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Our critics weigh in on local theater 

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Maggie, the American theater canon's most desperate housewife, tries to persuade her depressed and frigid husband, Brick, to pull himself out of his drunken stupor long enough to impregnate her, thus strengthening the couple's claim on the massive Mississippi Delta plantation belonging to Brick's ailing father, Big Daddy Pollitt. If Israel Hicks' solid and staid production for ACT conveys any of the dangerous animal energy of Williams' 1950s-era drama, it's in Jack Willis' brilliant, ballistic performance as the family patriarch, Big Daddy. A rutting stag crossed with an oversize teddy bear, Willis just has to bark the word "Crap!" and the chandeliers shake. René Augesen's Maggie and Michael James Reed's Brick seem flaccid in comparison. Fluttering onstage in a frilly frock and golden locks, Augesen is more Little Bo Peep than bristling feline. She mostly behaves as though she's lost her sheep, not her lover. Through Nov. 13 at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $16-76; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 2.

Crucifixion. As the world becomes cluttered with books on network theory, Web sites devoted to uniting us with our next job/apartment/life partner, and films and plays featuring ensemble casts in which apparent strangers jump into bed with one another only to discover they've had sex with that person before, it's hard to imagine that there's anything more to say on the subject of connectivity. Undaunted, Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally (Master Class, Love! Valour! Compassion!) has written a new play all about joining the dots. Crucifixion, which explores the murder of a high-profile television producer by a Jesuit priest through the casual interactions among a bunch of seemingly disparate individuals, features a voluminous cast and took nearly two years to develop. Disappointingly, McNally's statement about the ties that bind can more or less be summarized with the following quote from the play: "Life is all about connections. You don't have to understand them, you just have to open yourself up to the possibility of them." That's it? Tell me something new, Terry. Through Nov. 20 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Tickets are $20-30; call 861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Oct. 26.

Phaedra. Playwright Matthew Maguire's modernized version of Racine's neoclassical tragedy Phèdre is set in the aftermath of an acrimonious business merger. The drama tells the story of Faye, the wife of a high-powered CEO, whose illicit desire for her stepson leads to all-round misery and destruction. Maguire's text sweats and grunts with seedy descriptions of intercourse, scenes in which characters dry-hump chairs, and slatherings of pseudo-orgasmic poetry. Yet for a play about sex, it's curiously sexless. There's just not much passion -- at least of the sexual variety -- in a corporate takeover. Half the play reads like a soap opera; the other half like the ersatz "poetry" one creates out of little magnetized words on fridge doors. I admire Last Planet for its boldness and intelligence; if any local company has demonstrated an understanding of human desire, it's this one. However, director John Wilkins and his collaborators don't quite know what to do with Maguire's jerky words. Through Nov. 13 at the Last Planet Theatre, 351 Turk (between Hyde and Leavenworth), S.F. Tickets are $15-18 (two-for-one on Thursdays); call 440-3505 or visit www.lastplanettheatre.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 2.

There Be Monsters. Dan Carbone's solo play is a malfunctioning little windup toy of a show. As assorted fluffy bunnies, stuffed Humpty Dumptys, and plastic astronaut monkeys fly around the minuscule Exit Cafe stage, Carbone half-sings, half-talks (or Sprechgesangs) his way through warped tales and ditties that aren't quite what you'd expect to hear on Sesame Street. A cross between Dr. Seuss and Freddy Krueger -- with a touch of Lewis Carroll thrown in for good measure -- Carbone is a big, bald man-child exorcising inner demons with a goofy grin and an old-fashioned trunk. The performance's eccentricities wear a bit thin after 30 minutes; even so, the beautifully orchestrated lighting, sound, and movement cues create an engrossing aura that makes you feel like you're in the middle of a waking dream. The production is meant for an adult audience, but I think There Be Monsters would appeal to kids -- and to those of us who spent our formative years ripping the heads off Barbie dolls or constructing My Little Pony abattoirs. Through Nov. 19 at the Exit Cafe, 156 Eddy (between Mason and Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $12-20; call 673-3847 or visit www.sffringe.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 2.

The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean. Sandy Hackett's swingin' tribute to the Rat Pack takes us back to a time when men wore tuxedos in the desert, women could be one of two things (a lady or a tramp), and Celine Dion was just a golden apple in Las Vegas' hungry eye. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Dean Martin are brought back to life by God -- and the talents of a quartet of impersonators -- for one more night of highballing at the Sands Hotel. The concert-style production, featuring a live 12-piece band, perfectly captures the spirit of a long-lost era -- from Johnny Edwards' glossy Dean Martin pompadour to what would now be considered terribly un-PC gaffs about black Jews. These particular tribute artists aren't necessarily dead ringers for Frank and company, but if you close your eyes and listen to Brian Duprey's silk-voiced renditions of "My Way" and "Come Fly With Me," you almost feel like you've been transported, martini in hand, to another time and place. In an open-ended run at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $35-60; call 771-6900 or visit www.poststreettheatre.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Aug. 24.

Also Playing

Theater & Opera

Are We Almost There? Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.

The Ballad of Pancho & Lucy Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th St.), 626-2787.

Banyan New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (at Eighth St.), 626-5416.

BATS Improv: Make Your Own Musical Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason, Bldg. B (Marina & Buchanan), 474-8935.

BATS Sunday Players: Micetro Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.

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

Beyond Therapy Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.

Big City Improv Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.

Brundibár Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.

The Butter and Egg Man Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 777-2800.

California Palm Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St. (at Mason), 749-2228.

A Celebration of Silliness Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.

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

Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) La Val's Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid (at Hearst), Berkeley, 510-234-6046.

False Servant Exit Theatre on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), 673-3847.

Finn in the Underworld Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley, 510-647-2949.

Fury Factory Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.

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

Good Luck With It The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

Happy End Original Joe's, 144 Taylor (at Eddy), 775-4877.

The Hopper Collection Blue Bear Performance Hall, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 885-5678.

In the Midst of Them African American Art and Cultural Complex Center, 762 Fulton (at Webster), 394-5854.

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

Killing My Lobster: Nothing Is Original The Thick House, 1695 18th St. (at Arkansas), 587-4465.

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

The Magic Flute War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.

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

Matt & Ben Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission (at Fifth St.), 771-4806.

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

Missives Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.

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.

Norma War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness (at Grove), 864-3330.

Pan Theater Improv Blue Bear Performance Hall, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 885-5678.

Peter Rabbit & Me Fort Mason, Bldg. C, Marina & Buchanan, 346-5550.

Phaedra Last Planet Theatre, 351 Turk (at Hyde), 440-3505.

Porcelain Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Taylor & Mason), 673-3847.

Pvt. Wars Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.

ReOrient 2005 Blue Bear Performance Hall, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 885-5678.

Symphony of Frogs Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 285-8282.

There Be Monsters! Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (at Geary), Suite 601, 989-0023.

The Tricky Part San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio (at South Third St.), San Jose, 408-367-7255.

Twelfth Night USF Presentation Theater, 2350 Turk (at Masonic), 422-2434.

Uncertainty Avoidance Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

White Christmas Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), 512-7770.

Woman in the Wall Blue Bear Performance Hall, Fort Mason, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, 885-5678.

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