Night Crawler

Soap Dish

It may seem odd to a newcomer in the land of misfit toys that perfect strangers happily rattle off their dire pains and peccadilloes over a casual pint. Unlike Los Angelinos, whose emotional exhibitionism can often be excused as audition exercises, San Franciscans seem to reveal the travesties of their lives just to appear interesting. "Life should be art," said one highly specialized drama queen, "or at least as good as a cheap soap opera." Here's a rundown of this week's soaps:

The Soap: The Glam Rock Opera, Helen

The Characters: Bored and meddlesome Gods and Goddesses; Greeks, led by Agamemnon and Achilles; Trojans, led by Paris; Helen; various nymphs.

The Setting: Crucible Steel Gallery, a Mission warehouse space with a large movie screen and two platforms draped in white linen. Musical equipment sits stage left. Candles, incense, grapes, pillows, and scantily clad nymphs sit stage right. The audience is mostly young, and sporting groovy facial hair or hats. Lights fade, smoke rises. An unseen chorus sings a traditional Bulgarian chant about a girl who is too beautiful to go to the public well. Enter Timothy Craig, as Hades, wearing tightfitting black bondage gear with a shimmering cape and a very long topknot braid.

"I am known by many names: Beelzebub, Loki, Hades," says Craig in an insinuating tenor. "I am the puppet master ... I present to you my story, full of intrigue and deception, satire and folly. I manipulate many of the characters you will meet in our little game of chess."

The crowd coos appreciatively and Hermes, played by Soren Gray, takes center stage with a guitar, wearing platform mirror-boots, silver face-paint, and a shaggy wig with headband. He sings a rousing glam-rock ditty called "Eden" that tells of men's fall from grace for blindly pursuing their desires.

The Soap: Liquid Soap

The Characters: To be determined by untrained audience.

The Setting: Eureka Theater, downtown. First late-night production. Stage is bare. Crowd is clean-cut and eager. Enter director Ron Kelley.

"Our Liquid Soaptown is located near ...," prompts Kelley.

"Redwoods!" shouts a madcap audience member.

"Something unusual happens to these redwoods ..."

"They catch fire!"

"The town has an industry ..."

"Meatpacking!"

"There's a bar in an unusual location ..."

"A laundromat!"

"The town is called ..."

"Buttercup!"

The characters emerge: Doug Kassel as intelligent-sounding Chandler; Judy Martin as precious gem Opal; Kate Thompson as tropical island Bali; John Remak as European city Paris; Tito Jacques as horse breed Appaloosa; Jill Paiz as favorite poet Whitman; Corinna Chuse as European star Marlena; Kimberly Ashland as planet Neptune; and Goose Duarte as royal family member Andrew.

The Soap: Faustathon, a 14-hour live reading

The Characters: Faust, Mephisto, Gretchen/Margaret, Martha, Valentine, jolly drunks, witches, spirits ...

The Setting: Berkeley Repertory Theater. Stage is littered with chairs, coffee cups, and microphones. The audience is littered with sleeping actors waiting for the 4-to-6-a.m. shift and fanatical lovers of Goethe scribbling in little notebooks. Periodically, a volunteer from University of San Francisco passes out bottles of water to keep people from dehydrating.

The first 2,000 lines of Faustare read: Mephisto challenges the Lord to a bet. Faust seeks knowledge. Mephisto and Faust make a pact. Marathon organizer and fine arts professor David Cantanzarite thanks the first group of readers and introduces a puppet diversion called Doctor Faust's Fallus of Fortune.

The Soap: In the Land of Misfit Toys

The Characters: Night Crawler and any combination of one or more talkative drunks.

The Setting: Various bars throughout the city, usually past midnight, but not necessarily.

Me drinking, waiting for something interesting to happen. Bedraggled Italian New Yorker approaches.

"So, my boss hires his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend," says Dante. "She starts coming in a lot. We hit it off. She and her boyfriend move to San Francisco. She comes home to visit. We start seeing each other. I move to San Francisco, into her apartment. There's a rental shortage so her old boyfriend moves onto the couch. Then me and the girl split up. There's no couch left. Things are a little uncomfortable."

Back at Helen: Amid much smoke, glitter, and anthemic rock music, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite hold a beauty contest and Zeus designates Trojan prince Paris as judge. Paris chooses Aphrodite and is granted the hand of Helen even though he is involved with nymph Oenone and Helen is married to Spartan King Menelaus.

Back at Liquid Soap: Chandler resigns as Neptune's sexual therapist, but they agree to keep their weekly appointments. Neptune is a slightly psychopathic nympho. Chandler is married to Whitman, who is a prescription drug addict with a short attention span.

Back at Misfit Toys: A local event producer has sex with a fan who has a boyfriend. The fan moves into his office and sets up a bed near his desk. She won't leave. She steals the producer's meds. He asks her to leave. The boyfriend wishes the producer bodily harm. For years.

Back at Faustathon: The next 2,000 lines -- Faust and Mephisto visit a witch. Faust gets whacked out on spells, becomes younger, and falls in love with Gretchen. Faust "accidentally" convinces Gretchen to poison her mom. Gretchen's brother challenges Faust to a duel, and dies. Gretchen starts to go a little loopy.

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