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 firstname.lastname@example.org . For further information on how to submit items for the listings, see Picks.
How to Love Garage, 975 Howard, SF; www.pustheatre.com . $15. Opens Fri/28, 8pm. Runs Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through Nov 20. Performers Under Stress Theatre presents Megan Cohen's Plato-inspired world premiere.
Totem Grand Chapiteau, AT&T Park, Parking Lot A, 74 Mission Rock, SF; cirquedusoleil.com/totem. $58-248.50. Opens Fri/28, 8pm. Runs Tues-Sun, schedule varies. Through Dec 11. Cirque Du Soleil returns with its latest big-top production.
Annie Berkeley Playhouse, Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College, Berk; (510) 845-8542, www.berkeleyplayhouse.org . $17-35. Opens Thurs/29, 7pm. Runs Thurs-Sat, 7pm; Sun, noon and 5pm. Through Dec 4. Berkeley Playhouse performs the classic musical.
Almost Nothing, Day of Absence Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 450 Post, SF; (415) 474-8800, www.lhtsf.org . $43-53. Wed-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2pm. Through Nov 20. The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre christens its grand new home near Union Square with two well-acted one-act plays under sharp direction by artistic director Steven Anthony Jones. Almost Nothing by Brazilian playwright Marcos Barbosa marks the North American premiere of an intriguing and shrewdly crafted Pinteresque drama, wherein a middle-class couple (Rhonnie Washington and Kathryn Tkel) returns home from an unexpected encounter at a stop light that leaves them jittery and distracted. As an eerie wind blows outside (in David Molina's atmospheric sound design), their conversation circles around the event as if fearing to name it outright. When a poor woman (Wilma Bonet) arrives claiming to have seen everything, the couple abandons rationalization for a practical emergency and a moral morass dictated by poverty and class advantage — negotiated on their behalf by a black market professional (Rudy Guerrero). Next comes a spirited revival of Douglas Turner Ward's Civil Rights–era Day of Absence (1965), a broad satire of Southern race relations that posits a day when all the "Neegras" mysteriously disappear, leaving white society helpless and desperate. The cast (in white face) excel at the high-energy comedy, and in staging the text director Jones makes a convincing parallel with today's anti-immigrant laws and rhetoric. But if the play remains topical in one way, its too-blunt agitprop mode makes the message plain immediately and interest accordingly pales rapidly. (Avila)
Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief Boxcar Theatre Playhouse, 505 Natoma, SF; www.boxcartheatre.org . $15-35. Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 3pm. Through Nov 5. Written in 1979 by a 28-year-old Paula Vogel, Desdemona retells a familiar Shakespearean tragedy, Othello, through the eyes of its more marginalized characters, much as Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead did with Hamlet in 1966. In Vogel's play, it is the women of Othello — Desdemona the wife, Emilia her attendant (demoted down to washer-woman in Vogel's piece), and Bianca, Cassio's lover, and the bawdy town pump — who are the focus, and are the play's only onstage characters. Whiling away an endless afternoon cooped up in the back room of the governor's mansion, the flighty, spoiled, and frankly promiscuous Desdemona (Karina Wolfe) frets over the loss of her "crappy little snot-rag," while her subservient, pious, but quietly calculating washer-woman Emilia (Adrienne Krug) scrubs the sheets and mends the gubernatorial underpants with an attitude perfectly balanced between aggrieved, disapproving, and cautiously optimistic. Though the relationship between the two women often veers into uncomfortable condescension from both sides, their repartee generally feels natural and uncontrived. Less successfully portrayed is Theresa Miller's Bianca, whose Cockney accent is wont to slip, and whose character's boisterous nature feels all too frequently subdued. Jenn Scheller's billowing, laundry-line set softens the harsh edges of the stage, just as Emilia's final act of service for her doomed mistress softens, though not mitigates, her unwitting role in their mutual downfall. (Gluckstern)
Fear SF Playhouse, Stage Two, 533 Sutter, SF; www.un-scripted.com . $12-25. Wed/26-Mon/31, 8pm. Un-Scripted Theater Company performs improvised horror stories.
Hanging Georgia Thick House, 1695 18th St, SF; www.theatrefirst.com . $15-30. Thurs/27, 7:30pm; Fri/28-Sat/29, 8pm; Sun/30, 5pm. TheatreFIRST, in collaboration with BootStrap Theater Foundation, presents an ambitious but shallow new play by Sharmon J. Hilfinger about the emergence of artist Georgia O'Keefe (Paz Pardo), with emphasis on her rocky but crucial relationship with groundbreaking modernist photographer and exhibitor Alfred Stieglitz (Michael Storm). Set to a tuneful score by Joan McMillen, the play unfolds as a creative series of tableaux, in which director Jake Margolin has actors animating art objects and making live sound effects as well as stepping into various historical roles, including art patron and salon queen Mabel Dodge (Claire Slattery) and photographer Paul Strand (Nick Allen). In addition to some weak or doubtful interpretations of these personages, the acting is uneven and overly presentational throughout. No doubt the musical underscoring pushes the volume up but Hilfinger's dialogue tends to be didactic anyway. At times the whole production feels as if it were being pitched to children, with little sense of the complexities of lived experience but rather a one-note history lesson whose characters and moral, however closely pegged to biographical details, are hard to credit as real life. (Avila)
Honey Brown Eyes SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter, SF; (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org . $20-50. Tues-Thurs, 7pm; Fri-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 3pm). Through Nov 5. Bosnia in 1992 is divided in a horrifying civil war, some characteristics of which play out in parallel circumstances for two members of a single rock band in SF Playhouse's west coast premiere of Stefanie Zadravec's new play. In the first act, set in Visegrad, a young Bosnian Muslim woman (Jennifer Stuckert) is held at gunpoint in her kitchen by a jumpy soldier (Nic Grelli) engaged in a mission of murder and dispossession known as ethnic cleansing. The second act moves to Sarajevo and the apartment of an elderly woman (Wanda McCaddon) who gives shelter and a rare meal to an army fugitive (Chad Deverman). He in turn keeps the bereaved if indomitable woman company. Director Susi Damilano and cast are clearly committed to Zadravec's ambitious if hobbled play, but the action can be too contrived and unrealistic (especially in act one) to be credible while the tone — zigzagging between the horror of atrocity and the offbeat gestures of romantic comedy — comes over as confused indecision rather than a deliberate concoction. (Avila)
*The Kipling Hotel: True Misadventures of the Electric Pink '80s Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia, SF; (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org . $15-50. Sat, 8:30pm; Sun, 7pm. Through Nov 13. Acclaimed solo performer Don Reed (East 14th) premieres his new show, based on his post-Oakland years living in Los Angeles.
Making Porn Box Car Theatre Studios, 125A Hyde, SF; www.brownpapertickets.com . $25-50. Thurs/27, 8pm; Fri/28-Sat/29, 7 and 10pm. Ronnie Larsen brings back his crowd-pleasing comedy about the gay porn industry.
*"Master Harold" ... and the Boys Phoenix Theater, 414 Mason, Ste 601, SF; 1-800-838-3006, www.offbroadwaywest.org . $18-40. Thurs-Sat, 8pm. Through Nov 19. Based loosely on personal history, Athol Fugard's drama explores institutionalized racism in South Africa's apartheid era ensconced in the seemingly innocuous world of a Port Elizabeth tea room. The play opens during a rainy afternoon with no customers, leaving the Black African help, Willie (Anthony Rollins-Mullens) and Sam (LaMont Ridgell), with little to do but rehearse ballroom dance steps for a big competition coming up in a couple of weeks. When Hally (Adam Simpson), the owner's son, arrives from school, the atmosphere remains convivial at first then increasingly strained, as events happening outside the tea room conspire to tear apart their fragile camaraderie. The greatest burdens of the play are carried by Sam, who fills a range of roles for the increasingly pessimistic and emotionally-stunted Hally — teacher, student, surrogate father, confidante, and servant — all the while completely aware that their mutual love is almost certainly doomed to not survive past Hally's adolescence, and possibly not past the afternoon. Ridgell rises greatly to the challenges of his character, ably flanked by Rollins-Mullens, and Simpson; he embodies the depth of Sam's humanity, from his wisdom of experience, to his admiration for beauty, to his capacity to bear and finally to forgive Hally's need to lash out at him. It is a moving and memorable rendering. (Gluckstern)
