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.
Arctic Hysteria Bindlestiff Studio, 185 Sixth St, SF; www.brownpapertickets.com . $10-25. Previews Thu/26, 8pm. Runs Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Aug 4, 2pm). Through Aug 4. SNAP (Some New Arts Project) presents this movement-based dark comedy by Abi Basch, performed by Berlin's Kinderdeutsch Projekts.
Project: Lohan Costume Shop, 1117 Market, SF; www.projectlohan.com . $25. Previews Thu/26, 8pm. Opens Fri/27, 8pm. Runs Thu-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Through Aug 19. D'Arcy Drollinger pays tribute to the paparazzi target with this performance constructed solely from tabloids, magazines, court documents, and other pre-existing sources.
"Un-Abridged: The Best of Ten Years of Un-Scripted" SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter, SF; www.un-scripted.com . $10-20. Opens Thu/26, 8pm. Runs Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Aug 3, 10pm; no show Aug 4). Through Aug 18. The veteran Bay Area company celebrates its tenth anniversary season with a four-week retrospective of its favorite long- and short-form improv shows. Check website for schedule.
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.
"Bay Area Playwrights Festival" Thick House, 1695 18th St, SF; www.playwrightsfoundation.org . $15. Various showtimes and dates through Sun/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.
Duck Lake The Jewish Theater, 470 Florida, SF; www.duck-lake.com . $17-35. Fri/27-Sat/28, 8pm. 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)
Enron Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy, SF; www.enron2012.com . $25. Thu-Sat, 8pm. Through Aug 17. In OpenTab's production of British playwright Lucy Prebble's 2009 Enron, tragedy plus time equals comedy plus puppets (in imaginative designs by Miyaka Cochrane), as fast-paced satire delivers a timely reconsideration of yet another infamous financial scandal. Some fictional elements shape the plotline but simplifying strategies serve well to clarify the real-life actions and consequences of Ken Lay (GreyWolf) and Jeffry Skilling's (Alex Plant) deceptive energy-trading juggernaut, the onetime darling of Wall Street and the financial pages. There's also much verbatim information (echoing the book and documentary, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) enlivening the quick dialogue and underscoring the reckless, hubristic malfeasance that famously preyed on California's electricity grid and threw Enron's own employees under the bus. Director Ben Euphrat gets spirited and engaging performances from his principals, with especially nice work from Plant as a cruelly superior Skilling, Laurie Burke as ambitious straight-shooter Claudia Roe (a fictionalized composite creation of the playwright), and Nathan Tucker as manic sycophant Andy Fastow, feeding poisonous Enron debt into three beloved "raptors" (the pet names for some animated shadow companies arising from Fastow's fast work in "structured finance"). At the same time, the staging can prove rough between concept and execution, with scenic elements sometimes confusing as well as aesthetically ragged (a red fabric serving as a large profit graph, for instance, just looks like some droopy inexplicable drapery at first; and the first puppets to appear are too small to be very effective either). Despite this messiness in terms of mise-en-scène, however, the play is generally clear-eyed and good for more than easy laughs since no single villain but rather a system and culture are the proper targets here. As Prebble notes, the strategies developed by Enron, far from remaining beyond the pale, are now standard practices throughout the financial and corporate world. That, in some circles, is known as progress. (Avila)
Marat/Sade Brava Theatre, 2781 24th St, SF; (415) 863-0611, www.ticketfly.com . $20-38. Wed/25-Sat/28, 8pm; Sun/29, 7pm. In what may be the year's most felicitous blend of company, producer, and material, Thrillpeddlers and Marc Huestis offer an exuberant, exquisitely trashy, and note-perfect revival of Peter Weiss's radical 1963 play, permeating the enormous Brava Theater with an infectious delirium perfectly in sync with restive times. (Avila)
The Merchant of Venice Gough Street Playhouse, 1622 Gough, SF; www.custommade.org . $25-32. Thu-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Extended through Aug 19. Custom Made Theater presents director Stuart Bousel's generally sharp staging of Shakespeare's perennially controversial but often-misunderstood play. The lively if uneven production ensures the involved storyline cannot be reduced to the problematical nature of its notorious Jewish villain, Shylock (played with a compellingly burdened intensity by a quick Catz Forsman), but rather has to be seen in a wider landscape of desire in which money, status, sex, gender, political and ethnic affiliations, and human bodies all mix, collide, and negotiate. To this end, this Merchant is set amid a contemporary financial district coterie (given plenty of scope in Sarah Phykitt's thoughtfully pared-down scenic design), where titular melancholic businessman Antonio (Ryan Hayes) sticks his neck out (or anyway a pound of flesh) for his beloved friend Bassanio (Dashiell Hillman) no doubt the unspoken source of Antonio's brooding heart as staged here as the latter seeks a loan with which to court the lovely and brilliant Portia (a winning Megan Briggs). While the subplot concerning the wooing and flight of Shylock's daughter, Jessica (Kim Saunders), is less adeptly rendered, fluid pacing and a confident sense of the priorities of the drama overall offer a satisfying encounter with this fascinatingly subtle play. (Avila)
