Sister of Mercy Among the places Sister Helen Prejean plans to visit on her trip to California is San Quentin federal penitentiary. Prejean, you may recall, is the Baton Rouge-based nun whose experiences counseling death-row inmates and the families of crime victims led her to write Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, on which the Tim Robbins film was based. Prejean is a compelling speaker against capital punishment whose nuanced moral arguments confound many; her Bible-based opposition to death row puts her in a strange place among fundamentalist Christians and nonreligious lefties, and her victims advocacy group Survive complicates the argument that anti-death penalty advocates ignore the needs of victims. And though the Catholic Church supports Prejean's stand against the death penalty, it can't be thrilled about her second book, If Mama Ain't Happy, Nobody's Happy: Women's Struggle for Equality in the Catholic Church. Prejean, who has been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, will speak about her experiences and developments in capital punishment at 1:30 p.m. at the Pacific Rim Conference Center, USF Lone Mountain campus, 2800 Turk (at Parker), S.F. Admission is free; call 422-4463.
The Last Dance Unconditional Theater, the company that brought us Groping for Justice: The Bob Packwood Story and In the Chair: Confessions of a Department Store Santa, opens its '98 season on a bittersweet note with The Baltimore Waltz, by playwright Paula Vogel, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning work How I Learned to Drive recently played Berkeley Rep. Vogel wrote Waltz, a tenderhearted comic drama about siblings traveling together through Europe, as an imaginary journey with her own brother, who died from AIDS-related complications before he had the chance to take such a trip. Like the company's previous productions, Waltz possesses a sly, dark edge: In this case, Vogel reverses the illnesses, so that the sister suffers from Acquired Toilet Disease, a malady so rare that a Viennese specialist offers the only hope of treatment. Vogel mines humor and pathos from medical bureaucracy and other unlikely subjects in the show, which opens at 8 p.m. (and runs through June 6) at the Hotel Monaco, 501 Geary (at Taylor), S.F. Admission is $12-15 (partial proceeds benefit Shanti); call 437-5527.
Facing the Music The specter of war and Japanese internment haunts the song-and-dance numbers of Shanghai Lil's, the Pan Asian Repertory Theater's musical about a San Francisco Chinatown restaurant that's converted into a nightclub during World War II. True love arrives at an inopportune time for nightclub dancer Mei-Mei and waiter-turned-soldier Chase, while Sara, the teen-age songstress of the Andrews Sisters-like trio the Flower Sisters, spends her offstage hours pining for her parents in Japan and worrying about being shipped off to a camp once her ancestry is discovered. The show, with book and lyrics by Lilah Kan and music by Louis Stewart, is based on actual clubs that flourished locally during wartime, and plays the city after enjoying a sold-out world premiere at New York's St. Clement's Theater last year. It opens at 8 p.m. (and runs through May 23) at the Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $25-50; call 441-3687.
Boys Keep Swinging In a big Irish Catholic family, the boy who can't throw a ball is the boy who becomes a priest, or so John McGivern has declared in his autobiographical comedy shows MidWestSide Story and John McGivern Live. One of the Boys: Stories From the Midwest is the latest installment of these, a performance based on funny stories from his Milwaukee youth, including his stint in a Franciscan seminary. McGivern's mug will look familiar to fans of the long-running comic murder mystery Shear Madness, of which he is a seven-year veteran, and to comedy buffs who caught him in Comedy Central's Out There specials. Family, culture, coming of age, and gay themes are central to McGivern's work, where ruminations on multiple 12-step groups collide with thrilling tales of men in satiny shorts smacking each other with gloved hands (McGivern is a boxing fan). The show opens at 10:30 p.m. (and runs through July 31) at City Cabaret, 450 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Admission is $15; call 931-9707.
Some Cha-Cha, Some Ha-Ha National Theater of the Deranged alum Diane Amos, known to TV viewers as the Pine Sol Lady, joins comic Marga Gomez at She Who Laughs Lasts, an annual benefit for S.F. Women Against Rape, an agency whose work is generally more grim than comic. Undeterred by sobering statistics (like the 900 misdemeanor and felony sexual assaults reported to the SFPD last year, and the slim percentage of actual incidents that figure is said to represent), Amos and Gomez will go for as many giggles as they can get, as Gomez dissects the freakish cult of the itty-bitty backpack and Amos compares the dueling parenting styles of her Jewish and African-American lesbian mothers. The evening wraps up on the dance floor as 12-piece band Dulce Mambo plays a little cha-cha here, a little rumba there, and a merengue for good measure. The show begins at 8 p.m. at the Russian Center, 2460 Sutter (at Divisadero), S.F. Admission is $15-25; call 861-2024.