A.C.T.

'Venus in Fur' electrifies at A.C.T.

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Good lord, this play is hot, hot, hot. Rave reviews of its run in New York last year -- mostly heralding the rise of Broadway newcomer Nina Arianda -- gave me pause. Could our own A.C.T. pull off this super-steamy, sometimes-harrowing, consistently enthralling sex comedy without Arianda's now-famous starpower?

No fear. Sensational actors Brenda Meaney and Henry Clarke stole the audience's breath away, when playwright David Ives' perverse 2010 take on novelist Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's perverse 1870 masterpiece opened at A.C.T. last night. Prepare to be intellectually and emotionally (and even a bit physically) whipped, beaten, and thrilled into submission.

And yes, there will be a touch of Velvet Underground.

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The action of bodies in heat

Passion meets intellect in Tom Stoppard's past-and-present tale 'Arcadia'

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER Tom Stoppard is not a playwright who shies away from topics of unusual size. While other writers might confine themselves more narrowly with plumbing the emotional depths of their protagonists, Stoppard further concerns himself with the very workings of the universe they live in, and the machinery of history and the evolution of thought that informs their relationship to it.Read more »

The bagpipe squawks for thee: first thoughts on 'Black Watch'

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If you thought the theatricalized story of a jaunty and imperiled Scottish regiment in Iraq in 2004 would come off as a sort of "Trainspotting meets Black Hawk Down," you wouldn't be too far off the mark -- in a very positive way. I'll leave the nuts and bolts reviewing of full-force National Theatre of Scotland via American Conservatory Theater's spectacular "Black Watch," (through June 16) presented at the huge Mission Armory, to my colleague Robert Avila in next Wednesday's Guardian. But my first thoughts upon emerging from Sunday night's opening performance, after I cleaned the constant stream of expletives from my ears (and a bit of something from my eye) is that yae fookin' coonts moost sae this pish, i.e. the production and performances are well worth the gasp-inducing $100 ticket price.

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The Performant: Manic pixies

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'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' and 'The Witch House' roil with fantastickal energies

It was only a matter of time before the familiar genre of the comic book movie migrated to the stage. But don’t expect any muscle-bound jocks in colorful spandex roaming the aisles of A.C.T.’s intimate mid-Market venue, The Costume Shop. Not only is the titular “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” of their current production not a superhero with mutant powers bestowed upon her by a quirk of DNA or gamma rays, but in a twist, the comic book involved actually originates from the play -- not the other way around.

The play centers mainly around a youthfully shiftless, struggling painter Tallman (Joshua Roberts), whose dire straits and afternoon drinking habits lead to a chance encounter with one of cinematic fiction’s most enduring tropes, the Nathan Rabin-dubbed MPDG Lilly (Lyndsy Kail), a woman who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventure.”

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Show trial

Truth and artifice propel history and 'The Scottsboro Boys' musical at A.C.T.

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER The set (by Beowulf Boritt) is almost unassuming in its simplicity: just a trio of receding frames arching over the stage, each progressively more askew, and beneath them a jumble of aluminum chairs piled to one side. Still, such simplicity also hints at, and soon delivers, rich complexity.Read more »