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.
"Bay Area Playwrights Festival" Thick House, 1695 18th St, SF; www.playwrightsfoundation.org . $15. Opens Fri/20, 8pm. Various showtimes and dates. Through July 29. The 35th annual festival presents six new plays: Grounded by George Brant; Ideation by Aaron Loeb; Brahmani by Aditi Brennan Kapli; Samsara by Lauren Yee; The Hundred Flowers Project by Christopher Chen; and Tea Party by Gordon Dahlquist.
A Midsummer Night's Dream Forest Meadows Amphitheater, 890 Belle, Dominican University of California, San Rafael; www.marinshakespeare.org . $20-35. Previews Fri/20 and Sun/22, 8pm. Opens July 28, 8pm. Runs July 29, Aug 12, Sept 2, 16, 23, and 30, 4pm; Aug 3, 5, 12, 18, 24, 26, Sept 7, 9, 15, 28-29, 8pm. Through Sept 30. Marin Shakespeare Company performs the Bard's classic, transported to the shores of Hawaii.
Noises Off Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck, Berk; www.aeofberkeley.org . $15. Opens Fri/20, 8pm. Runs Fri- Sat, 8pm; Aug 12, 2pm. Through Aug 18. Actors Ensemble of Berkeley performs Michael Frayn's backstage comedy.
Absolutely San Francisco Alcove Theater, 414 Mason, Ste 502, SF; www.thealcovetheater.com . $32-50. Thu-Sat, 8pm. Through Aug 18. A multi-character solo show about the characters of San Francisco.
Duck Lake The Jewish Theater, 470 Florida, SF; www.duck-lake.com . $17-35. Fri-Sat, 8pm. Through July 28. By terns gross and engrossing, PianoFight's Duck Lake — written and produced by associated sketch comedy locals Mission Control — proves a gangling but irresistible flight, a ballet-horror-comedy-musical with fair helpings of each. By the shore of the eponymous watery resort with a mysterious past as an animal testing site, a perennially "up-and-coming" theater director named Barry Canteloupe (poised and sassy Raymond Hobbs) marshals a pair of prosthetic teats and other trust-building paraphernalia in a cultish effort to bring off yet another reimagining of Swan Lake. His cast and crew include a rebounding TV starlet (a sure and winsome Leah Shesky), a lazy leading man (delightfully dude-ish Duncan Wold), a supremely confident and just god-awful tragedian (a duly expansive Alex Boyd), and a gleeful misfit of a tech guy (an innocently inappropriate, very funny Joseph Scheppers). When the thespians come beak-to-beak with a handsome local gang leader (a nicely multifaceted Sean Conroy) and his rowdy band of sun-addled jet-skiers (the awesome posse of Daniel Burke, David Burke, and Meredith Terry), a star-crossed college reunion ensues between the tattooed tough and the hapless production's white swan. Meanwhile, "scary fucked-up super ducks" go on a killing rampage under tutelage of some cave-bound weirdo (an imposing, web-footed Rob Ready), leading to love, mayhem, and shameless appropriation of timeless musical numbers. It's all supported by four tutu'd mallards (the po-faced, limber ensemble of Christy Crowley, Caitlin Hafer, Anne Jones, and Emma Rose Shelton) and flocks of murderous fellow fowl (courtesy of Crowley's fine puppet design). And don't worry about the convoluted plot, all will be niftily explained by an old codger of a groundskeeper (a hilariously persuasive Evan Winchester). If the action gets attenuated at times across two-plus hours, a beguilingly agile cast and robust concept more than compensate for the loosey-goosey. (Avila)
5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason, SF; www.tidestheatre.org . $20-38. Thu/19-Sat/21, 8pm (also Sat/21, 10pm). Tides Theatre performs Evan Linder and Andrew Hobgood's comedy about five women forced into a bomb shelter during a mid-breakfast nuke attack.
Fwd: Life Gone Viral Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia, SF; (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org . $20-50. Sat/21, 8:30pm; Sun/22, 7pm. The internet becomes comic fodder for creator-performers Charlie Varon and Jeri Lynn Cohen, and creator-director David Ford.