Not Getting Any Younger Marsh San Francisco, Studio Theater, 1062 Valencia, SF; (415) 826-5750, www.themarsh.org . $15-50. Thurs-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 8:30pm; Sun, 3pm. Extended through Dec 17. Marga Gomez is back at the Marsh, a couple of too-brief decades after inaugurating the theater's new stage with her first solo show — an apt setting, in other words, for the writer-performer's latest monologue, a reflection on the inevitable process of aging for a Latina lesbian comedian and artist who still hangs at Starbucks and can't be trusted with the details of her own Wikipedia entry. If the thought of someone as perennially irreverent, insouciant, and appealingly immature as Gomez makes you depressed, the show is, strangely enough, the best antidote. (Avila)
*The Odyssey Aboard Alma, Hyde Street Pier, San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, SF; www.weplayers.org . $160. Fri/28-Sat/29, Nov 4-6, 11-12, and 18, 12:30pm. Heralding their hugely ambitious Spring 2012 production of The Odyssey, which will take place all over Angel Island, the WE Players are tackling the work on a slightly smaller scale by staging it on the historic scow schooner Alma, which is part of the Maritime National Historical Park fleet docked at the end of Hyde Street Pier. Using both boat and Bay as setting, the essential chapters of the ten-year voyage — encounters with the Cyclops, Circe, the Underworld, the Sirens, Aeolus, the Laestrygonians, and Calypso — are enacted through an intriguing mash-up of narration, choreography, sea chanteys, salty dog stories (like shaggy dog stories, but more water-logged), breathtaking views, and a few death-defying stunts the likes of which you won't see on many conventional stages. High points include the casual swapping of roles (every actor gets to play Odysseus, however briefly), Ross Travis' masked and flatulent Prometheus and sure-footed Hermes, Ava Roy's hot pants-clad Circe, Charlie Gurke's steady musical direction and multi-instrumental abilities, and the sail itself, an experiential bonus. Landlubbers beware, so much time facing the back of the boat where much of the action takes place can result in mild quease, even on a calm day. Take advantage of the downtime between scenes to walk around and face forward now and again. You'll want to anyway. (Gluckstern)
On the Air Pier 29 on the Embarcadero (at Battery), SF; (415) 438-2668, love.zinzanni.org. $117 and up (includes dinner). Wed-Sat, 6pm; Sun, 5pm. Through Dec 31. Teatro ZinZanni's final performance at Pier 39 riffs on the company's own struggles to stay in San Francisco. Geoff Hoyle and Duffy Bishop are the headlining guest stars.
Pellas and Melisande Cutting Ball Theater, Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor, SF; 1-800-838-3006, www.cuttingball.com . $10-50. Opens Thurs/27, 8pm. Runs Thurs, 7:30; Fri-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun, 5pm. Through Nov 27. Cutting Ball Theater performs Rob Melrose's new translation of Maurice Maeterlinck's avant-garde classic.
Race American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary, SF; (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org . $10-85. Opens Wed/26, 8pm. Runs Tues-Sat, 8pm (Tues/1, performance at 7pm; also Wed and Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2pm (no matinee Wed/26; additional show Nov 6 at 7pm). Through Nov 13. ACT performs David Mamet's wicked courtroom comedy.
Richard III Curran Theatre, 445 Geary, SF; 1-888-746-1799, www.shnsf.com . $35-150. Wed/26-Fri/28, 7:30pm; Sat/29, 2 and 8pm. Kevin Spacey plays the lead in this Sam Mendes-directed production of the Shakespeare classic.
The Rover, or the Banish'd Cavaliers, The American Clock Hastings Studio Theater, 77 Geary, SF; (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org . $10 ($15 for both productions). Through Nov 5, performance times vary. American Conservatory Theater's Masters of Fine Arts program presents plays in repertory by Aphra Behn and Arthur Miller.
"San Francisco Olympians Festival" Exit Theater, 156 Eddy, SF; www.sfolympians.com . Thurs/27-Fri/28, 8pm. No Nude Men Productions presents a festival of 12 new full-length plays written by 14 local writers. Each play focuses on one of the Olympian characters from ancient Greece.
Savage in Limbo Actors Theatre of San Francisco, 855 Bush, SF; (415) 345-1287, www.actorstheatresf.org . $26-38. Wed-Sat, 8pm. Through Dec 3. Actors Theatre of San Francisco performs John Patrick Shanley's edgy comedy.
ShEvil Dead Cellspace, 2050 Bryant, SF; www.brownpapertickets.com . $25. Fri/28-Sat/29, 8pm. Primitive Screwheads return with a horror play (in which the audience is literally sprayed with blood, so leave the fancy suit at home!) based on the Evil Dead movies.
