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Our critics weigh in on local theater

American Joe Despite being given life by the same DNA donors and being raised in the same household, siblings often grow into people who bear little resemblance to each other. Liza Raynal explores this tension using the War on Terror as a backdrop in American Joe, her autobiographical solo show at the Marsh directed by David Ford. While she and her younger brother, Joe, grew up in a liberal Bay Area home where organic salad was served, they take radically different paths in adulthood. She becomes a schoolteacher; he drops out of high school and enlists in the military to fight for a cause his pacifist sister doesn't understand. There are some funny moments (such as when “Bad to the Bone” blares from the loudspeakers during Joe's graduation from basic training) and a few touching ones. But overall Raynal delivers an uneven product that loses our interest at times. Through Aug. 15 at the Marsh, 1074 Valencia (at 22nd St.), S.F. $15-$35 on Thursdays; $22-$35 on Fridays and Saturdays. Call 800-838-3006 or visit (Will Harper) Reviewed July 16.

Avant GardARAMA! “Someone needs to treat me like a piece of meat.” This opening line from “Bone to Pick” is just a taste of the raw sensuality packed into the world premiere of local playwright Eugenie Chan's take on the Greek myth of Ariadne, who fell in love with Theseus and helped him defeat the Minotaur, only to be abandoned. The one-woman play is paired with two other shorts by Gertrude Stein and Suzan-Lori Parks, and although Cutting Ball delivers all three with its usual stylized flair, “Bone” grabs you and doesn't let go. Ria, as Ariadne is called in the play, has been reduced to waiting tables at a dirty backwoods diner. She's forced to survive on baked beans as she fights off the crude advances of Theo. Yet Ria is no shrinking violet, and actress Paige Rogers sinks her teeth into Chan's muscular, direct language, never letting the audience or her wayward lover off the hook. . Through Aug. 16 at Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor (at Ellis), S.F. Tickets are $15-$30; call 419-3584 or visit (Molly Rhodes) Reviewed Aug. 6.

The Drowsy Chaperone. The central plot of this effervescent metatheatrical homage to Jazz Era musicals concerns a glamorous showgirl's decision to leave the footlights behind forever and marry the man she loves despite the vengeful misgivings of her cigar-chomping impresario. As narrated by a closeted Broadway obsessive — one Man in Chair (captivatingly embodied by a mousy Jonathan Crombie) — who copes with his anxieties by listening to old LPs of his favorite musicals, the showgirl's story explodes out of the Man's poky studio apartment in a riot of peppy production numbers, guffaw-inducing puns, flamboyant costumes, and careening scenery. The musical features faithful parodies of the kinds of song and dance routines that delighted theatergoers 80 years ago. Through Aug. 17 at Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market (at Eighth St.), S.F. Tickets are $30-$90; call 512-7770 or visit (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Aug. 6.

The Good Person of Szechuan. It's tough to criticize free theater in the park, especially when the material in question is more adventurous than, say, Shakespeare's greatest hits. So bravo to the all-female troupe Woman's Will for staging The Good Person of Szechuan, Bertolt Brecht's 1943 exploration of the disconnect between capitalist endeavor and human decency. The story concerns good-natured prostitute Shan Te (El Beh), who attempts to start her own tobacco business, only to be foiled by the greediness of her predatory friends and relatives. In response, she disguises herself as a man named Shui Ta — a ruthless efficiency expert who enacts her fantasies of entrepreneurial aggression and keeps her business in the black. Brecht's brand of socialist censure is the perfect material for free theater in public spaces, but his sly comic style requires a tonal precision Woman's Will just doesn't achieve in this somewhat sloppy production. Through Aug. 17 in Bay Area parks. Free. Call 510-420-0813 or visit (Chris Jensen) Reviewed Aug. 6.

The Listener. Set far in Earth's future in the last remaining human outpost (the majority of the world's population left centuries ago for the Moon, now imaginatively renamed “Nearth”), Liz Duffy Adams' latest world premiere tells an overwrought story of our planet's fate. At the start of the play the inhabitants of Junk City, a trash-strewn metropolis piled high with the detritus of a long-fled civilization, go about their day-to-day business. When enterprising “Finders” (the city's worker bees) Smak and Jelly capture a lone researcher from Nearth by the name of John, the fortunes of Junk City change overnight. John's plan to “save” the abandoned souls marooned on his ancestors' planet by bringing them “home” to Nearth goes awry. But a burgeoning friendship with the city's lonely “Listener” sets John and his captors on an unlikely course. Aug. 15-31 at Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at Martin Luther King Jr.), Berkeley. Tickets are $15-$25; call 433-1235 or visit (C.V.) Reviewed July 23.

Point Break Live! Keanu Reeves' legacy looms large over this most excellent theatrical spoof of Kathryn Bigelow's 1991 film about a Los Angeles cop who goes under cover to infiltrate a gang of adrenaline-junkie surfing bank robbers. Never mind that the shoestring budget puts hiring Reeves, who starred in the film as FBI agent Johnny Utah, beyond the reach of the show's producers, New Rock Theater. While the plucky theatergoer selected at the start of each performance by audience applause to fill in for Reeves may not necessarily possess the star's cheekbones or surfer's physique, he (or she) will very likely manage to turn in at least as convincing a performance. Open run on Sundays at Fat City, 314 11th St. (at Folsom) S.F. Tickets are $25; call 866-811-4111 or visit (C.V.) Reviewed July 9.

Theodora, She-Bitch of Byzantium. Charles Busch's loving 1984 spoof of a similarly titled 19th-century melodrama by Victorien Sardou tells the story of a cross-dressed drag queen who fucks and finagles her way across 6th-century Greece until a Gypsy potion wreaks havoc on her plans. As a product of the “ridiculous theater” movement, a mid-20th-century offshoot of Dadaism, Surrealism, and the theaters of Cruelty and the Absurd, Theodora certainly wears silliness on its sleeve. Sardou wrote his version for the great stage actor Sarah Bernhardt. Busch, in turn, penned his adaptation to slake his own Bernhardt obsession. Director Russell Blackwood's somewhat slipshod pacing and rhythm prevents some of the scenes from achieving their full impact. Through Aug. 16 at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St. (at Bryant), S.F. Tickets are $25-$34.50; call 377-4202 or visit Reviewed July 2. Burlesque, video, opera, show tunes, and old films combine in this show by Stephen Lawson and Aaron Pollard. Through Aug. 31. New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

Bad Habits: Square MaMa presents a play about bad habits, written by Terrence McNally. Through Aug. 30. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.

The Ballad of Edgar Cayce: A musical by Gary Aylesworth, produced by Construction Crew Theater. Through Aug. 30. Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), 522-0786.

Bay Area Rhythm Exchange: An all-star showcase of today's tap-dancers. Fri., Aug. 15; Sat., Aug. 16. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness (at Grove), 392-4400.

Color Struck: One man's wry look at institutionalized racism. Wed., Aug. 13. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

Emo! the Musical: A Beards Beards Beards production about angst-ridden teenagers. Through Aug. 30. $15-$30. Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), 776-1747.

Finding Ways to Prove You're NOT an Al-Qaeda Terrorist When You're Brown: Aug. 13-16, 8 p.m. Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.

The Mikado: Gilbert and Sullivan's musical farce. Aug. 15-17. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third St.), 978-2787.

Misery: Simon Moore's adaption of the Stephen King book. Through Aug. 16. Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Front), 788-7469.

MUSA: An opera combined with improv. Sat., Aug. 16. CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission (at Ninth St.), 626-2060.

Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad: Sun., Aug. 17, 8 p.m. $12 advance; $15 day of show. Red Devil Lounge, 1695 Polk (at Clay), 921-1695.

The Pandora Experiment: Award-winning magician and illusionist Christian Cagigal returns. Through Aug. 16. $20. Exit Theater, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), 673-3847.

Pride & Succubus: A comedy about vampires from the Thunderbird Theatre Company. Through Aug. 23. New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (at Eighth St.), 626-5416.

Subrosa-Subliminal Joy, the Ego out-ted!: A work of queer theory, human consciousness, and self-identity, directed by Peter Griggs and presented by the Burning Monk Collective. Through Aug. 17. $20. Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, 1519 Mission (at Van Ness), 690-9410.

This Is the Thing: Kirk Read's semi-experimental autobiographical one-man show about religion and sex work. Through Aug. 16. $12-$20. Shotwell Studios, 3252A 19th St. (at Folsom), 289-2000.

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