Marat/Sade Brava Theatre, 2781 24th St, SF; (415) 863-0611, www.ticketfly.com . $20-38. Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm (also Sun/22, 1:30pm). Through July 29. Marc Huestis and Thrillpeddlers present Peter Weiss' macabre Tony-winner.
The Scottsboro Boys American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary, SF; www.act-sf.org . $20-95. Wed/18-Sat/21, 8pm (also Wed/18 and Sat/21, 2pm); Sun/22, 2pm. American Conservatory Theater presents the Kander and Ebb musical about nine African American men falsely accused of a crime they didn't commit in the pre-civil rights movement South.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson, SF; www.rayoflighttheatre.com . $25-36. Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2pm. Through Aug 11. Halloween comes early this year thanks to Ray of Light Theatre's production of Sweeney Todd and all its attendant horrors. Set in bleakest, Industrial Revolution-era London, this Sondheim musical pushes the titular Todd to enact a brutal vengeance on a world he perceives as having stolen the best of life from him, namely his family and his freedom. No fey, gothic vampire, ROLT's Sweeney Todd (played by Adam Scott Campbell) is both physically and psychically imposing, built like a blacksmith and twice as dark. Pushed over the line between misanthropic and murderous, Sweeney Todd methodically plots his revenge on the hated Judge Turpin (portrayed with surprising sympathy by Ken Brill) while the comfortably comical purveyor of pies, Mrs. Lovett (Miss Sheldra), dreams of a sunnier future. Mrs. Lovett's no-nonsense, wisecracking ways aside, there are few laughs to be had in this slow-burning dirge to the worst in mankind, and as the body count rises, it is made abundantly clear that all hope of redemption is also but a fantasy. Contributing to the dark mood are Maya Linke's imposing, industrial set, Cathie Anderson's ghostly green and hellfire amber lighting, and a spare chamber ensemble of six able musicians conducted by Sean Forte. (Gluckstern)
Vital Signs Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia, SF; (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org . $15-50. Sat, 8:30pm. Extended through Aug 25. The Marsh San Francisco presents Alison Whittaker's behind-the-scenes look at nursing in America.
Waiting... Larkspur Hotel Union Square, 525 Sutter, SF; www.brownpapertickets.com . $49-75. Thu-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through Aug 5. Comedy set behind the scenes at a San Francisco restaurant.
The Waiting Period MainStage, Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia, SF; (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org . $15-50. Fri, 8pm; Sat, 5pm. Extended through August 4. Brian Copeland (comedian, TV and radio personality, and creator-performer of the long-running solo play Not a Genuine Black Man) returns to the Marsh with a new solo, this one based on more recent and messier events in Copeland's life. The play concerns an episode of severe depression in which he considered suicide, going so far as to purchase a handgun — the title coming from the legally mandatory 10-day period between purchasing and picking up the weapon, which leaves time for reflections and circumstances that ultimately prevent Copeland from pulling the trigger. A grim subject, but Copeland (with co-developer and director David Ford) ensures there's plenty of humor as well as frank sentiment along the way. The actor peoples the opening scene in the gun store with a comically if somewhat stereotypically rugged representative of the Second Amendment, for instance, as well as an equally familiar "doood" dude at the service counter. Afterward, we follow Copeland, a just barely coping dad, home to the house recently abandoned by his wife, and through the ordinary routines that become unbearable to the clinically depressed. Copeland also recreates interviews he's made with other survivors of suicidal depression. Telling someone about such things is vital to preventing their worst outcomes, says Copeland, and telling his own story is meant to encourage others. It's a worthy aim but only a fitfully engaging piece, since as drama it remains thin, standing at perhaps too respectful a distance from the convoluted torment and alienation at its center. (Avila)
