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.
The Fifth Element: Live! Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission, SF; www.darkroomsf.com . Opens Fri/5. Runs Fri-Sat, 8pm. Through Oct 27. Comedic adaptation of the 1997 Luc Besson sci-fi epic.
Geezer Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia, SF; www.themarsh.org . $30-100. Opens Sat/6, 8pm. Runs Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Through Nov 18. Geoff Hoyle's popular solo show about aging returns.
Of Thee I Sing Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson, SF; www.42ndstmoon.org . $25-75. Previews Wed/3, 7pm; Thu/4-Fri/5, 8pm. Opens Sat/6, 6pm. Runs Wed, 7pm; Thu-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 6pm (also Oct 13, 1pm); Sun, 3pm. Through Oct 21. 42nd Street Moon performs George and Ira Gershwin's classic political satire.
Acid Test: The Many Incarnations of Ram Dass Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston, Berk; www.themarsh.org . $15-50. Opens Thu/4, 8pm. Runs Thu-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 5pm. Through Nov 24. Lynne Kaufman's new play stars Warren David Keith as the noted spiritual figure.
Sex, Slugs and Accordion Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston, Berk; www.themarsh.org . $10. Opens Wed/3, 8pm. Runs Wed, 8pm. Through Nov 14. Jetty Swart, a.k.a. Jet Black Pearl, stars in this "wild and exotic evening of song."
33 Variations TheatreWorks at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro, Mtn View; www.theatreworks.org . $23-73. Previews Wed/3-Fri/5, 8pm. Opens Sat/6, 8pm. Runs Tue-Wed, 7:30pm; Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2 and 7pm. Through Oct 28. TheatreWorks performs Moisés Kaufman's drama about a contemporary musicologist struggling to solve one of Beethoven's greatest mysteries, and a connecting story about the composer himself.
The World's Funniest Bubble Show Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston, Berk; www.themarsh.org . $8-50. Opens Sun/7, 11am. Runs Sun, 11am; Nov 23-25, 11am. Through Nov 25. Louis "The Amazing Bubble Man" Pearl brings his lighter-than-air show back to the Marsh.
Elect to Laugh Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia, SF; 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)
Family Programming: An Evening of Short Comedic Plays Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter, SF; www.brownpapertickets.com . $20. Thu-Sat, 8pm. Through Oct 13. Left Coast Theatre Company performs short plays about gay and alternative families.
Foodies! The Musical Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter, SF; www.foodiesthemusical.com . $30-34. Previews Fri/5, 8pm. Opens Sat/6, 8pm. Runs Fri-Sat, 8pm (no show Nov 17). Open-ended. AWAT Productions presents Morris Bobrow's musical comedy revue all about food.
The Normal Heart American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary, SF; www.act-sf.org . $25-95. Wed/3-Sat/6, 8pm (also Sat/6, 2pm); Sun/7, 2pm. Three decades after the onset of the AIDS epidemic — today affecting and killing millions across the globe — playwright and ACT UP founder Larry Kramer's 1985 autobiographical docudrama of the first years and victims of the crisis in New York City proves still relevant and powerful in this spirited 2011 Tony Award–winning Broadway revival, under direction by George C. Wolfe, now up at American Conservatory Theater in an ACT-Arena Stage co-presentation. Centering on the grassroots response to official inaction amid the homophobic status quo — in particular, the founding of a small but determined HIV advocacy group by Ned Weeks (Kramer's stand-in, played brilliantly by Patrick Breen) and others — The Normal Heart also roots itself in a set of characters and fraught personal relationships as Weeks's brash, confrontational style progressively alienates him from his brethren and more accommodating (or closeted) allies. It's a play that really shouldn't work so well, given its message-driven and inevitably self-serving structure, but it nevertheless does — in part because the urgency behind it remains, and the eerie confusion and unforgivable official neglect of those early years carry even more weight with tragedy-laden hindsight. Kramer also crafts some affecting scenes and some rousingly fiery monologues (not just for Weeks, and all expertly delivered by the sharp cast) that underscore a time when history, as it is wont to do, put forward fervent loudmouths and nonconformists as the necessary agents of resistance and change. (Avila)
The Other Place Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Bldg D, Third Flr, SF; www.magictheatre.org . $22-62. Wed/3-Sat/6, 8pm (also Wed/3, 2:30pm); Sun/7, 7pm. A middle-aged scientist named Juliana (Henny Russell) finds herself marooned inside her own rapidly unraveling mind in the West Coast premiere of this occasionally intriguing but finally unconvincing psychological drama of madness and grief by Sharr White (Annapurna). Describing an "episode" she suffered while presenting a major new dementia treatment to an audience of doctors and sales reps in the Bahamas, Juliana soon proves an unreliable narrator, as estranged husband Ian (Donald Sage Mackay) challenges her on some basic facts — including her claim to be in phone contact with their long-lost daughter (Carrie Paff) and Juliana's disgraced former post-doc (Patrick Russell). The mystery here has to do with another "episode" altogether, one that took place at the couple's Cape Cod summer home years before, which has left Juliana and Ian bereft and now on the verge of divorce. As Juliana slides back and away to "the other place," we understand the mistakes this supposedly brilliant but also flawed woman has made, and the emotional logic of her mind's drift. Not a bad premise, but it also feels contrived, with dialogue straining after tension and wit that are too often not there. Helmed by artistic director Loretta Greco, the action unfolds at almost too regular a clip, leaving little room for rumination — no doubt a stylistic choice but one which undercuts what modest force there is in the play's dynamics, which anyway serve a rather sentimental storyline about loss and forgiveness. (Avila)
The Real Americans Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia, SF; www.themarsh.org . $25-50. Fri, 8pm; Sat, 8:30pm. Extended through Oct 27. Dan Hoyle's hit show, inspired by the people and places he encountered during his 100-day road trip across America in 2009, continues.
