Mystery Train You don't have to be an old man with a bad liver and a beater pickup to make good country music. It might help, sure, but as Texan singer/songwriter Wayne "The Train" Hancock demonstrates, there are alternatives. In fact, one of Hancock's most popular songs, from the album Thunderstorms and Neon Signs, is "Double A Daddy," a honky-tonk about not drinking and playing designated driver. And yet this is the same guy, a young guy no less, who has been breathlessly compared to Hank Williams Sr. and Jimmie Rodgers for his old-timey use of pedal steel and stand-up bass, and for the bone-tired ache in country ballads like "Cold Lonesome Wind," which would sound right at home over the rumble of an engine and the scratchy reception of a car radio. It's not all mopey, understand: Hancock does Texas swing in tunes like "Juke Joint Jumping" and rockabilly in fine Blasters style. And then there was that time he and Joe Ely and Robert Earl Keen Jr. did Chippy, a short-run musical theater show based on the diaries of a West Texas hooker. S.F.'s own home-style honky-tonk band the Kuntry Kunts open for Hancock at 9 p.m. at Slim's, 333 11th St. (at Folsom), S.F. Admission is $8; call 522-0333.
Head for the Hills Pennies From Heaven, Dennis Potter's TV miniseries-turned-musical film, made the Depression seem bleaker than ever by stacking the unhappy life of a sheet-music salesman against cheery pop tunes and lavish production numbers. The same stark contrasts sharpen the pathos in Potter's play Blue Remembered Hills, which witnesses the upheaval of war (specifically, World War II) through the eyes of English kids whose antics are interrupted one summer afternoon in 1943. TheaterFirst is staging the Bay Area premiere of this day-in-the-life drama, which is bracingly free of an adult's sleepy nostalgia for childhood. American audiences have seen more of Potter than they realize: The late British screenwriter/playwright gave us The Singing Detective and adapted the murder mystery Gorky Park from Martin Cruz Smith's novel, and for the few who caught it, offered an early glimpse of Ewan McGregor as a rock 'n' roll daydreamer in his British miniseries Lipstick on Your Collar. A cast of adults takes on the tricky task of playing kids when Hills previews at 8 p.m. (and runs through Jan. 31) at the Julia Morgan Theater, 240 College (at Derby), Berkeley. Admission is $10-19; call (510) 883-7039.
Going South Steel Magnolias it's not: On their road trip through Deep South Alabama, playwright Charlotte Higgins and portrait photographer Eileen Lewis stopped off to talk with women in trailer parks, Tutwiler Prison, barbecue joints, and beauty shops before they created Alabama Bound: On the Back Roads With Some Edgy Southern Women. In this solo performance, highlighted by stills and a black-and-white slide show culled from Lewis' shots, Higgins brings to life a parade of humanly imperfect and funny characters, including an alcoholic 911 operator, based on the people she met on the return trip through her native state. Solo performer Anne Galjour, whose own riveting tales of Cajun Louisiana drew sellout crowds to her show Hurricane/Mauvais Temps, offered her expert advice as Alabama's dramaturge; Mary Forcade directs Higgins, who first unveiled the show at last year's Solo Mio Festival. Alabama opens at 8 p.m. (and runs through Jan. 23) at Venue 9, 252 Ninth St. (at Folsom), S.F. Admission is $10; call 289-2000.
A Good Look Once they left the couch and threw on a robe, and began painting themselves in place of men painting them, women influenced by the heavily male surrealist movement of the '30s and '40s started radically altering images of themselves in art. Formalism and fetishism gave way to introspection: Think Frida Kahlo and her startling, bloody Self-Portrait with a ring of thorns around her neck. Kahlo is just one of many artists from North and Central America, Europe, and Japan represented in "Mirror Images: Women, Surrealism, and Self-Representation," which tracks not only that wave but the women who followed, as well as the political and cultural underpinnings of their paintings, photographs, and sculpture. From the severity of Louise Bourgeois to the kitsch of Cindy Sherman, the show examines every permutation of self, with a good-sized body of women's work that would make even art activists the Guerrilla Girls smile. The exhibit opens today, followed by tomorrow's opening of "Looking at Ourselves: Works by Women Artists From the Logan Collection," with over 20 pieces from leading female artists in the last decade. Both exhibits open at 11 a.m. (and both run through April 20) at the SFMOMA, 151 Third St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is free-$8; call 357-4000.
Aieeee! Mothra! Don't look now, but a giant caterpillar is about to invade Tokyo and rescue supernaturally gifted twin girls before it morphs into a moth and levels the city with a quiet but deadly "fwip fwip" of its oversized wings. All this will happen when Mothra screens at "Them: An Exhibition of Artists, Scientists, and Designers Concerned With the Entomological Universe." In layman's terms, "Them" is a group exhibit inspired by shiny, slithery, creepy-crawly bugs, with contributions from local and national artists and scientists. Among the offerings are giant bug pictures shot by world-renowned wildlife photographers Susan Middleton and David Liittschwager; research on insect gait and propulsion done by UC Berkeley's Dr. Robert Full; a living insectarium by the S.F. Zoo's Patrick Schlemmer; a study of the etymology of entomology by poet Olivia Sears; and architect Eugene Tsui's housing models based on insect dwellings. Mothra and Them screen Jan. 24, followed by a Jan. 31 screening of Insect Shorts: 1950s to the Present, both at the S.F. Art Institute. The exhibit opens with a reception at 5 p.m. tonight (and runs through Jan. 30) at Somar Gallery, 934 Brannan (at Ninth Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 552-2131.