Clue Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma; 776-1747, www.boxcartheatre.org. $15-35. Wed-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 7 and 10pm. Through Sat/19. A play based on a film based on a board game is just the kind of tangled genealogy much goodtime theater is made of these days. So there's nothing too new about Boxcar's stage adaptation of the manic 1985 comedy derived from a once popular Parker Bros. diversion. In fact, it's at least the second stage adaptation of same to be offered in San Francisco. (Impossible Productions remounted its version at the Dark Room just last year.) Nevertheless, led by adapter-director Nick A. Olivero, Boxcar's production pursues its vision like a mad yen, with a loving fidelity and self-referential glee that are not so much inspired as just plain zealous (although Olivero's scenic design does reach new heights: a TV-toned board-game set that the audience peers down on from six-feet-high balconies ringing the stage). Performances are dutiful and solid for the most part, with especially nice work from Brian Martin (as the butler) and J. Conrad Frank (as Mrs. Peacock). Although there's something vaguely and not unpleasantly hypnotic about it all, groups of cult-film line-gleaners may be the best audience for this one. (Avila)
*Farragut North NOHSpace, 2840 Mariposa. www.opentabproductions.com. $25. Thurs-Sat, 8pm. Through March 5. Former Howard Dean speechwriter Beau Willimon's formulaic but solidly crafted 2008 play about backroom politics and the seamy side of what's euphemistically called the American democratic process seems like it'd make a good George Clooney movie. George Clooney thought so too. He's making it now under the title The Ides of March. You can see it sooner and without all those goddamn movie stars in this low-budget, high-octane staging by OpenTab Productions (Fishing). Stephen (Ben Euphrat) is a 25-year-old wiz of a press secretary for a "maverick" governor heading into a major primary battle on the road to the White House. But an unexpected phone call leads "idealistic" power-lover Stephen into temptation, even as it reveals the real dynamics of the electoral system he thought he'd mastered. A battle for career survival ensues with his former boss (Alex Plant), in which loyalty is a password and decency the first sandbag to drop. Opening night had one or two timing issues and some actors lost in shadow, but director Dave Sikula builds the action well and gets strong performances from an uneven but generally winning cast. Particularly nice work comes from a convincingly unraveling Euphant, a coolly compassionate Carla Pauli (as precocious intern–turned–unwitting pawn), and the formidable Nathan Tucker as Stephen's slickly conniving counterpart and Mephistopheles of the moment.
Next to Normal Curran Theatre, 445 Geary; (888) SHN-1799, www.shnsf.com. $30-99. Call for dates and times. Through Sun/20. Diana Goodman (Alice Ripley) is a woman too restlessly witty and big-souled to sit easy in the suburban home she shares with her husband (Asa Somers), 16-year-old daughter (Emma Hunton), and 18-year-old son (Curt Hansen). What's worse, the 18-year-old died as a baby about 17 years ago, and has not been taking the news lying down. A mother's grief winds through this sometimes clever, mostly sappy, and ultimately tedious Broadway rock musical about a bipolar woman and the impact of her illness on her family. Director Michael Greif's (Rent) kinetic staging takes place across a three-level industrial-box set that houses musicians in its outer corners as well as the stereotypical family dwelling in its center. The set's outer façade (moving panels featuring giant eyes and mouth) meanwhile suggests the whole thing as a model of the mind we're witnessing come apart. The 2008 musical by Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) and Tom Kitt (music) won a Pulitzer for its supposedly bold depiction of mental illness. But despite reasonable scoffing at the paternalistic, pharmacologically fueled regime of mainstream treatment (embodied by Jeremy Kushnier's various doctors), neither Tony-winner Ripley's jagged performance nor Yorkey's book transcends a stultifying and finally grating set of narrative clichés, which the driving, mostly generic-sounding score only makes more obvious. A Woman Under the Influence this isn't. (Avila)
Party of 2 – The New Mating Musical Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter; (800) 838-3006, www.partyof2themusical.com. $27-29. Sun, 3pm. Open-ended. A musical about relationships by Shopping! The Musical author Morris Bobrow.