Roseanne: Live! Rebel, 1760 Market, SF; www.brownpapertickets.com . $25. Wed, 7 and 9pm (no shows Oct 31). Through Nov 14. Lady Bear, Heklina, D'Arcy Drollinger, and more star in this tribute to the long-running sitcom.
Shocktoberfest 13: The Bride of Death Hypnodrome, 575 10th St, SF; www.thrillpeddlers.com . $25-35. Thu-Sat, 8pm. Through Nov 17. Thrillpeddlers' annual Halloween horror extravaganza features a classic Grand Guignol one-act and two world premiere one-acts, plus a blackout spook show finale.
The Strange Case of Citizen de la Cruz Bindlestiff Studio, 185 Sixth St, SF; www.bindlestiffstudio.org . Thu-Sat, 8pm; Sun/7, 2pm. Through Oct 13. Bindlestiff Studio presents Luis Francia's political thriller.
Twelfth Night San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, Hyde Street Pier, 2905 Hyde, SF; www.weplayers.org . $30-80. Fri/5-Sun/7 and Oct 13, 5:30pm. After spending the summer on Angel Island with their epic-scale production of The Odyssey, the We Players have scaled back with a lo-key rendition of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night on Hyde Street Pier. Of course when it comes to the We Players, "scaled-back" still means a two-and-a-half hour long participatory jaunt taking place mainly along the length of the pier and aboard the historic ferryboat, the Eureka, which serves primarily as the residence of the grieving Illyrian Countess, Olivia (Clara Kamunde) around whose favors much of the plot revolves. Highlights of the experience include the opportunity to visit historic Hyde Street Pier, a gypsy-jazzy score directed by Charlie Gurke (who also plays the lovelorn Duke Orsino), and the rascally quartet of the prankish Maria (Caroline Parsons), jocular drunk Toby Belch (Dhira Rauch), clueless doofus Andrew Augecheek (Benjamin Stowe), and wise fool Feste (John Hadden). But as We Players productions go, this one feels less inspired in its staging, and much of the action merely shuffles back and forth on the Eureka without incorporating many of the intriguing nooks and views the Hyde Street Pier offers, despite a promising opening scene involving a beach and a rowboat. Also, uncharacteristically for We, the comic timing seemed to be off the evening I saw it, although both Stowe and Hadden ably conveyed their wit without a flaw. Dress warmly, carry a big flask, and you'll be fine. (Gluckstern)
The Waiting Period Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia, SF; www.themarsh.org . $15-50. Thu-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 5pm. Extended through Oct 27. 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)
Assassins Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby, Berk; www.shotgunplayers.org . $20-30. Previews Wed/3-Thu/4, 7pm. Opens Fri/5, 8pm. Runs Wed-Thu, 7pm; Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 5pm. Through Nov 11. Shotgun Players performs the Sondheim musical about John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, and other famous Presidential killers (and would-be killers).
