Recent news reports are filled with alarming images: insurgents shrieking anti-American slogans, corpses heaped with bombed-out rubble, groups of poker-faced men arrested for hatching dark plots in secret rooms. When our current reality is so disturbing, why would we want to subject ourselves to fictional takes on the present? Because with world events so tense most of us could use a catharsis, and by all accounts the psychological thriller of a play Pugilist Specialist is one hell of a purge.
Its plot centers on four American Marines ordered to assassinate a Middle Eastern leader. Unsure why they were chosen for the task and struggling with their own problems -- which range from a juicy scandal reported on the front page of the New York Times to a disrespect for authority -- the soldiers' plans unravel with chilling results.
Penned by wunderkind Adriano Shaplin and performed by his tiny (and, we hear, remarkably talented) Riot Group theater company, Pugilist was hatched in the Bay Area but until now hasn't played here. Instead the troupe took its show on the road to wow Edinburgh Festival Fringe, West End, and off-Broadway audiences. After racking up a string of astonishing reviews (Variety called it "tautly suspenseful"; Newsweek went with "timely" and "brilliant"), the show settled in for a short run in San Francisco that wraps up this week. Catch it while you can at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, at the Magic Theatre Northside, Fort Mason Center, Building D, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $15-34; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Chris Carlsson's name is well known to those who travel in leftish local circles: He's the man behind the workaday culture-critique zine Processed World, a founder of Critical Mass, and a co-editor of the sublime 1998 book of essays Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture. Now the man's written a novel, and by all rights we should support this hometown hero wholeheartedly. After the Deluge imagines a partially submerged 22nd-century San Francisco in which the threats of an unhinged arsonist are the tinder that ignites simmering political conflicts. Help Carlsson celebrate his new baby as he reads from Delugeat 7 p.m. at City Lights, 261 Columbus (at Broadway), S.F. Admission is free; call 362-8193 or visit www.citylights.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
In Your Face
Wrestling with free speech
"Want to be reminded that you still live in the land of the free where you can say what you believe and not get arrested for it?" This question comes from a press release by the organizers of "Freedom SMACKdown." These folks are obviously deluded, but it makes an intriguing introduction to a performance art show. To demonstrate how free we supposedly all are, JoAnn Selisker hits the Bible -- with a hammer, actor Tina D'Elia messes with gender identity, and Mary Armentrout gets naked.
It's true that performance artists are often free-speech superheroes (we apologize for calling them deluded), so if you have to decide between the "SMACKdown" and some hackneyed holiday presentation, please choose the more meaningful of the two. The speaking out begins at 8 nightly at the ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), S.F. Admission is $15; call 863-9834 or visit www.odctheater.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Human voices make heavenly noise
Creative Voices' "Lusty Harmonies" takes place at the Presidio Chapel, a home of worship and prayer, so stop thinking about what you're thinking about. There's no sex in this show. The word "lusty" refers to the manner in which 17 sonorous a cappella voices tackle the complex harmonies of choral music vigorously and passionately. The owners of said voices remain fully clothed.
Conducted by Eduardo Mendelievich, the choir takes on pieces from Rachmaninoff's Vespers, a liturgical work perfectly suited to the candlelit chapel, to Barber's Adagio for Strings, a heart-wrenching song that astute listeners will recognize from the scene in Platoon when Willem Dafoe cries to the heavens on the verge of dying. The polyphony starts at 8 p.m. in the Presidio's Main Post Chapel, Building 130, Fisher Loop (off Sheridan between Lincoln and Montgomery), S.F. Admission is $15-18; visit creativevoices.org.
-- Michael Leaverton
It's funny how far people will go to avoid saying "country music." A whole crop of other names has grown up to hide it: "alt" this and "Americana" that. But for Mule Train, it's clear: If a group claims both Hank Williams Sr. and the Misfits as strong influences, it's a country-punk band, plain and simple. The Santa Cruz trio is just as much dirt road as spiky hair, as much cornfed as it is pissed off. The Robber Barons, the Jonah Kit, and David Hopkins open at 8 p.m. at the Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St. (at Bryant), S.F. Admission is $7; call 546-6300 or visit www.thehotelutahsaloon.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser