December 18, 2002

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stage

Stage listings are compiled by Cheryl Eddy. Performance times may change; call venues to confirm. Reviewers are Robert Avila, Rita Felciano, Lara Shalson, and Chloe Veltman. See 8 Days a Week for information on how to submit items to the listings.

theater
Ongoing

Are We Almost There? Shelton Theatre, 533 Sutter; 345-7575. $12-15. Thurs-Sat, 8pm. Open-ended. Travel is the theme of this musical-comedy revue.

*Attack of the Wrapping Paper Caper Zeum, 221 Fourth St; 820-3353. $10-20. Sat/21-Sun/22, 1pm; Sun/23, Dec 27-30, Jan 2-5, 1 and 3pm. Through Jan 5. In this imaginative puppet whodunit by local ensemble Lunatique Fantastique, ordinary objects play extraordinary roles. From such everyday things as discarded wrapping paper, Christmas decorations, old clothes, and an array of kitchen utensils, the ingenious company creates a world where a pterodactyl whisks a French coquette off to its nest and a super sleuth finds a baby dinosaur in a cardboard box. The ensemble cast of black-clad puppeteers has an acute sense of timing and comedy. In a show with no set, few lighting effects, and barely any words, the actors manage to breathe life into an old coat and hat, a bit of sparkly tinsel, and even a latex glove. Every gesture is legible and many moments are funny. Cheekily directed by Liebe Wetzel, Attack of the Wrapping Paper Caper makes for a fun, family-oriented afternoon at the theater. (Veltman)

*Black Nativity Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter; 474-8800, www.lorrainehansberrytheatre.com. $22-30. Thurs/19-Sat/21, 8pm; Sun/22, 4pm. If music is at the heart of the Lorraine Hansberry Theater's annual production of Black Nativity, Langston Hughes's "Gospel song-play," then singer, songwriter, and arranger Arvis Strickling Jones is the heart of the music. Back for her eighth season, the exceptional Jones leads a talented ensemble choir, backed by musical director Paul Daniels's powerful three-piece band, in a formidable blend of gospel, soul, and pop tunes (many of them original compositions by Jones and Daniels), in the great African American poet's celebrated dramatic meditation on the birth of Christ. Directed by Lorraine Hansberry artistic director Stanley E. Williams and divided into two acts – the first a period piece showing Mary (Gina Daneene) and Joseph (Anthony Rollins-Mullens) in dance-pantomime forced to take shelter in the manger, the second a contemporary church service led by the charismatic Andre Andree (who doubles as the narrator) – the story line is quickly subsumed by the music. That's probably just what the author, who notably put blues at the center of poetry back in the 1920s, had in mind. With an inviting and festive mood supporting some rousing, spirit-lifting music, as well as the strong sense of community it fosters, the show has what you might call mass appeal this holiday season. (Avila)

The Bombay Trunk New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness; 861-8972. $18-38. Wed-Sat, 8pm (no show Dec 25); Sun, 2pm. Through Jan 5. Award-winning novelist Felice Picano's new play begins as an adept murder-mystery farce, set in what appears to be the aftermath of the bizarre murder-suicide of a frustrated mystery writer, Jonathan Cavendish (Christian Heppinstall), at his mountain cabin retreat. The plot takes a series of radical turns, revealing entirely new layers of meaning, until we're nowhere near where we started. Director Clay David's insistence on broadly comic interpretations by the able cast, the logic of which arises partly from the plot, does get a little wearisome, and Picano's darkly humorous ending comes across as disjointed. Still, the inventive plot twists and uninhibited characters keep things fairly lively until then. (Avila)

A Christmas Carol Geary Theater, 415 Geary; 749-2228. $11-61. Wed/18-Sun/22, 7:30pm (also Wed/18-Thurs/19 and Sat/21-Sun/22, 2pm); Tues/24, Dec 26-28, noon (also Tues/24, Dec 26, and 28, 4:30pm); Dec 29, 2pm. See "Xmas Present."

*Cirque du Soleil Presents Varekai "Grand Chapiteau," parking lot of Pacific Bell Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza; 1-800-678-5440. $31.50-70. Wed/18-Sat/21, 8pm (also Thurs/19-Sat/21, 4pm); Sun/22, 1 and 5pm. Cirque du Soleil sets its latest venture in the imaginary land of Varekai (actually the Romany word for "wherever"), where a loose fairy-tale plot involving a gilded forest full of creatures ranging from the hauntingly beautiful to the frankly bizarre brackets a series of undeniably amazing and imaginative feats of strength, agility, and nerve. There are some delightful comedic sketches in the mix too, of course. The all-encompassing reach of the spectacle under the big blue top, set to a live and catchy Euro pop score, sometimes makes it difficult to take everything in, but wherever you look you can't help but be impressed. (Avila)

The Fisherman's Three Sons Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia; 636-3311. $9-15. Thurs/19-Sat/21, 8pm; Sun/22, 2pm. Nightletter Theatre presents a myth-laden dream play. The collaborative work, based on a script by Hal Hughes and directed by Jim Cave, incorporates video projections, puppets, live music, and actors in the tale of three brothers (John Polak, Ross Pasquale, and Durand Ford) who wander separately through an enchanted countryside after the death of their parents. In this seemingly perpetual limbo, the brothers (innocents with lugubrious drawls) discover a collapsed kingdom of amnesiacs and help, more or less unwittingly, to set it right. The production design creates an alluring environment – from Scott Hove's attractive split-level set and Gitty Duncan's personable puppets (who enliven the best scenes), to Arthur Carson's video collages and musicians Hal Hughes and Jill Kjompedahl's Appalachian fiddles – but these elements don't always congeal as they should. Moreover, Hughes's script remains underdeveloped. There's little definition across too many characters, and the story comes across as plodding and predictable. Poor casting decisions make the going rougher despite some noticeable talent onstage, including Polak as brother Jack. (Avila)

*Hedwig and the Angry Inch Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St; 863-7576. $20-40. Wed-Sun, 8pm (also Sat, 11pm). Open-ended. Kevin Cahoon assumes the title role originated by John Cameron Mitchell in his 1998 Obie-winning glam musical, later a celebrated film, now making its long-anticipated San Francisco debut with a sizable cult following ready and waiting. And while die-hard fans show up prepared to sing along, the show is so instantly contagious that no homework is necessary on the part of the uninitiated. An East Berlin girlie boy named Hansel becomes Hedwig after a sex change – but the operation is botched, leaving Hedwig with just an "angry inch" of her former self. Heart in tatters but spirit intact, she plays out her story as a nightclub act. For all its value as camp, Hedwig is a cabaret act of subtle sophistication; the story, like the best glam rock, has a quiet force that is the undercurrent of its self-conscious banality and cutting humor. (Avila)

*It Could Have Been a Wonderful Life Bannam Place Theater, 50A Bannam Pl; 986-4607, www.wonderfullife.org. $15-20. Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 3pm. Through Dec 29. Fred Raker's 25-in-one-man show – back after a successful run last year – charts the despair of aspiring Jewish comedian Phil Resnick, who winds up pigeonholed on public television while the life he could have had goes to an Anglo American-ized colleague, the host of TV's What's Up with That, America? The crisis provokes a little divine intervention by Phil's guardian angel, Jack Benny. Based on Raker's own brush with stardom as well as the Capra classic, this very funny solo performance cleverly weaves Jewish identity and self-doubt into nothing less than a wonderful 75 minutes. (Avila)

Moonwatcher: A New Tale of Chelm for Chanukah A Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida; 399-1809. $12.50-25 (Thurs, pay what you can). Wed-Sun, 7pm (also Sun, 2pm). Through Dec 29. A Traveling Jewish Theater's season opener marks a double milestone, being the 24-year-old ensemble company's first family-oriented "holiday show," and its initial offering under reconfigured management, headed by new artistic director Aaron Davidman. Moonwatcher, written by Davidman, Eric Rhys Miller, and ATJT cofounder Corey Fischer (who also directs), is a musical comedy set in a fabled Jewish town of addled but affable nutcases. In a holiday season normally characterized by escapism and empty sentimentality, it is refreshing to see an attempt to invoke a compassionate tradition against the welter of current events. Yet under Fischer's direction, the show – which incorporates puppetry, masks, and light magic – has an appealingly carefree quality too; it's a promising opener to a new season and a revitalized ATJT, and further proof the best beginnings reimagine the best traditions. (Avila)

The Neo-Dandy Cabaret New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness; 861-8972. $15-25. Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Through Dec 29. The New Conservatory Theatre Center and Keith Hennessy/Zero Productions present an "intimate extravaganza" cabaret show.

R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida; 626-DOME, www.foghouse.com. $20-40 (first Wed of each month, pay what you can). Wed-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 3pm); Sun, 2pm. Open-ended. D. W. Jacobs's R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe is bursting with so many ideas that it's almost impossible to contain them within the confines of the stage. Fuller was one of the great brainiacs of the 20th century, a philosopher, mathematician, inventor, and idealist who devoted his life to finding the best fit between nature and humanity. In Jacobs's fitful, two-hour monologue based on the life and writings of Fuller, actor Ron Campbell dexterously pings from one of the visionary's obsessions to another. Whether rattling through a dense explanation of atomic structure, proselytizing about how famine will become extinct as humans do "more and more with less and less," or espousing the joys of parenting, Campbell inhabits Fuller's eccentric soul with physical and verbal intensity – at times so much so that the margins between performance and lecture blur. (Veltman)

The Time of Your Life Next Stage, 1620 Gough; 333-6389. $10-20. Thurs/19-Sat/21, 8pm. Multi Ethnic Theater has taken William Saroyan's 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, about a San Francisco dive where an assortment of regulars share their dreams about life, and set it 30 years later. Unfortunately, the change in the numbers – a few dates here, a few dollar amounts there – has actually done little to update this now hackneyed piece for a contemporary audience. MET's multicultural casting does some work toward undermining Saroyan's ethnic stereotypes and the cross-gender casting enables some women actors to play roles other than Saroyan's "society lady" and whore characters – notably Nick, the tough but tender-hearted barkeeper, and Harry, the wanna-be performer. But disappointingly, in one instance, the crossing of gender roles in the reverse direction only serves the purpose of a cheap, homophobic joke. The main actors all do a fine job with Saroyan's declamatory prose, and Doug Marshall's set, complete with an old-fashioned pinball machine and working beer-pull, provides authentic atmosphere. (Shalson)

Bay Area

Alarms and Excursions Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, Berk; (510) 843-4822. $28-38. Wed/18-Sat/21, 8pm; Sun/22, 2 and 7pm. The Aurora Theatre Company, having recently staged Michael Frayn's Benefactors with some success, takes up one of the British playwright's more purely comedic efforts, a work purportedly concerned with the inadvertently stultifying effects of modern technology. But despite the alarm-ringing opener, that seems a loose theme at best. The title links eight farcical vignettes that have just as much to do with modern alienation and the battle of the sexes. Under director Søren Oliver the scenes are well paced, crisply choreographed, and buoyed by some congenial ensemble work. (Avila)

Haroun and the Sea of Stories Berkeley Rep's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison, Berk; (510) 647-2949. $10-54. Tues and Thurs-Sat, 8pm (also Thurs/19, Dec 26, and Jan 4, 2pm; no shows Dec 24-25 and 31); Wed and Sun, 7pm (also Sun, 2pm). Through Jan 7. Berkeley Rep presents a fantastical tale saluting the imagination, based on Salman Rushdie's novel. Director Dominique Serrand and Luan Schooler adapted the Royal National Theatre version in consultation with Rushdie. Rashid Khalifa (Serrand), world-class storyteller, loses his creative powers after wife and muse, Soraya (Jennifer Baldwin Peden), leaves him. His son, Haroun (Nora El Samahy), discovers the problem may be graver still as an evil genius named Khattam-Shud (Colman Domingo) has stopped up the great oceanic source of all stories. Haroun travels a world of far-out characters and situations to unplug the source, save the day, and reunite his parents. Penned when Rushdie was still in mortal danger as a storyteller, the plot reads more like an allegory of writers' block, given its thin premise, derivative manner, and forced language – not to mention the conspicuous absence of stories in this story about a veritable sea of them. (Avila)

Menocchio Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison, Berk; (510) 647-2949. $38-54. Wed/18, 7; Thurs/19-Fri/20, 8pm; Sat/21, 2pm. Writer-director Lillian Groag's new comedy draws on Carlo Ginzburg's celebrated history of a 16-century miller tried by the Inquisition and burned at the stake for heresy. Decades before the more famous trial of Galileo Galilei, Domenego Scandella, called Menocchio, advanced a startlingly original conception of the universe that challenged the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church. His inquisitors did their best to discover where his ideas (about everything from the divinity of Christ to the origins of life) came from, while his frightened and obsequious neighbors testified against him. Groag's development of Menocchio (played by Charles Dean) as a tragicomic hero of intellectual freedom achieves decidedly mixed results. Ken Ruta as the Inquisitor does the best work in a role that brings to mind Dostoyevski's Grand Inquisitor, who quashes mankind's freedom to preserve its happiness; but in general, despite a very capable cast, the humor and drama feel thin and forced. (Avila)

On Golden Pond Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield, Palo Alto; (650) 903-6000. $20-43. Tues, 7:30pm (no shows Dec 24, 31); Wed-Sat, 8pm (no shows Dec 25 and Jan 1; also Sat/21, 2pm); Sun, 2pm (Dec 29, show at 7pm). Through Jan 5. TheatreWorks presents Ernest Thompson's comedy about an elderly couple.

Over the River and Through the Woods California Conservatory Theatre, 999 East 14th St, San Leandro; (510) 632-8850. $15-17. Thurs-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Sun, 2pm. Through Dec 29. California Conservatory Theatre performs Joe DiPietro's comedy about family and relationships.

*The Play about the Baby La Vals Subterranean, 1834 Euclid, Berk; (510) 704-8210. $10-18. Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Through Dec 28. Shotgun Players presents the West Coast premiere of Edward Albee's lively and provocative play, a gleeful stripping away of willful delusions. A Boy (Brent Rosenbaum) and Girl (Katie McMahon) enjoying the Eden-like bliss of first love appear to have given birth to a child, when an older couple, Man (Richard Louis James) and Woman (Trish Mulholland), arrive and complicate the picture considerably. With a dazzling, frequently hilarious perfusion of asides, direct addresses, and mischievous wordplay, Man and Woman worm their way into the youngsters' quaint paradise, inviting the audience along for the ride. An identity game ensues that shatters the complacency of clichés both psychical and theatrical. Albee has a knack for making such blood sport terrific fun and sobering all the same, like a host who plies you with drinks just so he can lay into you with a few honest truths. Director Reid Davis revels in the approach, and his actors rise to the occasion. In particular, Mulholland twitches with a marvelously spastic comic energy, while James's deft turn as the serene sophisticate with a hint of malice exerts a gravitational pull that makes the close surroundings seem all the more intimate. (Avila)

The Two Gentlemen of Verona San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose; (408) 367-7255. $20-48. Wed/18, Fri/20-Sat/21, Mon/23, Dec 26-28, 30, Jan 1-4 and 7-11, 8pm (also Sat/21, Dec 28, Jan 4 and 11, 3pm; Wed/18, noon); Thurs/19, noon; Sun/22, Dec 29, Jan 5 and 12, 2pm (also Dec 29 and Jan 5, 7pm). Through Jan 12. San Jose Repertory Theatre sets Shakespeare's comedy in silent film-era Hollywood.

dance

'Falling into Winter' 848 Community Space, 848 Divisadero; 706-9535. Fri-Sat, 8pm. $10-15. Amber Ellison, Jesse Walker, and other dancers perform a series of works that mark the winter solstice. Saturday's show is followed by an "All Night Solstice Party."

