Fencing August Wilson won two Pulitzers for playwriting, in 1987 for The Piano Lesson and again in 1990 for Fences, but within the last year and a half, more attention has been paid to Wilson's voice outside the theater. Wilson, who is black, and New Republic critic Robert Brustein, who is white, got into a heated, and protracted, public debate over race relations and theater last spring after Wilson, in an address at Princeton, criticized black actors who play traditionally "white" roles and white theater companies that stage "black" shows and get grant money that ought to go to black companies. Brustein countered with the argument that divvying up dramatic material according to race could ultimately lead to "separate but unequal" dramatic product and a rollback of civil rights gains. Their formal debate, moderated by Fires in the Mirror playwright Anna Deavere Smith and broadcast on public radio, contained some painful moments, and some ridiculous ones, but was significant for the dialogue it generated, particularly among people who don't usually sit around talking about the arts, a dialogue that Harvardite Henry Louis Gates furthered with his New Yorker article "The Chitlin Circuit." Wilson, who up until that time had mostly sparred with Brustein in print, has continually taken race public in his work. The Black Repertory Group Theater offers audiences the chance to familiarize themselves with some of it when the company stages Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a musical drama about the conflict between black musicians and a white record company executive in a run-down Chicago recording studio. The show opens at 8 p.m. (and runs through Feb. 7) at the Black Repertory Group Theater, 3201 Adeline (at Fairview), Berkeley. Admission is $3-12; call (510) 652-2120.
The Odyssey of Oz Over four decades of tentative peace and outright terrorism, author Amos Oz has given the rest of the world personal glimpses of the upheaval in the Middle East. Oz, a short story writer, essayist, and novelist who was born in Jerusalem in 1939, grew up on a kibbutz when his homeland was being divided and annexed into new and old cities and holy territory was the subject of the Arab-Israeli War; his experience has translated into the vivid poetic prose of books like A Perfect Peace and his most recent effort, Panther in the Basement, a fictionalized account of his youth. Oz, whose work won him the International Frankfurt Peace Prize in 1992, speaks about Israeli literature at 8 p.m. in the Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness (at McAllister), S.F. Admission is $16; call 392-4400.
Hot Shots The dust has technically settled since the FBI and local police raided photographer Jock Sturges' studio in 1990, but the controversy over the contents continues. A local film-processing lab tipped off the feds that it was developing images of unclothed adolescents and that maybe someone should come take a look-see; authorities confiscated images that could be considered pornographic, but a federal grand jury threw out the case against Sturges. That wasn't the last squabble over Sturges' work, though: Last month, a federal grand jury in Tennessee indicted a Barnes & Noble outlet for stocking a book of Sturges' photos that may violate state obscenity laws. Sturges' work, like the work of photographer Sally Mann, is heavy on artful black-and-white nudes, many of children and extended families, shot in Northern California, west Ireland, and on European nude beaches, often in the waning days of summer. His photos are part of the collections of the Met, MOMA, and SFMOMA; the photographer, who possesses a B.F.A. in perceptual psychology and photography, received his M.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute. A new exhibit of his work opens at 11 a.m. at the Robert Koch Gallery, 49 Geary (at Market), S.F. Admission is free; call 421-0122. Sturges will lecture Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at San Francisco Camerawork, 115 Natoma, S.F. Admission is $4-6; call 764-1001.
Road Rules Paula Vogel's '97 off-Broadway hit How I Learned to Drive careens its way westward for its first production outside of New York City, where it ran for nearly a year to broad critical acclaim. The Magic Theater, which presented Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-nominee The Baltimore Waltz six years ago, has teamed up with Berkeley Rep to produce this second work locally. How I Learned to Drive is the story of L'il Bit, a young woman coming of age in Maryland in the '60s and '70s who learns the rules of the road, and the facts of life, in a rocky, sexualized relationship with her older uncle. A Greek chorus takes the roles of L'il Bit's screwed-up family members, her fellow high school students, and various other folks she encounters in this show, which, despite its risky content, maintains a healthy sense of humor. How I Learned to Drive previews at 8 p.m. (and runs through Feb. 27) at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Admission is $29.50-45; call (510) 845-4700.
Friday! Friday! Friday! The kids over at professional-announcer school live for action-packed events like the U.S. Hot Rod Monster Jam! See monster trucks Grave Digger, Bigfoot, Monster Patrol, Bear Foot, Predator, and Wild Thang race to the finish line! Stand back as giant fire-breathing, transforming robots Galactron and Reptar battle for supremacy! Crane your neck as Team North and Team South racers meet in the Quad Wars, and motocross machines vie for the Cycle Wars title! Try not to bust a gut laughing as local truck owners burn their very own rubber on the Ruff Trux obstacle course! Grab a pen and get an autograph from a real live driver! Dirt-track date, baby! It's motor-ific! The show begins at 8 p.m. (also 8 p.m. Saturday; Sunday begins at noon with a Pit Party) at the Oakland Coliseum, 7000 Coliseum, Oakland. Admission is $8-18; call (510) 762-2277.