Why does political activism have to be so gosh darn serious all the time? Death, poverty, and corporate greed are no laughing matters, but intelligent satire can illuminate even the most depressing subject and make it approachable.
The San Francisco Mime Troupe has been serving up hard-hitting political commentary through original musical theater productions since 1961; its shows have an unpretentious vibe and blood-stirring, power-to-the-people-type messages. Bring your dog and a blanket -- and maybe even the kids, who may not get all the references, but who'll love the silly singing.
This year's Showdown at Crawford Ranch is set on the tumbleweed-strewn prairies of Texas, where, to protect their tribal lands, Comanche Indians must fight robber baron Cyrus T. Bogspavin and his ally, Mayor Canem. Citizens once had some questions about how the mayor got elected, until they were distracted by tales of a "red threat" and Canem's Home Range Security program. But some plucky folks aim to throw a monkey wrench into Bogspavin and Canem's plans when they ask the question, "Is all this security really necessary?" Show time is 1:30 p.m. daily in Dolores Park, Dolores between 18th and 20th streets, S.F. Admission is free; call 285-1717 or visit www.sfmt.org.
-- Lessley Anderson
Don't Get Berned
He's folking amazing
Dan Bern, singer/songwriter, is crazy. Nuts. Batty as a wood rat on ether. You can tell just by reading the lyrics to his songs: "I got big balls/ Big ole balls/ Big as grapefruits/ Big as pumpkins." Pumpkins, for the love of Jeebus? That is wrong.
But coupled with his trademark manly folk style, a political bent the New York Times has called "wide-eyed but not naive," and undeniable onstage charm (read: He's cute!), Bern's mental situation stays under control. And his latest album's lyrics are pretty normal -- several are simply clever, sad love songs. But before you figure you're safe from the rampaging lunatic, consider this: He's here for another two weeks, in a residency during which he'll play different sets each Thursday, and he has a catalog of some 2,000 songs (written, apparently, with his big ole brain). Show time is 9 p.m. (also next Thursday) at 12 Galaxies, 2565 Mission (at 22nd Street), S.F. Admission is $10; call 970-9777 or visit www.12galaxies.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Nix the Frosty Fourth
A holiday party for good ol' boys and girls
Though in other parts of the country Independence Day means pool parties and picnics, our soggy summer weather usually means way too many holidays spent shivering on a fire escape around a hibachi. Why even attempt outdoorsy fun when the "Day on the Hay Hillbilly Hoedown & BBQ" offers redneck-compliant performances from three twangy bands (Johnny Dilks & His Visitacion Valley Boys, Cari Lee & the Saddle-Ites, and the Hotsy Totsy Hillbilly Jazzbos), steaming plates of carnivorous and vegetarian barbecue, and, best of all, a place to escape the freezing wind and fog? The beer starts flowing at 3 p.m. at 330 Ritch (at Townsend), S.F. Admission is $5-10; call 522-9558 or visit www.johnnydilks.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
Steve Martin's Skivvies
If you haven't seen Steve Martin on the big screen lately, that's because he's been busy writing plays. His latest is a comedy about a high-society chick who loses her bloomers during a public parade and becomes the center of unsavory attention. The aptly titled The Underpants continues through July 18 at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio (at South Third Street), San Jose. Admission $18-52; call (408) 367-7255 or visit www.sanjoserep.com.
-- Joyce Slaton