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson The Stage, 490 S. First St, San Jose; www.thestage.org . $25-$50. Wed-Thu, 7:30pm; Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through July 29. An overrated president and rock musical at once, the 2010 Broadway hit by Alex Timbers (book) and Michael Friedman (music, lyrics) takes its first Bay Area bow in San Jose Stage's ho-hum production, directed by Rick Singleton. In this proudly irreverent but rarely very witty take on mob-democracy and the pack of jackals that are our illustrious political forefathers, a vicious and ambitious cornpone Jackson (David Colston Corris, subbing for Jonathan Rhys Williams) takes his Indian-hating ways to the top of the political establishment on a wave of backwoods resentments and Tea Party-style populism. Present-day parallels should run deep here, but the play is so shallow in its humor that it feels one-note for the most part, while its South Park-like insouciance has an unintentional way of making jokes about the Trail of Tears feel "too soon." This American Idiocy and the 13 accompanying musical numbers are gamely if not always smoothly essayed by cast and band alike (under musical direction by Allison F. Rich), but dumb satire lines up with a generally unappealing score, straining after saucy eloquence while sounding derivative of the emo fare served up by the likes of Spring Awakening and that lot. A tack away from sheer vulgarity and buffoonery toward moralizing history lesson comes late in the hour and its guilty pretention — along with earlier gratuitous, vaguely uncomprehending references to Susan Sontag and Michel Foucault — only makes matters worse. (Avila)
For the Greater Good, Or The Last Election This week: Mosswood Park, MacArthur between Webster and Broadway, Oakl; www.sfmt.org . Free (donations accepted). Sat/21, 2pm. Various venues through Sept. 8. "Don't they understand that without us they don't have anything?" asks Gideon Bloodgood (Ed Holmes), investment banker at the top of the San Francisco Mime Troupe's vivisection of the "real" American Dream, For the Greater Good, Or the Last Election. But surely the hero of a Mime Troupe show cannot possibly be a billionaire? Well, sort of. Though Bloodgood enriches himself dishonestly with precarious investments and outright theft in this Occupy-era melodrama, he actually does occasionally spare a sentiment for Mom and apple pie, or anyway his daughter Alida (Lisa Hori-Garcia) and cookies baked by the unsuspecting victim of his ill-gotten gains, the Widow Fairweather (Keiko Shimosato Carreiro) — now living at the last Occupy encampment standing in the city. Alida, however, displays no compunction in throwing aside his affection and her prospective seat in Congress, running off to join the occupiers for reasons that truthfully appear about as politically motivated as her father's parasitic avarice, leaving him to join forces instead with the most unlikely of allies — the impeccable, ingenuous Lucy Fairweather (Velina Brown), heiress to a stolen legacy, and staunch patriot. Based loosely on 19th century play The Poor of New York, The Last Election attempts to turn a presumptive ode to the free market into its swan song with good-humored, if predictable, results. (Gluckstern)
King John Forest Meadows Amphitheater, 890 Belle, Dominican University of California, San Rafael; www.marinshakespeare.org . $20-35. Opens Fri/13, 8pm. Runs Sat/21, July 27, 29, Aug 4, 10-12, 8pm; Sun/22 and Aug 5, 4pm. Marin Shakespeare Company kicks off its 2012 outdoor summer festival season with this history play.
The Kipling Hotel: True Misadventures of the Electric Pink '80s Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston, Berk; (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org . $20-50. Sat, 8:30pm; Sun, 7pm. Extended through Aug 26. This new autobiographical solo show by Don Reed, writer-performer of the fine and long-running East 14th, is another slice of the artist's journey from 1970s Oakland ghetto to comedy-circuit respectability — here via a partial debate-scholarship to UCLA. The titular Los Angeles residency hotel was where Reed lived and worked for a time in the 1980s while attending university. It's also a rich mine of memory and material for this physically protean and charismatic comic actor, who sails through two acts of often hilarious, sometimes touching vignettes loosely structured around his time on the hotel's young wait staff, which catered to the needs of elderly patrons who might need conversation as much as breakfast. On opening night, the episodic narrative seemed to pass through several endings before settling on one whose tidy moral was delivered with too heavy a hand, but if the piece runs a little long, it's only the last 20 minutes that noticeably meanders. And even with some awkward bumps along the way, it's never a dull thing watching Reed work. (Avila)
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Sister Thea Bowman Memorial Theater, 920 Peralta, Oakl; www.lowerbottomplayaz.com . $10-25. Fri/20-Sat/21, 7pm; Sun/22, 2pm. Lower Bottom Playaz perform August Wilson's music-industry expose.
