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Encore 

Our critics weigh in on local theater

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Dostoevsky's The Grand Inquisitor. In the middle of Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan Karamazov recites a "poem in prose" of his own composition titled "The Grand Inquisitor." It is this strange story-within-a-story that Gary Graves has meticulously adapted for the stage in Central Works' deeply moving production Dostoevsky's The Grand Inquisitor. Set in Seville, Spain, at the height of the Spanish Inquisition, the play centers around the character of the Grand Inquisitor (Graves), a ruthless old man hellbent on maintaining control with the rack and the wheel. But when a stranger turns up who is reportedly able to perform miracles, the Inquisitor is forced to ask himself penetrating questions. Combining whiffs of church incense, intense lighting, an evocative set featuring a ponderous crucifix at its center, and a haunting soundscape of sacred choral music, the production works a mystical charm on all the senses. Though the pace sometimes feels slow, Graves brings sensitivity to the character of the Inquisitor, and David Skillman shows off multidexterous talents in a variety of roles. The hallowed surroundings of the Berkeley City Club no doubt will give the experience extra intensity. July 7-31 at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley. Tickets are $9-25; call (510) 558-1381 or visit www.centralworks.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 15.

The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? Edward Albee's 2002 play -- currently receiving its West Coast premiere at ACT -- revolves around a 50-year-old Pritzker Prize-winning architect by the name of Martin who fucks goats. Well, one goat, to be precise. To get the most out of Albee's arresting play, you have to see past the goat. This is quite a challenge in a play riddled with exclamations like "Goatfucker!" and "You're fucking a goat!" and enough livestock references to cause a pileup on Noah's Ark. But like Beckett and Pinter before him, Albee has always used comedy as a vessel for tragedy, and the clues to The Goat's Aristotelian core are ingrained right there in the text. In a production directed by Richard E.T. White, ACT ably balances the wild, Dionysian comic energy of Albee's play with its violently disturbing debt to classical tragedy. Although Kent Dorsey's scenic design tries a little too hard to draw out the Ancient Grecian theme, the passion and precision of the performances (especially by Don R. McManus as Martin and Pamela Reed as Stevie) draw us in. Through July 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 June 22.

Hush Up, Sweet Charlotte. The Bette Davis vehicle Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte was widely panned when it appeared on movie screens in 1964. But it's funny how time can transform even the trashiest of movies into a cult classic. The film tells the story of Charlotte Hollis (Davis), an aging Southern belle, who asks her cousin and only living relative, Miriam Deering (Olivia de Havilland), to come to town to help her prevent the family home from being torn down to make way for a new bridge. Continuously haunted by the events of a fateful night in 1927 when her lover, John Mayhew, was gruesomely and mysteriously decapitated, Charlotte is victimized by her lurid memories, the local community, and her cousin Miriam. Initially produced in 1994 at the Victoria Theatre and currently in revival at the Lorraine Hansberry, Hush Up, Sweet Charlotte, Matthew Martin's stage adaptation of the film, not only celebrates the movie as a pageant of glorious camp, but also gives it a gorgeous makeover by sending it up through the flamboyant theatrics of two divine drag artists. Martin (Davis/Charlotte) and Varla Jean Merman (de Havilland/Miriam) are very different kinds of drag queens. When you put two performers of such remarkably contrasting qualities onstage, the gulf separating them from each other, from the film star personas they play, and from the basic characters in the plot becomes extravagantly exaggerated. Laughter is the only way to make sense of it all. Unfortunately, laughter is hard to sustain over more than two hours of what essentially boils down to relentless B-movie spoof. By the time you read this review, Merman will have left the show for a summer gig in Provincetown, to be replaced by Arturo Galster. Galster has some big shoes to fill, in both the literal and figurative sense. It will be interesting to see what he makes of Miriam Deering. Through Aug. 31 at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $27-32; call 474-8800 or visit www.makeitsoproductions.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 29.

