If you walk into Intersection for the Arts before Jessica Hagedorn's play, which makes its world premiere this week with the Campo Santo theater company, you'll see a run-down apartment covered by a fire escape, scaffolding, and a long pole -- the main prop in a hot striptease to come. In spite of that, and although Hagedorn's Stairway to Heaven does include a touch of Led Zeppelin in the sound design (and title, of course), it's definitely not a rock 'n' roll story. Rather, it's about an immigrant woman named Nena who lives in the Tenderloin and crosses paths with four different souls -- her twin sister, a homeless Desert Storm veteran, a stripper, and a strip-club owner -- as she tells the sordid tale of her life. "[Hagedorn's] narrative style is purposely elliptical," says Campo Santo actor Sean San José, who speaks of the Filipina novelist/playwright's signature approach as being nonlinear, poetic, and raw. "It's all very real-life stuff. She sets it in the Tenderloin, and it really comes out of that world."
The piece, says San José (who plays Mickey the war vet), is about desperate people finding ways to communicate, and the "conflicts of being an immigrant and being exoticized, and defending that and embracing that all at once." Though Zepheads should get a kick out of the rock element, the soundscape also includes a mix of indigenous tunes from singers and drummers who hail from Lake Sebu in the Philippines. Stairway opens Thursday at 8 p.m. at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 16th Street), S.F. Tickets are $9-15; call 626-3311 or visit www.theintersection.org.
-- Karen Macklin
The upswing of interest in all things vintage has taken hold of old-fashioned Latin American music. Trio Los Panchos packs houses with its famous boleros, a sound honed in Mexico in the 1940s. Named after a revolutionary (guess who), the group is most famous for tunes abuela and abuelo might have danced to when they were courtin', among them the megahit "Besame Mucho." Its song list also features tangos and cumbias. The current lineup includes Gaby Vargas Aguilar, son of original Pancho Alfredo "El Guero" Gil. The trio goes on at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 and 8 p.m. Sundays, at the Brava Theater Center, 2789 24th St. (at York), S.F. Admission is $24-35; call 647-2822 or visit www.brava.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Good for What Ails You
Well gives drama a checkup
These days it's a rare soul who doesn't have at least one regular prescription -- anti-depression meds, cholesterol-lowering drugs, arthritis pain pills. Have we become a nation of sickies and feebs, or what? In playwright/performer Lisa Kron's Well, our preoccupation with health is roundly satirized, as Kron attempts to uncover the genesis of the illness that forced her into a lengthy stay in a Chicago allergy clinic. But she finds an even more fruitful source of gibes in the process of dramatizing her memories, as she allows her actors to interrupt and criticize her autobiographical flashbacks and turns what could have been a straightforward narrative into a sly commentary on the difficulty of deconstructing one's own past. Well previews tonight at 8 (and runs through March 13) at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Admission is $11-68; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sfbay.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Steps to Take
Dancing the weekend away
The dizzying array of talent at the Black Choreographers Festival: Here & Now may be daunting, but don't worry: You can do it! You can see the whole weekend's worth of programming. Choreographic superstars like Joanna Haigood and multitalented Robert Henry Johnson make it easy. Haigood's fantastical aerial work with Zaccho Dance Theater is some of the Bay Area's most innovative, taking place in unusual spots and commenting on structure, culture, and community. Izzie Award winner Johnson also ranks high in aficionados' esteem; a little bird told us he'll be presenting new work here. And those are only the two we know best: The festival includes work by Kendra Kimbrough, Reginald Ray-Savage, Teela Shine & Corey Harris, and Naomi & Zak Diouf. The feet move starting at 8 p.m. Friday at the Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida (at 17th Street), S.F. Admission is $10-20; call (510) 801-4523 or visit www.artaud.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Something About Mary
Even if you're not wild about country music's drawl, you have to admit it's cool that those ditties almost always tell a story about people you can relate to: tired waitresses, cheated-upon husbands, guys who just can't catch a break. Mary Gauthier's rivetingly downbeat music, filled with vignettes from her own formerly down-and-out life and those of her loser friends, boasts tales you might hear from street-corner panhandlers -- anecdotes about sleeping under bridges, getting dope-sick in public toilets, celebrating an 18th birthday in jail. Gauthier opens for Nanci Griffith & the Blue Moon Orchestra tonight at 8 at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary (at Fillmore), S.F. Admission is $26.50; call 346-6000 or visit www.thefillmore.com.
-- Joyce Slaton