Here are 24 things to see and hear in the week ahead that have absolutely nothing to do with turkeys, shopping, or watching televised sporting events.
Tab Hunter Confidential. This documentary about one of Hollywood’s most famous closeted gay movie stars screens at the Roxie Monday – Wednesday. The filmmakers had access to Hunter, and they include clips and interviews with John Waters, Clint Eastwood, George Takei, Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner, Portia de Rossi, Noah Wyle, Connie Stevens & Robert Osborne.
West Coast Songwriters Competition. One never knows who might be discovered at the Berkeley edition of the monthly contest at Freight & Salvage. 7:30 – 10:00, $7 in advance, $9 at the door.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. Stanley Nelson’s feature-length documentary explores the Black Panther Party, its significance to the broader American culture, and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails. At the Roxie Monday – Wednesday.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It’s the most boring and long-winded of Wagner’s lengthy operas. In fact, Meistersinger is Wagner’s only boring and long-winded opera, but it has its fans, whose devotion might be rewarded by San Francisco Opera’s stellar cast which might make its nearly six-hour length worth sitting through. The word on Sir Mark Edler’s conducting is that everything sounds very stately — and very slow. James Rutherford, Brandon Jovanovich, and Sasha Cooke star in a production by David McVicar. 6:00 pm at the War Memorial Opera House, also on Friday. $30 – $283. $10 standing room tix available at 10:00 am the day of the show, but no sane person would go that route unless they’re planning on copping an empty seat in the back.
Pamela Z & Viv Corringham. First up, the Bay Area’s own Pamela Z presents a multimedia suite of solos for voice and electronics including excerpts from her recent works Memory Trace and Closed Loop. Then Viv Corringham’s Multimedia Consort presents “Ρεμπέτικα Νεα” (“New Rembetika”), an electronicized, multi-media radicalization of Greek folk blues performed by Corringham, Nancy Beckman, Tom Bickley, Nan Busse, Anna Geyer, & Joe Lasqo. At the Center for New Music, 8:00 pm, $12.
The Barber of Seville. Rossini’s classic comedy is a great introduction to opera for the curious. It features “Largo al factotum” (“Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!) and a slew of tunes even people who aren’t well-versed in opera will recognize. San Francisco Opera’s revival has a talented, youthful cast including Lucas Meacham, Daniela Mack, and René Barbera. 7:30 at the War Memorial Opera House, also Sunday at 2:00. $80 – $255. $10 standing room tix available at 10:00 am the day of the show.
The Nightmare Before Christmas. Tim Burton’s film, score by Danny Elfman, accompanied live by the San Francisco Symphony under the baton of Joshua Gersen. At Davies Symphony Hall, 8:00 pm, also Friday and Saturday, $50 – $162.
Very Semi Serious. A behind-the-scenes documentary about The New Yorker’s cartoons and cartoonists. Bob Mankoff, the magazine’s sagacious cartoon editor is the guide of Bay Area filmmaker Leah Wolchok’s film. It may be the perfect antidote for the holidays and the news. At the Roxie Monday – Wednesday.
Tessa Seymour and Jiyeon Kim. Two young musicians with impressive CVs perform contemporary cello and guitar works. The program includes works by Steve Reich, Pēteris Vasks, Manuel de Falla, and the premiere of a duo by award-winning acoustic and electronic composer William Gardiner. 8:00 pm at the Center for New Music, $20.
Afrolicious. The SF-based collective of DJs and musicians are dedicated to the groove and serious rump shaking, incorporating elements of Afrobeat, funk, and disco. If dancing all night sounds like the best way to start a long weekend, this is the place to be. At the Chapel, $18/20.
Sorry, it’s Thanksgiving and I’ve got nothing for you except this vintage photograph, but cineplexes and neighborhood bars are open.
Mummenschanz. The popular Swiss mime troupe is back with its signature combination of whimsy and grace, comedy and pathos. Clad in colorful, abstract costumes and masks, the company’s four actors enact scenarios realistic and fantastic, in a magical collection of wordless, songless skits. For more than 40 years, the unique troupe has been charming international audiences of all ages. At Zellerbach Hall 2:00 pm Friday and Saturday, 3:00 pm Sunday, $15 – 76 (half-price here).
Jackie Greene, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers. Two bands well-versed in the sounds of post-Beach Boys California rock, drawing from the Dead, early Eagles, and L.A.-era Fleetwood Mac. Greene’s played with the Black Crowes and Phil Lesh, and it shows. At the Fox Oakland, $32.50.
Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis. Masekela, the South African trumpet master who blended the sounds of his native country with American black music and in doing so became a world-famous phenomenon, teams up with a fantastic pianist for three nights of duets at SFJazz’s Miner Auditorium. Also Saturday and Sunday, $25 – $65.
The Velveteen Rabbit. ODC launches the holiday performance calendar with the return of its annual family classic to YBCA through December 13th. 4:00 pm, regular tickets are $15 for the kids, $25 for adults, with options for special tickets group rates. Go here for more information.
Chelle! and Friends. A seven piece band including three vocalists bring the musical gumbo of New Orleans to the Red Poppy Arthouse. 7:00 – 10:00 pm, $15.
Nikki Lane. Sure, she sings with a twang and there’s plenty of pedal steel guitar in the songs, but Nikki Lane isn’t your average country singer. Upbeat, sassy, and with attitude to burn, if there were more country singers like her I’d listen to the stuff a lot more often. Her last album, All or Nothin’ (produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys) begins with the lyrics “Any day or nighttime is always the right time, it’s always the right time, to do the wrong thing” and goes on to cover territory that wouldn’t sound out of place if it were sung by Nancy Sinatra, Joan Jett, or Amy Winehouse. With Clear Plastic Masks at the Great American Music Hall, 9:00 pm, $16.
PiL is sold out, but who knows, maybe you can score a ticket outside.
Salvage Circus is an original circus production about a group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world. Survivors discover that nothing is broken; that the world remains bountiful in spite of the rubble at their feet. Salvage is the first production by Kinetic Arts and they’ve assembled a prodigiously talented group of Bay Area cirque performers. Expect some dazzling aerial sequences, spine-bending contortions, and energizing acrobatic scenes performed with a scrappy, underground flair and an attitude. Suitable for older children. At Oakland’s Kinetic Arts Center, $20 – $70. Special Holiday matinée on Friday 11/27, otherwise Saturdays & Sundays through December 20. Use the code “bathtub” to get half-price seats.
Istanbul Connection. Thirteen musicians bring the sounds of the Balkan and Latin regions to the Red Poppy Arthouse. The Poppy is a tiny, intimate, and informal room, so expect a party with that many players in the room. 7:00 – 10:00 pm, $15.
The Forbidden Room. This hallucinatory ode to cinema might require more patience than most audiences are willing to give it, or a substantial amount of ingested substances, but Guy Maddin’s (The Saddest Music in the World) latest stars Charlotte Rampling and Udo Kier, which is reason to be at least curious about it. Better still, the Roxie states the film takes the audience “high into the air, around the world, and into dreamscapes, spinning tales of amnesia, captivity, deception and murder, skeleton women and vampire bananas. Playing like some glorious meeting between Italo Calvino, Sergei Eisenstein and a perverted six year-old child.” How can you not want to see that? Through December 3.
Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters. Echo Brown’s smash one-woman show keeps extending but it won’t last forever. She’s performing it Thursday and Saturdays through December 17. At the Marsh, $20 – $100.
A John Waters Christmas: Holier & Dirtier. The Pope of Trash returns with his one man, holday-themed show. With DJ Omar at the Great American Music Hall, 8:00 pm. $49.50 advance, $55 at the door, $115 if you want a reserved seat and the opportunity to meet the legend.
San Francisco Symphony. A dozen of the orchestra’s musicians perform an enticing chamber music featuring works by Schumann, Shostakovich, Terry Riley, and Ludwig Thuille. 2:00 pm at Davies Symphony Hall, $38.
Rififi. A major film in the history of French noir, and regarded as one of the greatest heist films ever made. Jean Servais delivers one of the most unforgettable roles ever seen on celluloid. The Roxie screens a new digital restoration through December 3.
The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance. The Chicago troupe offers “a delightfully immersive, lovingly loopy, and fantastically eccentric 80-minute take—think banjos, beach balls, and guitars—on Gilbert and Sullivan’s preposterous, topsy-turvy world.” At Berkeley Rep’s Osher Studio, Tuesdays – Sundays through December 20. $40 – $65. $25 for folks under 30.
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Opening night of Berkeley Rep’s production of Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced fell on the same day as the Paris attacks. Even without knowing much about the play beyond an outline of the plot, I knew what happened in Paris would resonate within the theater, magnifying the impact of whatever the audience was about to see, perhaps extending to the actors on the stage in some way as well. What I didn’t know was whether what had happened in Paris just hours before would distort the play or illuminate it in unforseen ways. The answer is both, and if you can see just one play over the course of the next few weeks it should be this one.
At the center of Disgraced is Amir Kapoor (Bernard White), a Pakistani-American with a blonde wife, a gorgeous New York City apartment, and a rising career as a hotshot mergers and acquisitions lawyer on the verge of being made a partner at his firm. The dude has it all. Or so it seems. On the surface he’s the personification of the American Dream, and he got there the smart way, which in Amir’s case means keeping some things about himself carefully hidden — like his true ethnic background — and by disavowing his Muslim heritage. The carefully maintained facade begins to crumble after his nephew and wife convince him to make a public statement in support of a jailed Muslim cleric. Word of this gets back to his law firm, who start asking questions about who Amir really is, and from there it’s all downhill, and it goes there like a freight train.
The characters in Akhtar’s play are a bit too conveniently drawn, anti-stereotypes in the service of questioning stereotypes, who ultimately challenge the audience to see them as anything but. Amir’s wife Emily (Nisi Sturgis) is a cultural appropriator, a white artist so enamored with otherness she not only married it, she’s made it the focus of her art. Her champion is Isaac (J. Anthony Crane), a Jew who appreciates her outsider claim on Islamic art. Isaac’s wife Jory (Zakiya Young) is black, and also happens to work at Amir’s law firm where she too, is on the rise. The final piece of the puzzle is Abe (Behzad Dabu), Amir’s nephew who’s recently changed his name so he can fit in better with the world around him. On the surface everyone seems to have escaped the boxes of their culturally assigned identities. While it’s not quite the conveniently diverse cast of a contemporary TV show, and falls short of approaching the set-up of “a _____, a _____, and a _____ walk into a bar” joke, it’s not far from it. Everyone onstage has a cultural slot to fill, and apart from Amir (and to a lesser extent Abe), what motivates the characters is largely a gap left for the audience to fill as they see fit. Some might see this as didactic (as my companion did), but I read it as a canny move on Akhtar’s part, a quietly aggressive way of letting the audience’s own ideas and prejudices color their interpretation and perception of who’s who and what they want. He’s brought the baggage; how the audience unpacks it is their problem.
It turns out Amir’s not the only one hiding something. In fact everyone is, and each revelation ups the ante to the point where the story boils over in an ugly torrent of violence, xenophobia, and racism. There are moments in this play that are genuinely difficult to watch, almost sickening to witness, and the cast under director Kimberly Senior doesn’t flinch when it comes delivering Akhtar’s punch to the gut of post-9/11 America’s (and now post-11/13 Paris’) gut. Disgraced left me with a sense of unease which has stayed with me since I saw it, its ugliness reinforced daily by the news and social media feeds, a steady and unsettling reminder of the play’s truthfulness and mixed messages. Its timing couldn’t be more perfect, or more terrible.
Disgraced runs through December 20 at Berkeley Rep. Tickets are $50 – $105, available here.