Wherever I Rome North Beach and the Bronx vie with Rome and Sicily as places to call home in the Museo ItaloAmericano's 20th Anniversary Exhibitions. This four-artist celebration covers a lot of ground, artistically and geographically, beginning with "Liana Miuccio: An Italian Journey," a photographic essay on Miuccio's Italian-American family in New York and the relatives still living in Italy, where she was born and spent her summers. Miuccio juxtaposes the different rhythms of life on two continents in this collection of 33 black-and-white photos, which debuted on Ellis Island. The celebration also includes "A Glance at the Past: Old North Beach Revisited," a collection of photographic images from the North Beach Museum of Siciliani, Genovesi, and Lucchesi residents at work and play in San Francisco's Italian neighborhood prior to World War II. Holly Stewart's "I Recenti Arrivi: Immagini e Profili di Successo," portraits of 12 Italians who contributed to the arts and sciences in postwar San Francisco, and airbrush paintings by Meo Carbone ("The Dream") are also included in the anniversary shows, which open with a gallery walk-through guided by Miuccio and Carbone at 5:30 p.m. at the Museo ItaloAmericano, Building C, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $1-2; call 673-2200.
Heart Monitors As a trauma patient with two broken legs and a broken pelvis, Tom Brennan not only lived through a series of painful procedures, including the amputation of his right foot, he went on to create a theatrical work exploring the whole life-altering process. Scenes from Brennan's theater installation Puppet Hospital play at "Open Heart Night," an evening of experimental video and performance about events that touched its artists. The first half of the show is devoted to video: art and poetry videos from Brennan and Jakub Kalousek (whose artwork is hanging in ODC's gallery), movement video by Paul Benney and Jessica Lutes of Onsite Dance Company and choreographer Stephanie Forster, theatrical video by Seattle filmmaker Karry Fefer, and movement-theater video by Ken Goodrich. The second half of the show features two acts from Puppet Hospital, an installation created on screens around the room, tied together with the narrative thread of Brennan's early hospitalization. The show begins at 8:30 p.m. (and continues through Sunday) at ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), S.F. Admission is $12-15; call 863-9834.
Mambo Combo After a few listens to their cha-cha version of "Hey, Jude," as yodeled by their late collaborator Tiny Tim, it's easier to sense where Austin's mostly instrumental sextet Brave Combo is coming from. It's a profoundly silly place, where "Hava Nagila" is a twist, "Satisfaction" is a cha-cha, "Stairway to Heaven" is a swing tune, and the "Hokey Pokey," conversely, is a Zeppelin-style barnburner. Their most recent CD, Group Dance Epidemic, even comes with step-by-step dance instructions for each number. Someone will always accuse Brave Combo of being a gimmick band, but their musicianship is solid, and if the gimmick causes huge crowds of people to cheerfully channel their inner dorks on the dance floor without involving a wedding, what's so wrong with that? Those Darn Accordions, the high-flying multigenerational squeeze-box ensemble whose octogenarian frontman finesses Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?," open the show at 8 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $11; call 885-5075.
Strong Spirits The discussions and events accompanying the group show "Cocktail Hour: New Imagery in the AIDS Era" are indicative of the new mood pervading AIDS-related art. The panel discussion "Representing AIDS in a New Decade" (July 8) explores changes wrought by time and science, while "From the Neighborhood" (July 12) and "From the Streets" (July 15) combine performances from Pieces of the Quilt with swinging live sets by the Gay Freedom Day Marching Band and the Dixieland Dykes. Cautious optimism, and a resistance to treating its subjects as victims, emerges in the exhibit as well, in Jerome Caja's sex-positive images, Louise Roach's survivor testaments, and Al Winn's work, which finds parallels in the rituals of drug regimens and Judaism. The show opens with a reception at 5:30 p.m. (and runs through Aug. 8) at S.F. Camerawork, 115 Natoma (at Second Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 764-1001.
Hot Stuff When Beth Henley's comic drama The Miss Firecracker Contest opened at the Manhattan Theater Club 14 years ago, Holly Hunter was cast as Carnelle Scott, a small-town girl who hopes to salvage her tarnished reputation by winning the Miss Firecracker pageant and parlaying the title into her ticket out of Brookhaven, Miss. It's easy to picture Hunter as the spunky Southern Scott, nicknamed "Miss Hot Tamale" by the local good ol' boys. The show opens in Scott's living room as she rehearses one of the most god-awful talent show acts ever crafted for the American stage, a tap dance number set to "The Star-Spangled Banner," involving somersaults, rifle-twirling, and a sparkler between the teeth. This Southern Gothic comedy of horrors runs on the manic energy of very desperate people, much like Henley's previous work, Crimes of the Heart. Pipedream Productions, whose local presentation of the musical comedy Co-Ed Prison Sluts is now in its second year, stages the show, which previews at 8 p.m. (and runs through Aug. 31) at the Cable Car Theater, 430 Mason (at Geary), S.F. Admission is $20-25; call 956-TIXS.