedy, is, despite the comedy part, no laughing matter. Divided into three acts, each representing a different era -- "The Pastoral World" of ancient Greek myth, "The Mechanical World" of 1930s America, and an unspecified, dystopian future called "The Po-Mo Mo-Fo Freakshow World" -- One Big Lie explores the myriad ways in which humans suffer at the hands of oppressors, yet don't seem able to survive without believing the lies the despots sell them. That's because the deities are just too seductive to reject. Unlike the human characters, who wallow about in sackcloth-ragged misery making dull, heroic speeches about liberty and suffering, the gods hog the best lines, have the most fun, and wear the coolest duds. Though hampered by its clunky narrative and the absence of a rhythm section to give David Rhodes' fairly nondescript musical score a bit of heat, the play is memorable for its vivid performances, punchy dialogue, and smartass humor. Through April 16 at the Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $15-20; call 675-5995 or visit www.crowdedfire.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed March 30.

Rush Limbaugh in Night School. Charlie Varon has revived and revamped his hilarious 1994 solo tour de force, a satire that may owe more than a little to Tom Stoppard's Travesties, about Rush Limbaugh and a cast of mostly still-relevant national figures from the left and right. When a conservative Latino radio host threatens Limbaugh's dominance in a Florida market, the potbellied pundit puts on a beard and enrolls in Spanish night classes (at the New School), where he falls in love with a fugitive ex-member of the Weather Underground. For obscure reasons Limbaugh also tries to play Othello in blackface, in a star-studded production featuring Garrison Keillor, directed by Spalding Gray. Things go predictably to hell. Varon's in full command of his characters; the voices are sharp, if not perfect; and his timing is hard to beat. But he and Limbaugh are both visibly older. Varon's point in 1994 was that Limbaugh had upended the whole idea of satire -- he'd turned a traditional weapon of the underprivileged into a tool of power, and the last 10 years have only shown how potent that strategy can be. Limbaugh was pretty much on his own in 1994; lately his talk-radio spawn have probably helped a) elect a new governor in California, and b) re-elect a president. Depressing. Through May 29 at the Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-22; call 826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org. (Michael Scott Moore) Reviewed Dec. 15, 2004.

The Voysey Inheritance. In Harley Granville-Barker's 1905 play, Edward Voysey inherits his father's bankrupt financial law firm and attempts to right decades of professional malpractice perpetrated against clients by his affable yet frivolous forebears. A hundred years and a good many real-world corporate scandals later (WorldCom, Enron, Tyco ...) it's difficult to imagine a work more presciently engaged with the ethics of transgression and repayment than this one. Yet for a modern audience, the sheer blustering long-windedness of the Edwardian playwright's text threatens to undermine its punch. By casting off many of the original piece's digressions while keeping its essence intact, David Mamet's adaptation performs the dramatic equivalent of liposuction, resulting in as powerful an exploration of commercial misconduct as Mamet's own hardheaded business-themed dramas Glengarry Glen Ross and American Buffalo. Ralph Funicello's opulent drawing-room set gives director Carey Perloff and her excellent cast (featuring a suitably gaunt and hangdog Anthony Fusco as Edward) a dignified veneer through which to expose the canker below. Through April 17 at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $15-68; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed April 6.

Are We Almost There? Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Ariel Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

As You Like It Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (between Taylor and Mason), 551-2000.

Beach Blanket Babylon Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Beyond Therapy Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Big City Improv Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

The Blue Dress New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

Blue/Orange Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org.

Comedy Improv at Your Disposal Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 433-3040.

Crimes of the Heart Actors Theatre San Francisco, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 296-9179.

Cuba Caribe Festival of Dance, Music, and Theater Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St. (at Mission), 826-4401.

For Better or Worse Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.

GayProv Off-Market Studio, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 896-6477, www.cafearts.com.

Monday Night Improv Jam Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 364-1411.

Monday Night Marsh The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

San Francisco Treasures Series The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750, www.themarsh.org.

The Shooting Stage New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972, www.nctcsf.org.

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