Bay Area

Caroline Lugo's Brisas de España Flamenco Dance Company Agave Grill and Cantina, 2033 North Main St, Walnut Creek; (925) 939-6949. Fri, 6 and 8pm. Call for price. The flamenco company performs a cabaret-style show.

performance

'The Big Time Happy Number One Good American Show' Shelton Stage Right Theater, 533 Sutter; 487-4334, www.themint.net/trailerparkprincess. Thurs-Sat, 8pm. $12. This original musical follows the adventures of a 17-year-old high school girl determined to win the title "Miss Trailerpark Princess."

'San Francisco's Magic Parlor' Sweetie's Cafe and Pub, 475 Francisco; 771-6066. Tues, 8pm. Through Dec 31. Magicians Walt Anthony and James Hamilton "spin tales and weave enchantment" at this new, ongoing performance.

'Zero Point Field' Xenodrome, 1320 Potrero; 285-XENO, www.xenodrome.com. Thurs-Sat, 9pm. Call for price. Xeno performs a show that combines classical dance with circus arts, pyrotechnics, and more.

Bay Area

'Celebrating Peace' McClymonds High School Auditorium, 2607 Myrtle, Oakl; (510) 597-1619, www.destinyarts.org. Wed, 7pm. Call for price. Destiny Arts Center's youth performance group presents their ninth annual winter show, a mix of dance, martial arts, and theater.

'Straight Black Folks Guide to Gay Black Folks' Black Box Theater, 1928 Telegraph, Oakl; (510) 594-4335, www.trustlife.net. Wed, 7:30pm. $12. Hanifah Walidah presents her multicharacter solo show, now in its second run.

comedy

BrainWash Café 1122 Folsom; 861-3663. Thurs, 8pm: Comedy open mic hosted by Tony Sparks, free.

Caffe Sapore 790 Lombard; 474-1222. Fri, 8pm: "Comedy at Caffe Sapore" with host Melissa Gans, headliner Aundre the Wonder Woman, and more, $5.

Fort Mason Center Marina at Laguna (check daily events sandwich board to see exact location); 453-9092. Sat, 1-4pm: Improv workshop with Jim Crenna, $10. Ongoing.

Java Source 343 Clement; 387-8025. Fri, 10:30pm and Sat, 10pm: Comedy open mic hosted by Tony Sparks, free.

Luggage Store 1007 Market; 255-5971. Tues, 8pm: Comedy workshop with Tony Sparks, $3.

New Pisa 550 Green; 207-0285, www.northbeachimprov.com. Fri, 9pm: "North Beach Improv," with host Uncle Vinny Rizzo, $10.

San Francisco LGBT Community Center 1800 Market; 865-5633. Mon, 8pm: "Monday Night Gay Comedy," $8-15 (no one turned away for lack of funds).

The Stud 399 Ninth St; 823-5121, stoodupsf@hotmail.com. Wed, 8pm: "Stood Up!" hosted by Pippi Lovestocking and Ronn Vigh, $5.

Bay Area

Black Box 1928 Telegraph, Oakl; (510) 595-5597. Thurs, 8pm: The Oakland Playhouse improv troupe performs improv comedy, $5.

spoken word

Open mics take place almost every night in cafés throughout the Bay Area. If you want to perform, show up about half an hour before start time to put your name on the list. A day-by-day guide to spoken word events and featured readers:

Wednesday: BrainWash Café 1122 Folsom; 440-5530. "Spoken Word Salon," open mic, 8pm, free. Mama Bears Women's Bookstore 6536 Telegraph, Oakl; (510) 506-3717. "SheSpeaks," open mic night for women 18 and up, 7:30pm, $5. Starry Plough 3101 Shattuck, Berk; (510) 841-2082. "The Berkeley Slam!" with hosts Charles Ellik and dani eurynome, 8pm, $7.

Thursday: Coppa D'Oro Cafe 3164 24th St; 821-1618. "Poetry on the Patio," spoken word and acoustic music open mic with host Barbara Bennett, 6:30pm, free.

Monday: Perry's Joint 1661 Fillmore; 931-5260. "Celebration of the Word," with featured reader Lakisha Russell, plus open mic, 7pm, free. Rasselas Jazz (Fillmore) 1534 Fillmore; 346-8696. Open mic for instrumentalists, singers, and poets, featuring the Dee Spencer Trio, 8pm, free.