Aside from Crank Yankers and a couple of ventriloquists who work "blue" in nightclub acts, puppetry is a performance medium assumed to be mostly for the kiddies. Certainly Liebe Wetzel, artistic director of Lunatique Fantastique, didn't realize what a wellspring she'd hit when she debuted her act in 1999. But Naked Foam and Objects in Predicaments, which used everyday items -- newspaper, mailing tubes -- to create sympathetic, appealing characters, proved an enormous hit. Ever since, Wetzel's been polishing the art she pioneered, with yearly winter holiday iterations of the family-friendly The Wrapping Paper Caper and adult-themed outings like Brace Yourself! doing sellout business. Now the troupe strikes again with The Construction Cabaret, another mature-content show, which features bric-a-brac facing all-too-human dilemmas -- a stethoscope flirts futilely with an ice bag, a pair of heels happily hook up. The Construction Cabaret previews nightly at 8 this week (and continues through Jan. 3, 2004) at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), S.F. Admission is $15-30; call 861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Send Out the Clowns
We're in the midst of a circus arts renaissance, and it's all thanks to one Canadian troupe. Back in 1984, when three-ring acts began to seem hokey, a ragtag group of street performers formed Cirque du Soleil. A circus without elephants and tigers, with human entertainers who could use their bodies in jaw-dropping ways? It seemed an odd notion, but Cirque's mind-bending work convinced skeptics and inspired the launch of hundreds of smaller groups in cities around the world. You've seen Bindlestiff and the New Pickle Circus; now see the artists who started it all. Materializing under the big top is the touring production of Alegría ("jubilation" in Spanish), which includes the requisite acrobats, contortionists, and good old-fashioned fire-knife dancing. Longtime locals may remember the production, which debuted here in 1994. The magic bounces back at 4 p.m. (and again at 8, with shows continuing through Dec. 14) in the Pacific Bell Park parking lot, Third Street & Terry A. François, S.F. Admission is $35-180; call (514) 790-1245 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com.
-- Sunny Andersen
Maybe our country wouldn't be in such a messy state if its best leaders weren't always getting shot. Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy: all taken out by loonies who decided that equality and peace were foolish goals. People don't get over such crimes so easily. Those old enough in 1968 remember exactly where they were when they heard about Kennedy -- and the president, already well liked, became an instant hero.
The act left some to ponder, What would have happened if that bullet hadn't killed him? Leonard Gross, a prominent White House journalist at the time of the assassination, has spent 18 years trying to answer that question. Consumed with the loose ends left by Kennedy's death, Gross traveled across the country to interview 50 of the late president's close friends and advisers in an attempt to excavate the man's unfulfilled political intentions. The result is The Memoirs of JFK, a play that takes place in 1971, after Kennedy has served two terms and is writing his memoir. "It's a what-if, if you will," said Gross in a recent phone interview. "But it has a certain relevance to what's going on in the world today. It's about what Kennedy [might have done] to achieve peace. I hope it will give pause to people." The drama has been workshopped in several places, including L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum (where it starred Richard Dreyfuss), but Nov. 7 is its world premiere. The historical event begins at 8 p.m. (and continues through Nov. 22) at the Diego Rivera Theatre at City College of San Francisco, 50 Phelan (at Judson), S.F. Tickets are $10-20; call 239-3100.
-- Karen Macklin
Up With Punks
The pounding, bouncy beat of Anti-Flag's anthems hides surprisingly serious politics -- like Green Day meets Phil Ochs. Band members love cussing, fighting for social justice, and "the kids." Sample lyric: "Watch your right, watch the left ... watch the center -- and watch your back!" Plus, the lead singer has one of the best punk rock names ever: Justin Sane. Rise Against, Against Me, None More Black, and the Vacancy open at 8 p.m. at Slim's, 333 11th St. (at Folsom), S.F. Admission is $15; call 522-0333 or visit www.anti-flag.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
All in the Family
Jason Trachtenburg spent 20 years as a struggling singer/songwriter, but he didn't find his true calling until he brought his family onstage with him. The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, featuring 9-year-old drummer Rachel (Jason's daughter), guitarist/vocalist Jason, and goofy photographic slide visuals from wife Tina, are just about the most adorable slice of kitsch on the planet. See the postmodern answer to the Partridge Family starting at 8 p.m. at the Warfield, 982 Market (at Sixth Street), S.F. Admission is $25; call 775-7722.
-- Joyce Slaton