The Ice-Breaker. Sonia, a young woman wandering through the snows of Antarctica, stumbles upon a diary of intriguing geological findings that's detailed with emotion. The diary impacts Sonia's lifework and, years later, initiates her search for the scientist who authored it. Lawrence is a scientist who abandoned the geology of the Arctic to settle, paradoxically, in the desert where his thoughts would never revisit "the ice." Sonia enters his hermitage to change all that. Her enthusiasm and curiosity melt the frigid barriers posed by Lawrence. They discuss research and divulge secrets within the cozy desert dwelling a lovely creation of set designer Robert Mark Morgan. Conversations reveal truths in science that parallel truths in life. Just like Lawrence's diary, the script by playwright David Rambo reads very poetically, even when saturated with scientific jargon. While the terminology may be overwhelming, the passions of the characters speak loud and clear. Blake Lindsley, as Sonia, offers a fervency that brightens the entire stage and complements the tender introvert we discover in Lawrence, skillfully played by Charlie Shaw Robinson. The world premiere of The Ice-Breaker is graced with talent at every layer, from the designers to the performers. The brainy, intimate story is thoroughly engaging. Through April 9 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Tickets are $20-50; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (Emily Forbes) Reviewed March 22.
Menopause the Musical. Set in Bloomingdale's department store, this play unites four contrasting female characters an Iowa housewife, an executive, a soap star, and a hippie through the combined forces of cut-price lingerie and hormone replacement therapy. Singing doctored versions of 1960s and '70s pop favorites like "Stayin' Alive" ("Stayin' Awake") and "Puff, the Magic Dragon" ("Puff, My God I'm Draggin'"), the ladies potter from floor to floor, sharing their worst menopausal hang-ups as they try on clothes, rifle through sales racks, and run in and out of the store's many strategically placed powder rooms. Although Menopause is entertaining and energetically performed, it's unabashedly tacky. An ode to the delights of masturbation, sung down a pink microphone to an adaptation of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," for instance, makes one think that all that's missing from this (very) belated bachelorette party is a male stripper. And as much as the show makes its largely 40-plus female audience feel more comfortable about getting older, it doesn't go far enough. Menopause is euphemistically referred to as "the change," which just seems to reinforce taboos. And its obsession with shopping, sex, and cellulite makes Menopause feel a lot like a geriatric issue of Cosmo. Rather than empowering women, the musical ends up underscoring clichés. In an open-ended run at Theatre 39, Pier 39, Beach & Embarcadero, S.F. Tickets are $46.50; call 433-3939 or visit www.menopausethemusical.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Jan. 11.
Miss-Matches.com: Sex, Lies and Instant Messaging! "I'm barfing out the story unabridged!" That's how actor and writer Leslie Beam explains it in her one-woman show Miss-Matches.com. This self-declared "queen of cyberland" takes us on a 66-minute journey through a small sampling of more than 300 badly matched Internet dates after the breakup of her 13-year marriage (he was obsessed with football and bong rips; she was consumed with computer-sex chat rooms). Beam gets props for hanging out her dirty laundry: Onstage she brandishes her favorite sex toys (including a 3-foot-long Black & Decker vibrator), shows us dungeon floggings, makes fun of gimp-armed lovers, complains about fat people, and confesses to multiple dates with a convict tattooed with the words "white pride." Any sympathy she generates sours when she lightheartedly reveals her prejudice, recounting her ghastly treatment of an innocent date solely because he was black. She doesn't delve into her discrimination or give it any particular reason or depth; she simply tries for a laugh. Later she turns down another black cybersuitor, responding that she hasn't yet "exhausted the entire pool of eligible white men." In trying to illuminate the human and humorous side of Internet dating, Beam delivers a one-dimensional portrayal of herself and caricatures of her dates, seeming intent on proving that the Web is filled with a disproportionate number of weirdos and psychos. Through April 29 at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (between Mason and Powell), S.F. Tickets are $25; call 820-1454 or visit www.miss-matches.com. (Nathaniel Eaton) Reviewed March 1.
Morbidity & Mortality. When Carolyn and Michael Goldenhersch, a middle-class Manhattanite couple in their early 30s, lose their baby daughter owing to medical complications, Carolyn promptly has an affair with Dr. Anil Patel, a young and inexperienced doctor attractive to the bereaved woman both for what she perceives to be his exotic looks and background and for his inadvertent role in the death of her newborn. Magic Theatre's world premiere production of Courtney Baron's intellectually captivating if dramaturgically flawed play owes much to the matter-of-fact, transparent performances from all three actors: Sasha Eden (Carolyn), Hari Dhillon (Anil), and Jonathan Leveck (Michael), as well as director Loretta Greco's sensitive blocking. Passages of dull exposition in which characters perform largely to the audience rather than interact with each other undermine the strength of Baron's exploration of the strange workings of the human psyche in times of trauma. Nevertheless, the play poses some weighty and worthy questions about our therapy-obsessed society. Through April 9 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Tickets are $20-72; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed March 22.