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.
A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum Woodminster Amphitheater, Joaquin Miller Park, 3300 Joaquin Miller Rd, Oakl; www.woodminster.com . $12-56. Previews Thu/9, 8pm. Opens Fri/10, 8pm. Runs Thu-Sun, 8pm. Through Aug 19. Woodminster Summer Musicals presents the Sondheim comedy.
Henry V Sequoia High School, 1201 Brewster, Redwood City; www.redwoodcity.org . Free. Opens Sat/11, 7:30pm. Runs Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. Through Aug 26. San Francisco Shakespeare Festival presents the Bard's history play as part of its "Free Shakespeare in the Park" series.
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 unique residents of San Francisco.
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)
Humor Abuse American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary, SF; www.act-sf.org . $25-95. Tue-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2pm. Through Aug 19. "This is a show about clowning," advises Lorenzo Pisoni at the outset of his graceful solo performance, "and I'm the straight man." It's a funny line, actually funny because it's true, and not true. In the deft routines that follow, as well as in the snapshots cast on the atmospherically dingy curtain hung center stage, the career of this Pickle Family Circus brat (already alone in the spotlight by age two) never veers far from the shadow of his father. That fact remains central to the winning comedy and wistful reflection in Humor Abuse. Reared in the commotion and commitment of the famed San Francisco circus founded by his parents Larry Pisoni and Peggy Snider, Lorenzo had a childhood both enviable and unusually challenging. The fact that he shares his name with both a grandfather and his dad's famous clown persona is instructive. His trials and his triumphs are further conflated along with his father's in such elegant catastrophes as falling down a long flight of stairs. And in his good-humored and honest reflections, the existential poignancy at the heart of such artful buffoonery begins to rise to the surface. The spoken narrative feels a little pinched or abbreviated, in truth, but there are no shortcuts to the skill or wider perspective inculcated by the charming Pisoni and (under direction of co-creator Erica Schmidt) set enthrallingly in motion. (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)
My Fair Lady SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter, SF; www.sfplayhouse.org . $30-70. Tue-Thu, 7pm; Fri-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 3pm). Through Sept 29. SF Playhouse and artistic director Bill English (who helms) offer a swift, agreeable production of the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical, based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. The iconic class-conscious storyline revolves around a cocky linguist named Higgins (Johnny Moreno) who bets colleague Colonel Pickering (Richard Frederick) he can transform an irritable flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Monique Hafen), into a "lady" and pass her off in high society. A battle of wills and wits ensues interlarded with the "tragedy" of Alfred Doolittle (a shrewd and gleaming Charles Dean) and his reluctant upward fall into respectability and love (at least in the musical version) triumphs. The songs ("Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Get Me to the Church on Time," and the rest) remain evergreen in the cast's spirited performances, supported by two offstage pianos (brought to life by David Dobrusky and musical director Greg Mason) and nimble choreography from Kimberly Richards. Hafen's Eliza is especially admirable, projecting in dialogue and song a winning combination of childlike innocence and feminine potency. Moreno's Higgins is also good, unusually virile yet heady too, a convincingly flawed if charming egotist. And Frederick, who adds a passing hint of homoerotic energy to his portrayal of the devoted Pickering, is gently funny and wholly sympathetic. (Avila)
The Princess Bride: Live! Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission, SF; foulplaysf.com/princessbride. $20. Thu-Sat, 8pm. Through Aug 25. Dark Room Productions presents a live tribute to the cult fairy-tale movie.
Project: Lohan Costume Shop, 1117 Market, SF; www.projectlohan.com . $25. 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.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson, SF; www.rayoflighttheatre.com . $25-36. Thu/9-Sat/11, 8pm (also Sat/11, 2pm). 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)
"Un-Abridged: The Best of Ten Years of Un-Scripted" SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter, SF; www.un-scripted.com . $10-20. Thu-Sat, 8pm. 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.
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.
War Horse Curran Theatre, 445 Geary, SF; www.shnsf.com . $31-300. Wed-Sat, 8pm (also Wed and Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2pm. Through Sept 9. The juggernaut from the National Theatre of Great Britain, via Broadway and the Tony Awards, has pulled into the Curran for its Bay Area bow. The life-sized puppets are indeed all they're cracked up to be; and the story of a 16-year-old English farm boy (Andrew Veenstra) who searches for his beloved horse through the trenches of the Somme Valley during World War I, while peppered with much elementary humor too, is a good cry for those so inclined. The claim to being an antiwar play is only true to the extent that any war-is-hell backdrop and a plea for tolerance count a melodrama as "antiwar," but this is not Mother Courage and no serious attempt is made to investigate the subject. Closer to say it's Lassie Come Home where Lassie is a horse very ably brought to life by Handspring Puppet Company's ingenious puppeteers and designers, and amid a transporting and generally riveting mise-en-scène (complete with pointedly stirring live and recorded music). But the simplistic storyline and its obvious, somewhat ham-fisted resolution (adapted by Nick Stafford from Michael Morpurgo's novel) are too formulaic to be taken that seriously. And at two-and-a-half-hours, it's a long time coming. A shorter war, the Falklands say, would have done just as well and gotten people out before the ride began to chafe. (Avila)
Circle Mirror Transformation Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller, Mill Valley; www.marintheatre.org . $20-57. Tue and Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Sat/11, Aug 16, and 25, 2pm); Wed, 7:30pm; Sun, 2 and 7pm. Though Aug 26. Marin Theatre Company and Encore Theatre Company co-present the regional premiere of Annie Baker's comedy about a drama class.
A Doll's House Willows Theatre, 1975 Diamond, Concord; www.willowstheatre.com . $20-29. Wed-Thu, 7:30pm (also Wed, 3:30pm); Fri-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun/12, 3pm. Through Aug 18. The large stage at Willows Theatre is a sunken living room with walls the color of butterscotch pudding, a long rumpled powder-blue sofa, scattered seasonal decorations, and a single translucent panel that brings to mind a Bob Barker-era game show set. It's like a cross between a showroom and homeroom without meaning to be either, but that less than winsome amalgam hits the right note for Irish playwright Frank McGuiness's modern adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play. Here, the Helmers are just a couple of upstate New Yorkers with slightly funny-sounding names circa Christmas 1959: Nora (a captivatingly buoyant yet subtly shaded Lena Hart) is a bubbly young mother of three, and Torvald (a credibly oblivious Mark Farrell) is a smug but affable bank executive on the rise. A secret intervention in Torvald's career by a devoted Nora, his up-to-now happily caged "little songbird," once saved them from ruin (via a reckless loan borrowed on a forged signature), but now it invites a calamitous mixing of formerly separate spheres as the man who loaned Nora the money, once-disgraced Nils Krogstad (a fine, persuasively desperate yet smooth Aaron Murphy), blackmails her to insure his precarious position at her husband's bank. A panicked Nora confides in old friend and reluctant single-lady Christine (an impressively stoic, subtly wounded Kendra Oberhauser). Meanwhile, terminally ill family friend Dr. Rank (an initially wooden, later warmer Dale Albright) watches Nora from a devoted but helpless vantage. If the plot feels at times like a mirthless episode of I Love Lucy, that again may speak to the aptness of McGuiness's transposition as much as the sometimes forced way playwright Ibsen has of rearranging the dramatic furniture. But the generally strong cast under Eric Inman's able direction offers enough vivid dramatic tension to keep us engaged, while suggesting the continuing relevance and limits of the play's robust critique of marriage and patriarchy. (Avila)
Happy Hour with Kim Jong Il Cabaret at the Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston, Berk; (415) 826-5750,l www.themarsh.org . Free. Fri, 6pm. Through Aug 24. Comedy work-in-progress by Kenny Yun, with live music by cabaret singer Candace Roberts.
Keith Moon/The Real Me TheaterStage at the March Berkeley, 2120 Allston, Berk; www.themarsh.org . $15-50. Fri/10, Aug 17, Sept 13, 20, 27, 8pm. Mike Berry workshops his new musical, featuring ten classic Who songs performed with a live band.
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)
A Midsummer Night's Dream Forest Meadows Amphitheater, 890 Belle, Dominican University of California, San Rafael; www.marinshakespeare.org . $20-35. Check website for schedule. 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; Sun/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 and Sat, 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.
