In some places, "sketchy" is a term that means "you might get mugged." This sense of the word is probably not what the organizers of SF Sketchfest had in mind when they named their joke-a-thon. We believe they were instead referring to the mighty power of sketch comedy -- a form made popular, then unpopular, then popular again, by TV shows such as Saturday Night Live. We could be wrong about the mugging part, but we're pretty sure that "sketch" in this context is like the word "gag": It definitely has a dual meaning, but it leans toward the positive.
This year's fest has a crown jewel many consider to be at the very pinnacle of comedy: Amy Sedaris. That's right -- the queen of cheese balls, collector of things that are not meat but that are made to look like meat, and general toast of New York is coming to our town once again after her July 2003 appearance in the satiric play Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not at the Post Street Theatre. The multitasking Sedaris is acclaimed for her snort-worthy television appearances, for creating and maintaining some extremely odd characters on the stage, and for writing bunches of award-winning plays.
Of course, she's not the only act going: From L.A., where folks take comedy seriously because you can actually make money at it, comes Totally Looped, a group that improvises new dialogue over old movies, featuring Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson. There's the "Mystery Science Theater 3000 Symposium" (see Night & Day, Sunday, Page 25), Naked Trucker (yes, Naked Trucker), dependably inventive locals Killing My Lobster, and the Girl's Guitar Club, with Mr. Show veterans Mary Lynn Rajskub and Karen Kilgariff. Attend this festival, and the probability that laughs will come to you is high. Opening night begins at 8 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson (at Battery), S.F. Admission is $17; call 273-5796 or visit www.sfsketchfest.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Nora Mutinies -- Again
At the 1879 Copenhagen premiere of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, heroine Nora's rejection of motherhood and marriage scandalized audiences, prompting the play's German producers to alter its ending. In our modern age the drama isn't such a shocker, but after more than a century, Ibsen's work has become a classic that still rings audiences' bells. The American Conservatory Theater freshens up the masterpiece this month, presenting a new translation based on the original Norwegian. A Doll's House opens at 8 p.m. on Thursday (and runs through Feb. 8) at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Admission is $11-68; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.
-- Jack Karp
The God Squad
These days we leave spirit-world communications to the experts, like John Edward and the Pet Psychic. But in Nazi-occupied Hungary in 1943, a group of friends had a different experience. Meeting regularly to soothe panicky reactions to world events, the gang was startled when one of its number began to deliver messages from what the friends came to believe were angels. Actor Shelley Mitchell's award-winning play Talking With Angels, adapted from the book that arose from the Hungary happenings, opens Friday (and runs weekends through March 6) at 8 p.m. at the Actors Center of San Francisco, 3012 16th St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is $17-25; call 389-8975 or visit www.talkingwithangels.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
Do the Landini
We're not sure why, but at a time when many arts organizations appear to be struggling, dance companies seem busy. The Landini Dance Company, for one, is slated to continue its globe-trotting ways (the group has performed in Mexico and the U.K.) with participation in Resolution!, a choreographer's festival in London in February. Led by charismatic Artistic Director Joe Landini, the dancers have organized a fund-raising performance smorgasbord: Acclaimed local troupes Alma Esperanza Cunningham Movement, the Courage Group, and others join LDC for "Resolutions and Lies." Show time is 7 p.m. at Shotwell Studios, 3252 19th St. (at Shotwell), S.F. Admission is $10-20; call 885-4006.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser