Sure, mocking dumb people is a laugh riot, but such humor has a way of edging into mean-spiritedness. That's why Moonwatcher: Return to Chelm for Chanukahis such a delight. Traveling Jewish Theatre's silly-but-sweet puppet-filled holiday musical extravaganza is set in a fabled town of well-meaning dunderheads in Poland. Written by TJT members Aaron Davidman, Corey Fischer, and Eric Rhys Miller, the play chronicles the story of Menachem, a mute Chelmenite appointed to track the moon's movement in order to keep the lunar schedule of Jewish holidays on course. While senseless, the task symbolically makes Menachem the crucial link between his dopey fellow townspeople and their luminous heritage.
As in Moonwatcher's first showing last year, violinist Daniel Hoffman and his robustly eclectic San Francisco Klezmer Experience provide musical accompaniment. But TJT promises that the production -- replete as it is with giant puppets, masks, and magical objects created by top theater designer Annie Hallatt -- will be bigger, wilder, and even more fun than 2002's version. The show opens tonight at 7 (and runs through Jan. 4) at the Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), S.F. Admission is $20-28 (and pay-what-you-can on Thursdays); call 285-8282 or visit www.atjt.com.
– Ron Nachmann
Why stick to one holiday?
One of the pleasures of the Bay Area stems from our multiculti diversity, a multiplicity honored by the cold-weather holiday commemoration known as WinterFest. At the afternoon celebration, families learn about the African-American fete Kwanzaa, as storytellers spin tales and the African Queens troupe performs traditional dances. The Mexican observance of Joseph and Mary's journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Las Posadas, is documented with a festive procession and the gleeful destruction of a special piñata. Hanukkah isn't ignored, either: Partygoers celebrate the Festival of Lights by making latkes, the scrumptious potato pancakes fried in oil, which reminds the faithful of the miraculous oil that lasted for eight days when the Temple of Jerusalem was rededicated. The revelry starts at noon at the Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak (at 10th Street), Oakland. Admission is free-$8; call (510) 238-2200 or visit www.museumca.org.
– Frako Loden
Please Look After This Bear
A classic character hits the stage
Almost 50 years ago, writer Michael Bond pitied a lone stuffed bear left on a London toy store shelf. He picked it up as a Christmas present for his wife, then penned a fanciful, mildly satirical story about a small, abandoned bruin that gets adopted by a human family -- and the much-beloved Paddington Bear was born. The Young Performers Theatre pays tribute to the rain-slickered, red-hatted critter with the live-action play The Adventures of a Bear Called Paddington, which takes place Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 3:30 p.m., at Fort Mason, Building C, Room 300, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $5-8; call 346-5550 or visit www.ypt.org.
– Joyce Slaton
Rare Welsh Bit
Dylan Thomas' holiday poem A Child's Christmas in Wales is a famously good story, and in 1963, Thomas added to it by narrating a film using photos of the Welsh countryside to accompany the text, which features sugary treats, indecipherable adults, and lots of snow. See the movie at 2 p.m. in the Exploratorium's McBean Theater, 3601 Lyon (at Marina), S.F. Admission is free-$12; call 397-5673 or visit www.exploratorium.edu.
– Hiya Swanhuyser