With their over-the-top attributes -- hysterical characters, dubious plot twists, piss-elegant monikers, big hair -- soap operas are eminently suitable for parody. Comedy writers first took them on with the screwy '40s radio serial Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife, followed by imitators in the '60s (Carol Burnett's skit "As the Stomach Turns") and '70s (TV's Soap, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman). But the increasingly far-out story lines of the '80s and '90s -- which augmented classic tales with such plot elements as voodoo, vampires, and demonic possession -- turned even standard soaps into television resembling the most excessive satire.
Nonetheless, the Electra Theater Company found plenty to poke fun at when its members began writing Seagull Shores, the "haunted soap opera" that premieres this week. Director Adam Ansell piqued our interest by describing the droll drama as "very Dark Shadows. There are ghosts, and creepy old soap opera organ music, and one of the characters has been struck by lightning and ever since has [had] psychic visions." Oh yeah, and Seagull Shores also has a Greek chorus-style narrator, a preternaturally mature child, puppets, binge drinkers, and gender-bent eccentrics, all perfectly in keeping with the offbeat community outreach group that cooperatively wrote most of the dialogue and exposition as a therapeutic exercise. Things are sure to get wacky as Shores previews at 8 p.m. on Wednesday (and runs through Saturday) at New Langton Arts, 1170 Market (at Eighth Street), S.F. Admission is free-$10; call 865-0198 or visit www.newlangtonarts.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Any comedy revue that promises "no Michael Jackson jokes" should sound appetizing to your starving funny bone. (Let's hope that extends to any stale Janet's-bare-boobie one-liners, too.) What Killing My Lobster Pop! vows it will do is take a hysterical journey through the synthetic world of celebrity, media, and popular culture, via tasty sketch-comedy bits. The show includes a best- and worst-dressed list from 1615, heated debates on action heroes, and more; a Jay Leno monologue this ain't. The Boneless Children Foundation is also on hand to provide quirky musical entertainment. The tittering begins at 8 p.m. (and continues through March 7) at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida (at Mariposa), S.F. Admission is $12-17; call 558-7721 or visit www.killingmylobster.com.
-- Brock Keeling
Russian the Stage
Composers via comedian
If you've ever seen The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) performed live, you know what a challenge it is to compress the entire essence of a prolific artist's career-long repertoire into a historically educational yet amusing evening. Now imagine that the inspiration-lending homeland is the Ukraine rather than England, and substitute the Bard with approximately 50 Russian composers.
The result is Mark Nadler's super-charged solo show Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians), an uptempo performance in which the accomplished singer/pianist/comedian guides audiences through the musical works and biographical stories of scores of composers, including the great Stravinsky and Arensky, as well as Porter and Hammerstein. Inspired by a Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin patter song of the same name, Tschaikowsky begins tonight at 8 (and continues through March 14) at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $14-40; call 749-2228.
-- Karen Macklin
She's got it, yeah baby, she's got it
"I am extraordinary, if you'd ever get to know me," boasts Liz Phair on her most recent album, Liz Phair. And extraordinary she is, but don't even think of mentioning that to finicky music critics and aging hipsters, who have all, more or less, slammed her latest effort, along with her Gap and Xbox shilling and -- gasp! -- her having a kid, a rock star no-no. I say: Phair's debut, Exile in Guyville, came out more than 10 years ago, folks. Let's move forward. Sure, the new Liz comes off as slickly produced (with the help of a team called the Matrix), but what's wrong with a few polished ditties and an image overhaul? Pop music is all but synonymous with a glossy veneer that's still personal. Judge for yourself at tonight's show, at 8 at the Warfield, 982 Market (at Sixth Street), S.F. Admission is $25; call 775-7722.
-- Brock Keeling
Why are some people blessed with everything? A perfect example is the lovely and lanky Aisha Tyler, who possesses such enviable attributes: She's gorgeous, smart, funny, and a San Franciscan. Plus she gets paid for it -- well, not for her local native status per se, but that comes in handy when she returns with some good old-fashioned stand-up after a stint playing Ross' girlfriend on Friends, gathering up the chips on Celebrity Poker, and cold chillin' in that Twista video. Give our homegirl some love starting at 8 p.m. on Thursday (and continuing through Saturday) at Cobb's Comedy Club, 915 Columbus (at Mason), S.F. Admission is $17-20; call 928-4320 or visit www.cobbscomedyclub.com.
-- Sunny Andersen