Chinglish Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison, Berk; www.berkeleyrep.org . $14.50-99. Wed/3 and Sun/7, 7pm (also Sun/7, 2pm); Thu/4 and Sat/6, 2 and 8pm. Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) delivers this inconsistent but generally lively and fascinatingly au courant comedy about a down-on-his-luck American businessman (Alex Moggridge) who visits China hoping to win a contract for English-language signage. Hiring a British expat (Brian Nishii) to smooth the way for him, he enters negotiations with a local official (Larry Lei Zhang). Although things seem to be going well (across some hilarious scenes of half-assed simultaneous translation), he finds the deal running inexplicably aground, then finds unexpected help from a hard-nosed, initially hostile, and beautiful Party official (a standout Michelle Krusiec), with whom he soon begins an extramarital affair. But the American (who has a past of his own that eventually comes to light with surprising consequences) has no idea of the machinations taking place behind the formal business meetings and other confused cross-cultural encounters. What unfolds is a sometimes stretched but generally shrewd and laugh-out-loud funny assessment of has-been American delusions through the prism of rising Chinese ambitions and clout, cultural and otherwise. If the central dynamic between the lovers is not always convincing on the individual or metaphorical level, Leigh Silverman directs for Berkeley Rep a super slick production, complete with rotating sets and precisely timed entrances, featuring an enjoyable cast rounded out by Vivian Chiu, Celeste Den, and Austin Ku. (Avila)
Hamlet Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda; www.calshakes.org . $35-71. Tue-Thu, 7:30pm; Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 4pm. Through Oct 14. Liesl Tommy directs this season closer for Cal Shakes, a decidedly uneven and overall surprisingly bland production of one of Shakespeare's most fascinating, affecting, and endlessly rich works. The best part of Tommy's less-than-inspired hodgepodge production (summed up by the dry and cluttered swimming-pool set, albeit very nicely designed by Clint Ramos) is lead Leroy McClain, whose Hamlet is a vibrantly intelligent and charismatic force most of the time. He gets some fine support from Dan Hiatt as a comically pedantic but still sympathetically paternal Polonius, but there is precious little chemistry with either Ophelia (a nonetheless striking Zainab Jah) or faithless queen mother Gertrude (Julie Eccles). The rest of the cast is rarely more than dutiful. Meanwhile, the staging comes laden with some awkward and/or tired conceits: a small fish tank-like landscape inset into the back wall for an unraveling Ophelia; a gore-covered zombie-esque ghost (a flat Adrian Roberts, who also plays Claudius); or guards sporting submachine guns, which always looks ridiculous. Moreover, the language comes awkwardly modernized in places —substituting "dagger" for "bodkin" in a rather famous soliloquy, for example, seems unnecessary and is definitely distracting. Why not "submachine gun"? (Avila)
The Kipling Hotel: True Misadventures of the Electric Pink '80s Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston, Berk; www.themarsh.org . $20-50. Sat, 8:30pm; Sun, 7pm. Extended through Oct 14. 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)
Topdog/Underdog Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller, Mill Valley; www.marintheatre.org . $36-57. Tue and Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Sat/6 and Oct 20, 2pm; Oct 11, 1pm); Wed, 7:30pm; Sun, 2 and 7pm. Through Oct 21. Marin Theatre Company performs Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize winner about a contentious pair of brothers.
"Comedy Bodega" Esta Noche Nightclub, 3079 16th St, SF; www.comedybodega.com . Thu, 8pm. Ongoing. No cover (one drink minumum). Stand-up comedy.
"Comedy Returns to El Rio" El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF; www.brownpapertickets.com . Mon/8, 8pm. $7-20. With Maureen Langan, Sammy Obeid, Dhaya Lakshminarayanan, Bobby Golden, and guest host Nick Leonard.
Dance Elixir Kunst-Stoff Arts, One Grove, SF; www.danceelixirlive.org . Thu/4-Sat/6, 8:30pm. $10. Performing Destroy// with Tiberius and Ava Mendoza.
"Hot Mess 3: Third Time, No Charm" New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness, SF; www.nctcsf.org . Thu/4-Sat/6, 8pm. $15. San Francisco's newest sketch comedy group performs.
Shazia Mirza Punchline, 444 Battery, SF; www.punchlinecomedyclub.com . Wed/3, 8pm. $15. The British comedian performs, with opening acts Kevin Camia and Samson Koletkar.
Smuin Ballet Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon, SF; www.smuinballet.org . Fri/5-Sat/6 and Oct 11-13, 8pm (also Oct 13, 2pm); Oct 14, 2pm. $25-65. The company performs its fall program, including West Coast premiere Cold Virtues.
"Spaceholder Festival" ODC Theater, 3153 17th St, SF; www.odctheater.org . Fri/5-Sat/6, 8pm; Sun/7, 7pm. $25-45. Choreographer Morgan Thorson spearheads this evening-length performance that transforms the stage into "an archeological dig, an auction block, and a museum."
"The Spooky Cabaret" Stage Werx, 446 Valencia, SF; www.wilywestproductions.com . Sun/7, 5:30pm; Oct 8-10, 7:30pm. $10. 'Tis the season for this fest of three full-length and five one-act plays with horror themes.
"Theatecture on UN Plaza" Civic Center, UN Plaza, Seventh St at Market, SF; www.ftloose.org . Tue, noon-2pm. Through Oct 16. Free. Outdoor performance of Mary Alice Fry's Honeycomb Zone as part of the "24 Days of Central Market Arts Festival."