Macbeth. Sigmund Freud's ghost haunts Cutting Ball Theater's production of Macbeth with far greater persistence than Banquo's. Before the play even begins, our eyes are greeted with an intensely psychological space. Set designer Michael Locher's trim, brightly lit, white performing area bordered by five white doors brings a padded cell more readily to mind than a wind-swept Scottish moor. Doors are portals into Macbeth's mind, and the production pays little attention to what's going on in the outside world. Although the Freudian symbolism (dead babies, characters with split personalities, etc.) feels heavy-handed in places, this Macbeth is intriguing, intellectually involving, visually imaginative, and -- best of all -- funny. Garth Petal is a formidable presence as Macbeth. He brings out, with impeccable comic timing, the dark humor in his character. Despite its strengths, however, the production suffers from trying to incorporate too many ideas. The six-actor cast only exacerbates the confusion: Having each actor play several roles cleverly emphasizes the work's internal landscape, but if you don't know Macbeth very well, it's easy to get lost. Through July 16 at the Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor (near Eddy), S.F. Tickets are $20-25; call 419-3584 or visit www.cuttingball.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 1.

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 July 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.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? did for the American theater in 1962 what Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey did for its British equivalent just four years previously. Products of the postwar fracture of traditional family values and gender roles, both plays sent shock waves across their respective cultural landscapes and changed the face of theater forever. But while these days Delaney's play is considered a period piece and rarely performed, Actors Theatre's production (along with, of course, the recent highly lauded Broadway revival starring Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner) proves Virginia Woolf to be as fresh today as it was when Albee wrote it. The caustically funny and darkly depraved drama takes place over the course of a booze-soaked night at the university campus home of middle-aged history professor George (Christian Phillips) and his wife, Martha (Julia McNeal), as they play cat and mouse with each other and their newbie guests, the twentysomething biology professor Nick (Daniel Hart Donoghue) and his wife, Honey (Tara Donoghue). The claustrophobic atmosphere of Biz Duncan's living room set enhances the intensity of the couples' relentless "fun and games." Combining incisive, rhythmic direction by Keith Phillips and Kenneth Vandenberg with crisp performances by all four cast members (Tara Donoghue is especially pathetic and hilarious as the "thin-hipped" Honey), Actors Theatre's Virginia Woolf expertly mines the complex nature of marital relationships. Through Sept. 10 at the Actors Theatre, 533 Sutter (between Powell and Mason), S.F. Tickets are $10-30; call 296-9179 or visit www.actorstheatresf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed June 22.

Also Playing

Arabian Night The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley, 510-841-6500.

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

"Aurora Stories" Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

BATS: Sunday Players Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, for more information call 474-6776.

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

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

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

"Blood Bucket Ballyhoo" The Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), 248-1900.

A Boy and His Soul The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 587-4465.

Comedy Improv at Your Disposal Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 510-595-5597.

Confessions of a Dope Dealer Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St. (at Folsom), 364-1411.

Crowns Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter (at Mason), 771-6900.

Doing Good Dolores Park, Dolores & 18th St., 285-1717.

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

The Golden Hammer The Marsh,1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.),826-5750.

The Grand Inquisitor Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant (at Ellsworth), Berkeley, 510-843-4822.

"Intrigue in the Mansion: Murder Mystery Dinner" The Archbishop's Mansion, 1000 Fulton (at Steiner), 563-7872.

Jimmy Carter Was a Democrat Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.

Les Misérables Curran Theatre, 445 Geary (between Taylor and Mason), 551-2000.

Livin' Fat Historic Sweet's Ballroom, 1933 Broadway (at 19th St.), Oakland, 510-893-3500.

Los Big Names Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Bldg. D (Marina & Buchanan), 441-8822.

Love, Chaos & Dinner Pier 29, Embarcadero (at Battery), 273-1620.

Menopause the Musical Theatre 39 at Pier 39, 2 Beach (Beach & Embarcadero), 433-3939.

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.

Oklahoma! Woodminster Amphitheater, 3300 Joaquin Miller (at Highway 13), Oakland, 510-531-9597.

Opal Dreams Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 673-3847.

Richard III John Hinkel Park, Southampton (between San Diego and Somerset), Berkeley, 510-655-0813.

San Francisco Improv Festival The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), Trinity Episcopal Church, 863-1076.

Tall Tales Children's Fairyland, 699 Bellevue (at Grand), Oakland, 510-452-2259.

The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Mason), 321-2900.

Two Gentlemen of Verona Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University, 50 Acacia (at Grand), San Rafael, 499-1108.

What You Will (or 12th Night) Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.

What's Wrong With Angry? New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

Whoop-Dee-Doo! New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

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