Les Misérables Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market, SF; www.bestofbroadway-sf.com . $83-155. Tue-Sat, 8pm (also Wed and Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2pm. Through Aug 26. SHN's Best of Broadway series brings to town the new 25th anniversary production of Cameron Mackintosh's musical giant, based on the novel by Victor Hugo. The revival at the Orpheum does without the famous rotating stage but nevertheless spares no expense or artistry in rendering the show's barrage of colorful Romantic scenes (with Matt Kinley's scenic design drawing painterly inspiration from Hugo's own oils) or its larger-than-life characters first and foremost Jean Valjean (a slim but passionate Peter Lockyer), nemesis Javert (Andrew Varela), and rescued orphan beauty Cosette (Lauren Wiley). Chris Jahnke contributes new orchestrations to the rollicking original score by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) and Herbert Kretzmer (lyrics) in this flagrantly sentimental, somewhat problematic but still-stirring meld of music and melodrama in dutiful overlapping service of box office treasure and powerful humanist aspirations. (Avila)
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/25-Thu/26, 7:30pm; Fri/27-Sat/28, 8pm; Sun/29, 2pm. 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)
King John Forest Meadows Amphitheater, 890 Belle, Dominican University of California, San Rafael; www.marinshakespeare.org . $20-35. Fri/27, Sun/29, Aug 4, 10-12, 8pm; 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)
The Marvelous Wonderettes Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City; www.broadwaybythebay.org . $20-48. Thu/26-Sat/28, 8pm (also Sat/28, 2pm); Sun/29, 2pm. Broadway By the Bay performs Roger Bean's retro musical, featuring classic tunes of the 1950s and '60s.
A Midsummer Night's Dream Forest Meadows Amphitheater, 890 Belle, Dominican University of California, San Rafael; www.marinshakespeare.org . $20-35. 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. Fri-Sat, 8pm; Aug 12, 2pm. Through Aug 18. Actors Ensemble of Berkeley performs Michael Frayn's backstage comedy.
Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Julia Morgan Theatre, 2640 College, Berk; www.berkeleyplayhouse.org . $17-35. Thu, Sat, and Wed/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.
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 . Thu/26-Sat/28, 8pm (also Sat/28, 2pm); Sun/29, 2 and 6pm. $49-79. 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/27, 8pm: "Naked" Theatresports, $17. Sat/28, 8pm: "Spontaneous Broadway," $20.
"Comedy Showdown" Tommy T's Comedy Showroom, 1000 Van Ness, SF; sayitlikethatcomedypresents.blogspot.com. Thu/26, 8 and 10pm. $15-20. Tony Sparks hosts this stand-up performance with Marvellus Marv, Glamis Rory, Jabari Davis, and more.
"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)
"Folded Into a Tempest" Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa, SF; www.shashahigby.com . Fri/27-Sat/28, 8pm. $18-25. Sha Sha Higby performs an exploration of life, death, and rebirth using her unique sculptural costumes and puppetry.
"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. A trio of 18th century princesses (the graceful, full-throated, international team of Velia Amarasingham, Linsay Rousseau Burnett, and Maria Mikheyenko), chafing under the patriarchal constraints of their otherwise exalted status, metamorphose into a defiant band of disco queens in this stylish, high-kitsch musical revue by writer-producer Amarasingham and composermusical director Simon Amarasingham. The action begins in desultory fashion, bar-side in the Harlot lounge, amid scuttlebutt from a pair of chatty housemaids (Meira Perelstein and a tuneful Diana DiCostanzo) overseen by a giddy royal valet (a gregariously foppish Michael Sommers, also the show's emcee and narrator). When the dallying princesses finally arrive (sumptuously attired in appealing period costumes by Noric Design), they ascend a small stage attended by Lady Lucinda Pilon (a Goth-inflected Amber Slemmer, alternating nights with director Danica Sena), and launch into a slick set of tightly choreographed 'autobiographical' numbers as the prerecorded music progresses stylistically from smooth, harpsichord-tinted dance-floor beats to all-out four-on-the-floor Donna Summerstyle revelry. Despite a certain static, slightly stark ambiance in the site-specific surroundings, with the right crowd and a couple of drinks this 90-minute revue is easily a doubly retro girl-power party for all. (Avila)
"The Romane Event" Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St, SF; www.pacoromane.com . Wed/25, 7:30pm, $10. Stand-up comedy with DJ Real, Ivan Hernandez, Paco Romane, Ronn Vigh, and Alex White, with music by DJ Specific.
San Francisco Ballet Sigmund Stern Grove, 19th Ave and Sloat, SF; www.sterngrove.org . Sun/29, 2pm. Free. The company performs works by Balanchine, Myles Thatcher, Hans van Manen, and Christopher Wheeldon.
"Waiting: A Love Story" Mojo Theatre, 2940 16th St, Ste 217, SF; www.brownpapertickets.com . Sat/28, 8pm; Sun/29, 3pm. $15. Sherri Rose performs her comedy about the messy world of relationships.