*Pearls Over Shanghai Thrillpeddlers' Hypnodrome, 575 Tenth St; 1-800-838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com. $30-69. Sat, 8pm. Through April 9. Thrillpeddlers' acclaimed production of the Cockettes musical continues its successful run.
Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough; (510) 207-5774, www.custommade.org. $10-25. Thurs-Sat, 8pm. Through Sat/19. Originally conceived as a one-off benefit show by Gray's widow, Kathleen Russo and director Lucy Sexton, Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell intersperses segments of some of Gray's most famous works—Swimming to Cambodia, Gray's Anatomy, Monster in a Box—with excerpts from his journals, the stories left to tell. The original concept to have five actors representing five aspects of Gray's words—adventure, career, family, journals, and love—seems to have been crafted with the specific purpose of allowing several people the opportunity to "speak for" Spalding, without actually performing "as" Spalding, appropriate enough for a celebratory memorial, but hard to accept as a capital-P play. It's a conundrum that Custom Made Theatre cannot solve. Half the cast convey by their tone and manner the casual ease of campfire story-tellers, while the other half take a more performative approach to their recitations, particularly a smooth Patrick Barresi as "Career" and the likable Richard Wenzel as "Love." The stories themselves are often hilarious, including Gray's turns as a "Bowery Bum," a jailbird in Nevada, and a sweat lodge initiate, while the stories that are not side-splittingly funny are poignant, painful, and even unflinchingly sentimental, especially in regards to his young sons. But as a work of theatre, they underwhelmed. (Gluckstern)
Treefall New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness; 861-8972, www.nctsf.org. $24-40. Call for dates and times. Through Feb 27. New Conservatory Theatre Center presents a tale of erotic attraction by Henry Murray.
What We're Up Against Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, bldg D; 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org. Wed-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 2:30 and 8pm; Sun, 2:30pm; Tues, 7pm. Through March 6. Following the popularity of Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius in 2009, Magic Theatre brings the New York playwright back for the world premiere of a decidedly flimsy comedy about sexual discrimination at a busy architecture firm. Eliza (Sarah Nealis) is the bright and brash new employee who finds herself shut out by an old boys network. Sodden boss Stu (Warren David Keith) resents her heartily for her competence and ambition, while ass-kissing power-jockey Weber (James Wagner) uses the leverage for all its worth. Gender solidarity with sole (but soulless) sister Janice (Pamela Gaye Walker) doesn't get Eliza very far either. One guy at the firm, Ben (Rod Gnapp), alone knows better (among what amounts to an unbelievably inept staff). Eliza, meanwhile, crafts a form of revenge from her well-guarded solution to the otherwise stymieing "duct problem" in the plans for a new mall, a major account hitting the skids. Ben's obsession with ducts is something of a key joke here, which ends up being characteristic of a play that stretches its not-very-new conceits thinly over two acts. The glass ceiling, ducts and all, is a bit too transparent in this bloodless production (helmed by artistic director Loretta Greco), leaving precious little to wonder or worry about. (Avila)
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs Berkeley Rep, Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison, Berk; (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org. $14.50-73. Call for dates and times. Through Feb 27. In his latest monologue (playing in repertory with another, The Last Cargo Cult), Mike Daisey explores the deeper implications of his own, and our, obsession with technology through a parallel look at the career of Apple's megalomaniacal founder, and Daisey's own reconnaissance trip to Apple's manufacturing center in southern China. The story is well-crafted, Daisey's delivery dependably expert—even if his humor occasionally strays into the more obvious, belabored humor of the office water-cooler wag—and the real-world vision of hell he paints in a behemoth suicide-ridden factory called Foxconn (apt if understated name there) all too salient. But the story gives us back as revelation what we already know, surely, about the horrifying labor system behind our various electronic gizmos and much else besides. It's a kind of liberal conceit to play along with the indignation and head back out into the world fully willing to do battle against corporate capital, or at least sign an online petition. As a performer, meanwhile, Daisey has not budged from the formula he originally borrowed from Spalding Gray but made it even more his own. Indeed, to call his approach "indebted" to Gray is like saying the black market iPhone knock-offs he describes are merely an homage to Apple's product. Beside his professed love for the latest high tech wizardry comes this uncanny attachment to the utterly low-tech, analog-monologue style of the late master.
Collapse Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, Berk; (510) 843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org. $34-55. Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2 and 7pm; Tues, 7pm (also Feb 19, 2pm). Through March 6. Aurora Theatre presents a comedy by Allison Moore.
Grapes of Wrath Marion E. Green Black Box Theater, 531 19th, Oakl; www.theatrefirst.com. $10-30. Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through Sun/20. TheatreFIRST presents Frank Galati's stage adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel.
Heartbreak House Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck, Berk; (510) 649-0999, www.berkeleyrep.org. $12-15. Fri-Sat, 8pm (also Thurs/17, 8pm). Through Sat/19. Actors Ensemble of Berkeley presents the George Bernard Shaw comedy set just before World War I.
The Last Cargo Cult Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison, Berk; (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org. $14.50-73. Call for dates and times. Through Sun/20. As fans of J. Maarten Troost have learned, life on an island "paradise" is far less idyllic than the imagination yearns to believe. So it's hardly surprising that Mike Daisey's monologue The Last Cargo Cult begins with a white-knuckle ride in a prop plane piloted by a man with a milky eye. Daisey's destination, the Pacific island of Tanna, is the location of one of the world's last so-called "cargo cults", and their big celebration "John Frum Day" is approaching. Daisey's intention to hang out at the festivities smacks a little of entitled voyeurism, but the parallel he manages to draw between the complexities of a religion dedicated to a mythical cargo of "awesome shit", and our own dedication to the acquisition of same, is a striking one. From our almost blind faith in the value of basically valueless currency, to our even blinder faith that indenturing ourselves by debt will enrich us, the foundations of our own "cargo cult" are revealed smartly by Daisey to be just as precarious as if built at the base of a volcano as in Tanna. Still, I found the most revealing thing about the evening to be the moment when the couple next to me took off with a $100 bill they'd acquired free-of-charge at the door, to which I can't help but ask them: "Did you get your money's worth?" (Gluckstern)
Not a Genuine Black Man The Marsh Berkeley, TheaterStage, 2120 Allston, Berk; 826-5750, www.themarsh.org. $20-50. Fri, 8pm. Through Fri/18. Brian Copeland brings back his long-running solo show.
Seagull Wed, 7:30pm, Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm; Tues, 8pm. Through Feb 27. Marin Theatre Company presents a new translation of Chekhov's great play from former Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic director Libby Appel. The translation feels crisp and lucid, but artistic director Jasson Minadakis's production remains fairly unmoving despite some effective moments among a skilled cast, including the dependably charismatic Howard Swain (as the doctor). The surprising lack of connection or spark between the principal characters—especially the jaded writer (Craig Marker) and the infatuated, soon-to-be-ruined Masha (an otherwise vivacious Liz Sklar)—results in a dutiful production without that pent-up Chekhovian atmosphere that should envelop and follow you for hours if not days to come. (Avila)
Strange Travel Suggestions The Marsh Berkeley, Cabaret, 2120 Allston Way, Berk; (800) 838-3006, www.themarsh.org. $15-35. Thurs-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 5pm. Through Sat/19. Jeff Greenwald stars in a one-man show about the vagaries of wanderlust.
World's Funniest Bubble Show The Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston Way, Berk; (800) 838-3006, www.themarsh.org. $8-11. Sun, 11am. Through April 3. The Amazing Bubble Man extends the bubble-making celebration.
Marga's Funny Mondays The Cabaret at The Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston; (800) 838-3006, www.themarsh.org. Mon/14, 8pm. $10. Marga Gomez hosts a Monday night comedy series.
Stage listings are compiled by Guardian staff. Performance times may change; call venues to confirm. Reviewers are Robert Avila, Rita Felciano, and Nicole Gluckstern. Submit items for the listings at email@example.com. For further information on how to submit items for the listings, see Picks. For complete listings, see www.sfbg.com.