The Marvelous Wonderettes Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City; www.broadwaybythebay.org . $20-48. Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2pm. Through July 29. Broadway By the Bay performs Roger Bean's retro musical, featuring classic tunes of the 1950s and '60s.
Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Julia Morgan Theatre, 2640 College, Berk; www.berkeleyplayhouse.org . $17-35. Thu, Sat, and July 25, 7pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun, noon and 5pm. Through Aug 19. Berkeley Playhouse performs a musical based on the candy-filled book, with songs from the 1971 movie adaptation.
Salomania Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, Berk; www.auroratheatre.org . $30-55. Wed/18-Sat/21, 8pm; Sun/22, 2 and 7pm. The libel trial of a politically opportunistic newspaper publisher (Mark Andrew Phillips) and the private life of a famous dancer of the London stage — San Franciscan Maud Allan (a striking Madeline H.D. Brown) — become the scandalous headline-grabber of the day, as World War I rages on in some forgotten external world. In Aurora's impressive world premiere by playwright-director Mark Jackson, the real-life story of Allan, celebrated for her risqué interpretation of Oscar Wilde's Salomé, soon gets conflated with the infamous trial (20 years earlier) of Wilde himself (a shrewdly understated Kevin Clarke). But is this case just a media-stoked distraction, or is there a deeper connection between the disciplining of "sexual deviance" and the ordered disorder of the nation state? Jackson's sharp if sprawling ensemble-driven exploration brings up plenty of tantalizing suggestions, while reveling in the complexly intermingling themes of sex, nationalism, militarism, women's rights, and the webs spun by media and politics. A group of trench-bound soldiers (the admirable ensemble of Clarke, Alex Moggridge, Anthony Nemirovsky, Phillips, Marilee Talkington, and Liam Vincent) provide one comedy-lined avenue into a system whose own excesses are manifest in the insane carnage of war — yet an insanity only possible in a world policed by illusions, distractions and the fear of unsettled and unsettling "deviants" of all kinds. In its cracked-mirror portraiture of an era, the play echoes a social and political turmoil that has never really subsided. (Avila)
Truffaldino Says No Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby, Berk; www.shotgunplayers.org . $18-25. Wed/18-Thu/19, 7pm; Fri/20-Sat/21, 8pm; Sun/22, 5pm. For centuries, stock characters have insidiously demonstrated to the working classes the futility of striving against type or station with broadly comedic pratfalls, doomed to play out their already-written destinies with no hope for a change in script. Truffaldino (William Thomas Hodges) is one such pitiable character. Longing for his airheaded mistress, Isabella (Ally Johnson), playing second fiddle to his father, the iconic Commedia dell'Arte fool Arlecchino (Stephen Buescher), Truffaldino becomes increasingly dissatisfied with the monotony of the "old world" and strikes out for the new one — eventually washing up in Venice Beach. Despite their dayglo California veneer and sitcom-appropriate shenanigans, the new world characters he meets quickly come to resemble the stock commedia characters Truffaldino has left behind, and he finds himself similarly trapped in their incessantly recurring cycle — pining predictably for valley girl waitress, Debbie (Johnson again). What thankfully cannot be predicted is how Truffaldino manages to rewrite his destiny after all while reconciling his two worlds in a raucous comedy of errors anchored by the solid physical comedy of its stellar cast, particularly that of Stephen Buescher as both Arlecchino and Hal, who bounces, prances, tumbles, and falls down the stairs with the kind of rubber-jointed dexterity that should come with a "kids, don't try this at home" warning label. (Gluckstern)
Upright Grand TheatreWorks at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield, Palo Alto; www.theatreworks.org . $24-73. Tue-Wed, 7:30pm; Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun, 7pm. Through Aug 10. TheatreWorks launches its 43rd season with the world premiere of Laura Schellhardt's play about a musical father and daughter.
