Lily Tomlin is nuts, and I mean that in a good way. Whether she's playing a devoted, gospel-singing mother-cum-adulterer in Nashville or one of three administrative assistants-cum-kidnappers in Nine to Five (though I must admit to liking her best playing herself in Nick Broomfield's sharp documentary Lily Tomlin), she's never strayed away from peculiar roles. More proof of her harebrained behavior? She gave away locks of her hair with purchases of her home video library. Oh, and she studied acting under Charles Nelson Reilly (equally lunatic -- as Match Game P.M. reruns affirm).
Now you have the chance to see her perform her more renowned characters from her one-woman show, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, and answer questions in person. And if her body of work doesn't convince you of her genius folly, maybe her Web site (www.lilytomlin.com) will. The comedy and inquiries begin at 8 p.m. at the Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness (at McAllister), S.F. Admission is $65; call 392-4400 or visit www.herbsttheatre.com. -- Brock Keeling
Like her Gypsy predecessors, who roamed through India, the Middle East, and Africa, FatChanceBellyDance founder Carolena Nerriccio has been transformed by the cultures she's traversed. That transformation shows in her work: She has created a belly dance genre dubbed "American tribal fusion," a sensual blend of traditional African and Middle Eastern styles with Western improv. The slow burn of the dance -- with its wavelike undulations and delicate balancing of curved sabers on the head -- is instantly commanding; so, too, is the vivid and noisy presence of the dancers, who announce themselves with ululations, cholis (half-shirts that reveal the dance's primary instrument), heavily inked skin, jewel-laden head wraps, jangling coin bras, and the finger cymbals called zils. FCBD's "Musette Arabe" program is comprised of new and repertory works set to live music from the Middle Eastern musical group Helm and guest percussionist Tobias Roberson. The shimmying begins at 8 tonight, and at 2 and 8 p.m. tomorrow, at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Building D, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $15-20; call 431-4322 or visit www.fcbd.com. -- Heather Wisner
Anyone familiar with the history of U.S. immigration knows the Chinese got hosed. Lured by promises of good jobs, a flood of Chinese expatriates entered California during the Gold Rush era. But it wasn't long before discriminatory laws kicked Asian newcomers out of the gold fields and into ill-paid, menial, and dangerous work clearing swampland in the Sacto delta, laundering miners' skivvies, and laying track for the Central Pacific Railroad.
During the economic doldrums of the 1870s, even these restrictions weren't enough to satisfy bigots. Whining that Asians were "stealing" jobs from whites, venomous politicos created 1882 laws banning almost all Chinese immigration. Down but not out, resourceful would-be U.S. citizens set about finding ingenious ways to get around the legislation. Many succeeded -- but only after passing through Angel Island's detention facility, which from 1910 to 1940 was the official way station for those from across the Pacific. Here, potential immigrants were held, questioned, harangued, and subjected to humiliating physical examinations and interminable waits. Some newcomers made it out of the cramped, stuffy barracks within two weeks; others stayed as long as two years. The poetry that fearful, hopeful detainees carved into the station's walls still bears mute testimony to their agony.
The Facing East Dance & Music troupe pays tribute to these nameless, faceless wordsmiths with Held So Close ... Remembering the Poets of Angel Island, a multimedia dance, music, spoken word, and visual art performance that recalls those dark detainment days. The remembrance begins at 8 p.m. (and continues through Sept. 21) at SFSU's McKenna Theater, 1600 Holloway (at 19th Avenue), S.F. Admission is $18-22; call 338-2467 or visit www.fedm.org. -- Joyce Slaton
A "Bad" Play
In 1782, Choderlos de Laclos published a book so vile, so low and smutty, that the public gobbled up 2,000 copies in two weeks. Les Liaisons Dangereuses is still irresistibly horrid, with characters who use sex and love to cheat viciously and betray each other unto death. In a new adaptation for ACT, director Giles Havergal takes on this bad old tale. Marco Barricelli and Lise Bruneau star, beginning at 8 p.m. (and continuing through Oct. 12) at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Admission is $11-68; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org. -- Hiya Swanhuyser
Their Name Is Mud
A quartet of shaggy-haired young men once asked to be touched while they were sick. That was 15 years ago, and the rockers have enjoyed a longevity only the healthiest groups could hope for. Mudhoneyvisits S.F. for two evenings of contagious musical antics, beginning at 10 p.m. at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. Admission is $15; call 621-4455 or visit www.bottomofthehill.com. -- Sunny Andersen