"TheatreWorks 2012 New Works Festival" TheatreWorks at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield, Palo Alto; www.theatreworks.org . $19-25 (fest pass, $65). Various times, through Aug 19. The 11th annual festival features a developmental production of The Trouble With Doug by Will Aronson and Daniel Maté and staged readings of Sleeping Rough by Kara Manning, The Loudest Man on Earth by Catherine Rush, Being Earnest by Paul Gordon and Jay Gruska, and Triangle by Curtis Moore and Thomas Mizer.
Upright Grand TheatreWorks at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield, Palo Alto; www.theatreworks.org . $24-73. Wed/8, 7:30pm; Thu/9-Fri/10, 8pm. TheatreWorks launches its 43rd season with the world premiere of Laura Schellhardt's play about a musical father and daughter.
BATS Improv Bayfront Theater, B350 Fort Mason Center, Marina at Laguna, SF; www.improv.org . Thu-Sat, 8pm. Through Sept 8. $10-25. This week: BATS School of Improv Theatresports Championship (Thu/9); Freestyle Improv (Fri/10); Elvis Beach Party Musical (Sat/11).
"Bawdy Storytelling" Verdi Club, 2424 Mariposa, SF; www.bawdystorytelling.com . Wed/8, 7pm. $20. The theme: "Go BIG or Go Home!"
"Comedy Returns to El Rio" El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF; www.elriosf.com . Mon/13, 8pm. $7-20. Comedy with Nathan Habib, Brendan Lynch, Andrea Carla Michaels, 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)
"Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President" Rrazz Room, 222 Mason, SF; www.therrazzroom.com . Wed/8-Sat/11 and Aug 14-18, 8pm; Sun/12 and Aug 19, 7pm. $35-40. The "dragapella beautyshop quartet" satirizes the upcoming election.
"Indulge! Benefit" ODC Theater, 3153 17th St, SF; www.odctheater.org . Tue/14, 8pm. $35-50. An evening of
desserts and dance to benefit ODC's future programs.
"Ladies to the Rescue" CounterPulse, 1310 Mission, SF; www.counterpulse.org . Wed/8-Thu/9, 7pm. $7-20. Flyaway Productions and Oasis For Girls present an evening of youth performances, based on the question "Who is Tending the City?"
"Majestic Musical Review Featuring Her Rebel Highness" Harlot, 46 Minna, SF; www.herrebelhighness.com . Sun/12, 5pm. $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)
"Measure for Measure" Café Royale, 800 Post, SF; sftheaterpub.wordpress.com. Tue/14, Aug 20-21, and 27, 8pm. Free ($5 suggested donation). SF Theater Pub performs the Shakespeare play.
"On Broadway" San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak, SF; www.mandance.org . Fri/10-Sat/11, 8pm. $25-45. The Man Dance Company performs inventive, queer-themed takes on classic Broadway song and dance numbers.
"Soundwave ((5)) Humanities: Revelations: Myths + Meditations" Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist, 1661 15th St, SF; www.projectsoundwave.com . Sun/12, 8pm. $12-25. Performances and "experiences" by Michael Elrod, Voicehandler, and Xavier Leonard and Cassidy Rast.
"Summer Sampler" ODC Theater, 3153 17th St, SF; www.odcdance.org . Sat/11, 4 and 7pm. $30-40. ODC's annual summer event which doubles as veteran ODC dancer Daniel Santos' farewell performances includes KT Nelson's Cut-Out Guy, Brenda Way's Unintended Consequences, and Way's Part of a Longer Story.
"Writers With Drinks" Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St, SF; www.makeoutroom.com . Sat/11, 7:30pm. $5-10. Readings by Jane McGonigal, Saqib Mausoof, Rachel Swirsky, and Simon Sheppard.
"Al-Stravaganza: A Burlesque Tribute to the Music of Weird Al" Uptown, 1928 Telegraph, Oakl; www.hubbahubbarevue.com . Mon/13, 9pm. $5. A burlesque journey through the music and comedy of Weird Al. Admit it, you're curious.
"Magic Jester's Summer Breeze Show" Temescal Arts Center, 511 48th St, Oakl; www.magicjestertheater.com . Sat/11, 8-10pm. $5-10. Improv comedy performance.
"Mrs. Pat's House" La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck, Berk; www.lapena.org . Fri/10-Sun/12, 8pm. $15. Jovelyn Richards performs her original play about a Great Depression-era brothel, accompanied by a live jazz and blues band. *