"Ballroom With a Twist" Marines' Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter, Second Flr, SF; www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com . $49-79. Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2 and 6pm. Through July 29. Dancing With the Stars pros and contestants from American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance perform pumped-up ballroom dance and music.
BATS Improv Bayfront Theater, B350 Fort Mason Center, SF; www.improv.org . Fri, 8pm, through July 27: "Naked" Theatresports, $17. Sat, 8pm, through July 28: "Spontaneous Broadway," $20.
"Elect to Laugh" Studio Theater, Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia, SF; (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org . Tue, 8pm. Through Nov 6. $15-50. Veteran political comedian Will Durst emphasizes he's watching the news and keeping track of the presidential race "so you don't have to." No kidding, it sounds like brutal work for anyone other than a professional comedian — for whom alone it must be Willy Wonka's edible Eden of delicious material. Durst deserves thanks for ingesting this material and converting it into funny, but between the ingesting and out-jesting there's the risk of turning too palatable what amounts to a deeply offensive excuse for a democratic process, as we once again hurtle and are herded toward another election-year November, with its attendant massive anticlimax and hangover already so close you can touch them. Durst knows his politics and comedy backwards and forwards, and the evolving show, which pops up at the Marsh every Tuesday in the run-up to election night, offers consistent laughs born on his breezy, infectious delivery. One just wishes there were some alternative political universe that also made itself known alongside the deft two-party sportscasting. (Avila)
"Expiration Date: Still Good" Jewish Theater, 470 Florida, SF; www.pianofight.com . Thu/19, 8pm. $20. PianoFight's female-driven comedy group ForePlays performs fan-fave sketches.
"Fauxgirls! San Francisco's Favorite Drag Revue" Infusion Lounge, 124 Ellis, SF; www.fauxgirls.com . Thu/19, 7pm. Free. With Victoria Secret, Alexandria, Chanel, Maria Garzi, and more.
"Fishnet Follies" Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason, SF; www.fishnetfollies.com . Fri/20, 10:30pm. $20-45. Classic burlesque revue with Vienna La Rouge, Jessabelle Thunder, Cici Stiletto, and more.
"Folded Into a Tempest" Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa, SF; www.shashahigby.com . Fri-Sat, 8pm. Through July 28. $18-25. Sha Sha Higby performs an exploration of life, death, and rebirth using her unique sculptural costumes and puppetry.
Keith Lowell Jensen San Francisco Punch Line, 444 Battery, SF; www.punchlinecomedyclub.com . Wed/18, 8pm. $15. The comedian performs and tapes a new CD for Stand Up! Records.
"The Jersey Devil" SF Mime Troupe, 855 Treat, SF; www.acmfund.org . Thu/19-Fri/20, 8pm. Free (donations accepted). Berserker Residents present a sideshow-inspired performance exploring the myth of the Jersey Devil.
"Jillarious Tuesdays" Tommy T's Showroom, 1000 Van Ness, SF; www.jillarious.com . Tue, 7:30. Ongoing. $20. Weekly comedy show with Jill Bourque, Kevin Camia, Justin Lucas, and special guests.
"Majestic Musical Review Featuring Her Rebel Highness" Harlot, 46 Minna, SF; www.herrebelhighness.com . Sun, 5pm. Through Aug 12. $25-65. Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, performers in Baroque-chic gowns, music, and more.
"Mixed Relief" Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 450 Post, SF; www.actorsequity.org . Mon/23, 7:30pm. $5-10. Part of LaborFest 2012, this staged reading of a play about women writers of the WPA is promoted by the Actors' Equity Association and benefits the Actors Fund.
"Postcard from Morocco" Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Marina at Laguna, SF; www.sfopera.com . Thu/19, 8pm; Sun/21, 2pm. $40-60. Young-artist training group Merola Opera Program presents Dominick Argento's dreamy masterpiece.
"Soundwave ((5)) Humanities: The Future Bionic" Lab, 2948 16th St, SF; www.projectsoundwave.com . Sat/21, 8pm. $12-25. Multimedia and interactive performances by Jay Kreimer, Diana Burgoyne, and the Cellar Ensemble.