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.
Be-In Here Now With one foot planted in the vast, mostly unexplored terrain of cyberspace and the other mired in the muddy fields of Max Yasgur's farm, the 11th annual Digital Be-In hopes to humanize hard-wired technology using psychedelic music and hemp talks. Past Be-Ins have focused on cultural diversity and human rights in cyberspace, and this year's event addresses, indirectly or otherwise, the right to smoke big doobies with the launch of the DrugPeace Campaign, which appeals for a peaceful end to the drug war and new approaches to drug-related legislation and education. Virtual and actual attendees will be treated to lectures from David Borden of the Drug Reform Coalition Network, Psychedelic Island Views magazine founder Bruce Eisner, and hemp expert Chris Conrad, as well as Next School founder Jane Piper, who speaks on the importance of youth movements. Electro-pop band the Venusians play and DJs spin psychedelic trance music at the Be-In, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Somar Gallery, 934 Brannan (at Ninth Street), S.F. Admission is $15-20; call 777-9199.
High-Steppin' The drums begin rumbling early today at CitiCenter Dance Theater, and don't let up until evening, as waves of sweaty, barefoot hoofers of all levels test their skills at Community Dance Day. CitiCenter is the East Bay's stomping ground for African and African-derived dance, and to that end, they've hosted workshops with talented practitioners: Dance Theater of Harlem, Alvin Ailey, Cuba's Los Munequitos de Matanzas, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and a crew from the blockbuster tap show Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk. At this day of free classes, fly girls and boys hip hop across the floor with Korey Watkins, while would-be Carnaval dancers, daydreaming of plumed headdresses and ruffled parasols, take their first steps at an Afro-Brazilian class taught by Carlos Aceituno. The dancing begins at 11 a.m. at CitiCenter Dance Theater, 1428 Alice, Second Floor, Oakland. Admission is free; call (510) 451-1230.
Bright Lights, Big Blueprints Like so many travelers before him, Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara must have been struck dumb by his first glimpse of Antonio Gaudi's massive and dazzlingly intricate Sagrada Familia cathedral. Teshigahara, the director of the quiet allegorical film Woman in the Dunes, offers little dialogue in his 72-minute movie on the Catalan architect, Antonio Gaudi. Scored by Ran composer Toru Takemitsu, the film is instead a cinematic tour and visual testament to Gaudi's wide-ranging influence on artists like Picasso and Miró, and his vivid imprint on Barcelona itself, where apartment buildings still drip with his sculptural suggestions of lily pads, shells, and honeycombs, and GYell Park (named for Gaudi's benefactor Count GYell) is dotted with his whimsical tiled creations. Gaudi plays with another architecture-themed doc: Frank Lloyd Wright, done by Civil War chronicler Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, who couch their tale of the controversial figure and his legendary creations in the history of his time. The screening begins at 4:40 p.m. with Wright, followed at 7:30 p.m. by Gaudi and a second screening of Wright at 9 p.m. (also Tuesday), at the UC Theater, 2036 University (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Admission is $6.50; call (510) 843-FILM.
You're a Good Man, Charles Brown With Christmas only recently behind us, it's worth noting that blues singer/pianist Charles Brown is responsible for one of the coolest and least cloying Christmas songs around, the sweetly downtempo "Merry Christmas Baby." There have been other memorable numbers in the 75-year-old performer's career, which began with the Three Blazers and charted with "cool blues" hits like "Sunny Road" and "Drifting Blues," recorded in the '40s and '50s. The Blues Foundation will be honoring Brown's style and influence while he's still around to appreciate it with "The Charles Brown Tribute," featuring performances by Bonnie Raitt, Dr. John, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Joe Louis Walker, and a half-dozen others -- proceeds go toward defraying Brown's medical bills. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $60; call 885-0750.
Never a Dull Moment Enjoy a respite from the Tuesday night blues with two performance series that give emerging artists room to stretch: "Women's Work" and "Theater of Yugen's Monday and Tuesday Night Series." The latest installment of the ongoing "Women's Work," presented at a venue known for its experimental comedy and theater, kicks off with a dance-heavy program where E. Auzzura turns Georges Bataille's adventures in eroticism Story of the Eye into a solo movement theater piece, Simone Alone. Upcoming program highlights include Valerie de Jose's theatrical adaptation of Eudora Welty's short story "Why I Live at the P.O." and storyteller Nena St. Louis in The Art of Being Carmen (Jan. 19), as well as Marjorie Kreitman's solo performance You can take the girl out of the Bronx, but you can't take the Bronx out of the girl (Jan. 26). Shows begin at 8 p.m. at Venue 9, 252 Ninth St. (at Folsom), S.F. Admission is $6-10 sliding scale; call 289-2000. Meanwhile, Yugen makes good on its reputation for multicultural programming, heavy on Asian arts, with Snow in a Silver Bowl, an evening of kyogen and noh theater (Jan. 26). The series begins with a reading of Haery Kim's new play tonight; all shows begin at 8 p.m. at Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa (at Florida), S.F. Admission is $8.50-12.50; call 621-7978.