"Shocktoberfest 12: Fear Over Frisco" Hypnodrome Theatre, 575 10th St, SF; (415) 377-4202, www.thrillpeddlers.com . $25-35. Thurs-Sat, 8pm. Through Nov 19. In its annual season-scented horror bid, Thrillpeddlers joins forces with SF's Czar of Noir, writer-director Eddie Muller, for a sharply penned triplet of plays that resurrect lurid San Francisco lore as flesh-and-blood action. In the slightly sluggish but intriguing Grand Inquisitor, a solitary young woman modeling herself on Louise Brooks in Lulu (an alluringly Lulu-like Bonni Suval) believes she has located the Zodiac killer's widow (a sweet but cagey Mary Gibboney) — a scenario that just can't end well for somebody, yet manages to defy expectations. An Obvious Explanation turns on an amnesiac (Daniel Bakken) whose brother (Flynn de Marco) explains the female corpse in the rollaway (Zelda Koznofski) before asking bro where he hid a certain pile of money. Enter a brash doctor (Suval) with a new drug and ambitions of her own vis-à-vis the hapless head case. Russell Blackwood directs The Drug, which adapts a Grand Guignol classic to the hoity-toity milieu of the Van Nesses and seedy Chinatown opium dens, where a rough-playing attorney (an ever persuasive Eric Tyson Wertz) determines to turn a gruesome case involving the duplicitous Mrs. Van Ness (an equally sure, sultry Kära Emry) to his own advantage. The evening also offers a blackout spook show and some smoothly atmospheric musical numbers, including Muller's rousing "Fear Over Frisco" (music composed by Scrumbly Koldewyn; accompaniment by Steve Bolinger and Birdie-Bob Watt) and an aptly low-down Irving Berlin number — both winningly performed by the entire company. (Avila)
You Will Gonna Go Crazy Bayanihan Community Center, 1010 Mission, SF; 1-800-838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com . $7-17. Fri/28-Sat/29, 8pm; Sun/30, 3pm. Kularts presents a multimedia dance-theater play.
Bellwether Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller, Mill Valley; (415) 388-5208, www.marintheatre.org . $34-55. Wed/26, 7:30pm; Thurs/27-Sat/29, 8pm (also Sat/29, 2pm); Sun/30, 2 and 7pm. Marin Theatre Company performs Steve Yockey's spooky fairy tale for adults.
Clementine in the Lower 9 TheatreWorks at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro, Mtn View; (650) 463-1960, www.theatreworks.org . $19-69. Wed/26, 7:30pm; Thurs/27-Sat/29, 8pm (also Sat/29, 2pm); Sun/30, 2 and 7pm. TheatreWorks presents the world premiere of Dan Dietz's post-Katrina New Orleans drama.
Doubt: A Parable Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck, Berk; www.aeofberkeley.org . $12-15. Fri-Sat, 8pm; Nov 13, 2pm. Through Nov 19. Actors Ensemble of Berkeley performs John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer-winning drama.
How to Write a New Book for the Bible Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison, Berk; (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org . $14.50-73. Tues, Thurs-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm; no show Nov 18); Wed and Sun, 7pm (also Sun, 7pm). Through Nov 20. An aspiring writer who later becomes a priest, Bill (Tyler Pierce) is the caregiver for his aging mother (Linda Gehringer) during her long bout with cancer. His father (Leo Marks), though already dead, still inhabits his mother's flickering concept of reality, made all the more dreamlike by her necessary dependence on pain medication. His brother (Aaron Blakely), meanwhile, has returned from Vietnam with survivor guilt but lands a meaningful career as a schoolteacher in the South. The latest from playwright Bill Cain (Equivocation, 9 Circles) is a humor-filled but sentimental and long-winded autobiographical reflection on family from the vantage of his mother's long illness. It gets a strong production from Berkeley Rep, with a slick cast under agile direction by Kent Nicholson, but it plays as if narrator Bill mistakenly believes he's stepped out of an Arthur Miller play, when in fact there's little here of dramatic interest and far too much jerking of tears. (Avila)
Inanna's Descent Codornices Park, 1201 Euclid, Berk; www.raggedwing.org . Free. Sat/29-Sun/30, 1pm; Mon/31, 5-8pm. After last year's memorable presentation of the Persephone myth as a site-specific, Halloween-heralding, multi-disciplinary performance in the wooded glades of Codornices Park, it seemed inevitable that Ragged Wing Ensemble would want to build on that success by following it up with an equally memorable exploration of another mythological underworld. This year's chosen subject, the descent of the Sumerian Goddess Inanna, Queen of the Heavens into the Underworld where her jealous sister Ereshkigal reigns, is enacted as a half-hour play as well as a self-guided, seven-station circuit around the park, from the tunnel to the fire pit, where the central performance is held. Each station is hosted by a different character from the play, who engages each passing audience member in a series of activities: from wishing on the future to coloring in a self-portrait of "meat." The play itself stars Kelly Rinehart as Inanna, "the bombshell of the story," who appears onstage clad in a dress of shredded reflective insulate and a giant leonine headdress. The other ensemble-created costumes are cleverly constructed of equally non-biodegradable materials: a faux-fur cloak decorated with remote controls, robes of state made entirely from rustling plastic shopping bags, a bandolier of empty water bottles. More genial and thought-provoking than a typical trip to a haunted house, Inanna's Descent is an inventive Halloween expedition for children of most ages, and adults with young hearts. (Gluckstern)
Rambo: The Missing Years Cabaret at Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston, Berk; (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org . $15-50. Thurs-Fri, 7pm; Sat, 8:30pm. Through Dec 10. Howard "Hanoi Howie" Petrick presents his solo show about being an anti-war demonstrator — while also serving in the Army.
*Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison, Berk; (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org . $14.50-73. Wed-Sun, showtimes vary. Extended through Nov 12. The life of stage and screen legend Rita Moreno is a subject that has no trouble filling two swift and varied acts, especially as related in anecdote, song, comedy, and dance by the serene multiple–award-winning performer and Berkeley resident herself. Indeed, that so much material gets covered so succinctly but rarely abruptly is a real achievement of this attractively adorned autobiographical solo show crafted with playwright and Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone. (Avila)
Sam's Enchanted Evening TheaterStage at Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston, Berk; (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org . $15-50. Thurs-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 8:30pm. Through Nov 26. The Residents wrote the script and did the musical arrangements for this musical, featuring singer Randy Rose and pianist Joshua Raoul Brody.
The World's Funniest Bubble Show Marsh Berkeley, TheaterStage, 2120 Allston, Berk; (415) 826-5750, www.themarsh.org . $8-50. Sun, 11am. Through Nov 20. Louis "The Amazing Bubble Man" Pearl returns with this kid-friendly, bubble-tastic comedy.
"Night Falls" ODC Theater, 3153 17th St, SF; (415) 863-9834, www.deborahslater.org . Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. $17-20. Peregrine is a freelance film writer awoken from bad dreams on the eve of her 60th birthday in this fitful but witty dance-theater rumination on aging and success co-directed by writer Julie Hébert and choreographer Deborah Slater. Played by a restless, irascible Joan Shirle (a force in pajamas and leather jacket with wild graying hair), Peregrine is alone yet not — shadowed by a younger self (Jessica Ferris) and the shade of her aging mother (Patricia Silver) as well as a certain feminine spirit known (in the program) as Prima (Patricia Jiron) who sings snatches of a Beatles song while flashing a flummoxing eight of spades at troubled Peregrine. Set against, and on, a large metal staircase covered by a wall of driftwood curled at the top like a cresting wave (in Giulio Cesare Perrone's scenic design), Peregrine chews up the night with worry and regret, yet to write tomorrow's commencement speech for MFA grads despite the job that may be riding on it. Feeling she has nothing to say, wondering where her youth went, and cynical about mentoring students in a ruthless freelance economy, she makes a desperate call to her ex-husband only to retrieve his brother (Robert Ernst) by mistake. He too comes shadowed by a youthful spirit (Stephen Buescher), who flirts shamelessly with Peregrine's counterpart, but ultimately retreats in hesitation back into his own pain, though not without some good accomplished. From scattered anguish and anxiety, amid a gestural choreography alternately suggesting slow-tumbling physicality and imperfect or vaguely noisome communication, the performers finally coalesce around an individual acceptance of the persistence of the body itself, site and measure of all that — in the wee hours of truthful night — could ever be called success. (Avila)
*"PanderFest 2011" Stage Werx 446, 446 Valencia, SF; www.panderexpress.com . Thurs/27-Sat/29, 8pm. $20. San Francisco's Crisis Hopkins and (PianoFight's S.H.I.T. Show makers) Mission Control join forces for a tag-team evening of sketch and "improv" (quotes kind of necessary this time). Claiming dubiously to fill a need for yet another festival in this city (though at the same time striving for above-average fawning of the public), the show delivers two acts of mostly spot-on comedy by two agreeable ensembles and is thus a fine night out anyway. The program (based rather loosely on online-video–generated audience suggestions, interspersed with the sneezing Panda baby and other YouTube perennials) also inaugurates Stage Werx's cozy new Mission District venue — the former digs of Intersection for the Arts and a huge improvement over Stage Werx's old subterranean lair on Sutter Street. Highlights of a ridiculous evening include a two-part Crisis Hopkins sketch detailing a site visit by a ball-wrecking contractor (Christy Daly) to her chary foreman (Sam Shaw) and his withering cherries; and Mission Control's pointed '70s TV show homage with a twist, Good Cop, Stab Cop. (Avila)