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.
Prison Blues Michael Franti, formerly of Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and late of Spearhead, is one of the guests slated to play Critical Resistance: Music and Solidarity, a benefit concert for the Prison Activist Resource Center and the California Fund for Women Prisoners. Franti tends to layer his grooves with politically informed lyrics, which should stand him in good stead with the show's other artists, folkie Ani DiFranco and Native American poet-musician John Trudell, who has re-emerged after a lengthy absence from public performance. Jazz-funk singer Me'Shell Ndegeocello and activist Angela Davis, who was jailed for 16 months in 1970 on charges for which she was later acquitted, round out the bill. The show begins at 8 p.m. at the Berkeley Community Center, 1930 Allston (at MLK), Berkeley. Admission is $26; call (510) 762-2277. The concert ushers in the two-day conference "Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex," held Sept. 25-27 at UC Berkeley. Call (510) 643-2094 for more information.
Every Harlot Was a Virgin Once Mature drag queens who pine for their lost youth -- or any youth, really -- might consider adopting a contestant in the Virgin Queen Contest. Novice queens must have drag mothers to help them wax, shave, primp, pin, and, um, tuck before they debut (the contest is open to people who've never publicly performed in drag, with the exception of amateur drag outings on Halloween or the Gay Pride Parade). Drag mothers will also coach first-timers through their short performances -- typically, lip-sync numbers -- and stand by nervously clutching their handbags as a panel of celebrity judges like exotic dancer Carol Doda and Republican gubernatorial candidate Dennis Peron judge their charges on appearance, personality, and talent. Doda will perform and DJ Robeena Diet-Biscuit will spin dance tunes following the competition. Proceeds benefit Larkin Street Youth Center and the medical marijuana club C.H.A.M.P., and viewers can sway judges by tipping their favorite entrants. The show begins at 8 p.m. at 715 Harrison (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $5-25; call 331-1500, ext. DIET.
Wild Bill Rubber-faced physical comedians Bill Irwin and David Shiner share antic space with tap-dancing comic Wayne Doba at the Wild Cabaret Gala, a group show benefiting ODC Theater and ushering in a mini-marathon performance weekend. Irwin, Shiner's silent co-star in Fool Moon, hosts the benefit, which also showcases street theater/ circus cabaret duo Le Pamplemousse, S.F. Circus contortionists, musicians Raz Kennedy & George Brooks, and in-house contemporary dance company ODC/ San Francisco. For the Wild Cabaret Mini-Marathon, new ODC Theater director Lizz Roman (who takes over from Brava Theater-bound Alleluia Panis) tapped scores of old-timers, some of whom perform there again this season. The local contemporary dance scene is heavily represented here by Stephen Pelton & Robert Henry Johnson, Steamroller, Nesting Dolls, and more. The gala begins at 8 p.m. tonight and the mini-marathon runs at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25-27 at ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), S.F. Admission is $20-25 for the gala, $10-15 for the marathon; call 863-6606.
Expose Yourself to Art "Alternative Art!? Alternative to What?" is the first of three topics scheduled for discussion at September Critical II: Mixing It Up in the Arts, a forum at which the public is invited to vent on the local arts scene. Touchy questions like "Is there a significant correlation between the form of an alternative art and its funding source?" will spark tonight's discussion. The idea is to get viewers thinking and speaking critically about art, and to liberate artists from stagnation in their work and their audiences. Subsequent discussions focus on queer identity politics and art (Sept. 29) and "citizen" artists (Oct. 6). They all begin at 8 p.m. at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 15th Street), S.F. Admission is $3-5; call 626-2787. Then there's the Assfair, a viable alternative to a discussion about alternative art. Arts boosters can feel like they're contributing to the local arts scene, since proceeds from the fair will help pay the printing costs for biannual literary arts journal Asspants. Current and former Borders book store employees (the journal's co-editor is one) conspicuously populate local bands Dolly Rocker, Foxglove Bell, and Continental, who'll play live. The show starts at 8 p.m. at Cocodrie, 1024 Kearny (at Broadway), S.F. Admission is $5; call 551-2538.