Christmas Eve, 1944. Despite the violent abuse that Christina Crawford claimed was a near-constant occurrence in the Joan Crawford household, mother, daughter, and brother Christopher are all smiles for a live holiday radio broadcast from their Brentwood home. As immortalized in the Crawford biopic Mommie Dearest, the children chirped about their plans to donate gifts to poor orphans, while a cooing Joan cajoled them to recite lines from The Night Before Christmas.
Almost 50 holiday seasons later, that legendary radio program became the jumping-off point for Christmas With the Crawfords, a kitschy musical featuring drag actors playing the dysfunctional clan and a passel of infamous singing Hollywood guest stars. The show begins as Joan (Joey Arias), distressed over MGM dropping her performer contract, obsessively cleans her house for the broadcast with gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. When she finds the floor marred, she unleashes her fury upon her cowed children, Hopper, and the legions of Tinseltown celebs who drop by on the way to a Gary Cooper party, including Mae West, Kate Hepburn, Carmen Miranda, and tranny icon Judy Garland.
First presented locally from 1992 to '98, Christmas has become an urban holiday tradition around the country, with versions popping up from New York to Portland, Oregon. This production comes home to provide a bit of campy holiday cheer, starting with the first preview run at 8 p.m. tonight (with performances running through Jan. 3, 2004) at Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), S.F. Admission is $15-30 ($15 for previews); call 861-5079 or visit www.therhino.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Out There Somewhere
Looking at the retro-futuristic artwork of Eric Joyner and John Bell, you can almost see two little guys watching The Jetsons, their eyes glazed over, deep in an imagined future. Toy robots in space landscapes, levitating, fin-covered spacecraft, and pin-up babes in Speed Racer outfits inhabit their canvases. At "Lo-Fi/Sci-Fi," the pair figures their paintings will have you, too, demanding, "It's 2003! When do I get my anti-grav Astro de Ville?" The closest you can get for now is this show. Go back to the future starting at noon at Lo-Fi Customs, 1776 Mission (at 14th St.), S.F. Admission is free; call 861-0500 or visit www.loficustoms.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Big Book of Vollmann
Back in the '80s, author William Vollmann was hanging out with the Mujahedin in Afghanistan. Since then, he's investigated brothels in Bangkok, smoked crack in the Tenderloin, and trekked through the Arctic -- solo. These experiences, along with 17 years of research, underlie his newest book, a 3,298-page tome addressing an ancient (but still relevant) question: When is violence justified? At the release party for Rising Up and Rising Down, Vollmann speaks and shows slides culled from his adventures around the world. Dave Eggers is also on hand, beginning at 7 p.m. at Cell Space, 2050 Bryant (at 18th St.), S.F. Admission is $2-5; call 648-7562 or visit www.cellspace.org.
-- Owen Otto
Sisterhood Is Powerful
A lot of DJs want to be a part of the Sister SF crew: The women's DJ collective has the star power of Polywog and Forest Green and a reputation for working hard to be more than just eye candy behind the turntables. As a result, there are limits on who gets called a Sister. For women, it means proving you've got talent and integrity. For men, it means wearing a dress. Once a year, the gals of Sister invite brothers to perform with them -- but only in drag. "Dragnet: Dude Looks Like A Lady" begins at 10 p.m. at Sublounge, 628 20th St. (at Illinois), S.F. Admission is $8; call 552-3603 or visit www.sistersf.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser