Where Diction Meets Fiction Viewers won't find household-name playwrights at the Bay Area Playwrights' Festival, although for the last 21 years, participants have argued over, praised, and reshaped work by playwrights who later became famous, like Sam Shepard and Anna Deveare Smith. But this isn't the place for neophytes, either: From a pool of 300, only a half-dozen playwrights were granted the privilege of seeing seasoned directors and dramaturges tailor their material, and some of this year's chosen few will already be familiar to local theatergoers. Claire Chafee, for example, wrote the award-winning play Why We Have a Body, which ran at the Magic under Jayne Wenger's direction; at the festival, Wenger directs Chafee's new work 5 Women on a Hill in Spain, about a conversation among disparate international tourists. Storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki has performed locally as well -- her new work, Uncle Gunjiro's Girlfriend, offers the strange but true story of how her Samurai grand-uncle's marriage to the white daughter of Grace Cathedral's archdeacon helped prompt anti-Asian miscegenation laws of the early 1900s. Death of a Ho: A Fairy Scary Whorey Tale by Van Lier Playwriting Fellow Jake-ann Jones is among the other offerings at the 12-day festival, which opens with 5 Women on a Hill in Spain at 8 p.m. at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th Street), S.F. Admission is $10; call 263-3986.
Being and Nothingness Since we no longer have Seinfeld, arguably the biggest-ever public paean to pointlessness, we'll all have more time to consider that giant sucking sound in our own lives. The Artists' Television Access program "Video About Nothing" joins in with work reflecting total meaninglessness (Karla Milosevich and Debbie Meads' Infomercial uses the standard format to tell viewers nothing), and middling accomplishments, like Craig Goodman's Proof, a celebration and documentation of the time the artist cleaned his Mission District apartment. A bureaucratic paper trail runs through Koto Ezawa's Wagner and Ross, although his theme, a dramatic murder mystery involving the death of an S.F. Muni director, veers dangerously close to topical. Multimedia artists Deke Weaver and Cliff Hengst contribute to the show, which begins at 8 p.m. at ATA, 992 Valencia (at 21st Street), S.F. Admission is $5; call 291-0364.
The 2000-Year-Old Man vs. Drunken Master The last time most folks saw Mel Brooks in San Francisco, he was berating his local bellhop in High Anxiety. Brooks, accompanied by comedy partner Carl Reiner, will make a return trip to sign copies of their book The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000, and even though they won't be doing the nearly 50-year-old routine today, there's nothing preventing them from cracking wise. After all, that's how they came up with this mostly ad-libbed bit, in which Reiner plays the straight man who interviews Brooks about his exceedingly long life. The average Brooks fan can quote Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, and maybe sing a few lines of "Springtime for Hitler," but "The 2,000-Year-Old Man," as Borscht Belt-corny as it can be, is the sketch that influenced younger comedians like Gilda Radner, who quoted it on her own comedy album. By the time the line for that book-signing dissipates, a second line should have formed for an evening appearance by Jackie Chan, the stuntman superstar of films including the Drunken Master series and Rumble in the Bronx, who'll sign copies of his autobiography I Am Jackie Chan. Brooks and Reiner appear at noon, followed by Chan at 7 p.m., at Borders Books & Music, 400 Post (at Powell), S.F. Admission is free; call 399-1690.
Creative Noodling It won't be the world premiere of A Streetcar Named Desire, which opens tonight at the San Francisco Opera House, but there will be opera at the Italian Festa '98, along with other Italian entertainments like bocce ball (as demonstrated by a Special Olympics Bocce Ball team) and Venetian maskmaking for the kids, as well as platefuls of tortas, cannoli, zabaglione, polenta, and several kinds of pasta prepared by East Bay Italian social clubs. Nighttime is devoted to the "Festa Ballo Notturno Sotto le Stelle," or Dancing Under the Stars, with brief interludes involving wine and dessert. The Italian Festa '98 begins at 11 a.m. (and at 10 a.m. Sunday -- the ball begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday only) at Jack London Square, Embarcadero & Broadway, Oakland. Admission is free; call (510) 814-6000. (As a cultural culinary experiment, compare and contrast Italian pasta with pad thai preparation at the Thai Festival, held 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Hall of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, Ninth Avenue & Lincoln Way, S.F. Admission is $3-5; call (650) 615-9528.)
Everything Old Is New Again The Vintage Fashion Expo swings through town pretty regularly, but since Halloween is nigh, this one merits a mention. Over 100 dealers will be setting up booths where shoppers can rummage through Victorian bustles, flapper gowns, poodle skirts, hip-huggers, platforms, and go-go boots. Jewelry and accessories spanning the late 1800s to the 1970s will be sold as well. Daily fashion shows and lectures provide clues on putting pieces together, but artistic license is allowed. The Expo begins at 10 a.m. at the San Francisco Concourse, Brannan & Eighth Street, S.F. Admission is $6; call (707) 793-0773.