How You Say ... Funny? In The Foreigner, an off-Broadway comedy hit penned by the late Larry Shue, a shy Englishman visiting a country inn pretends he doesn't speak English so that he may have some privacy, but his ruse backfires. Vaudevillian elements like mistaken identities and evil villains get major comic juice from Greater Tuna stars Jaston Williams, who plays Englishman Charlie Baker, and Joe Sears, as the inn's proprietor, Betty Meeks. The show begins with a preview at 8 p.m. (and runs through May 3) at the Marines Memorial Theater, 609 Sutter, S.F. Admission is $25-37; call 771-6900.
Mapped Out All Souls' Day, the time-honored feast date when the Roman Catholic Church prays for the departed suffering in Purgatory, is also the day on which Brighde Mullins sets her coming-of-age play Topographical Eden. In the not-unpurgatorial environs of Las Vegas on a hot and dusty Nov. 2, 1976, Honey's search for her mother at the Buddha Buffet of the Ground Zero Hotel and Casino is diverted by the sudden appearance of an intriguing tattooed woman about to ride off into the sunset on a Harley. In trying to decide which route to take, Honey finds herself in a kind of existential limbo. Jayne Wenger (Why We Have a Body) directs the world premiere of Topographical Eden, which begins with a preview at 8:30 p.m. (and runs through April 13) at the Magic Theater, Building D, Fort Mason, S.F. Admission is $15-21; call 441-8822.
Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood? Mary Ragusin O'Shea and Sharon Johnson, childhood friends who grew up in Eureka Valley before it became the Castro (and who later worked for gay political candidates), credit two main factors with the area's transformation from a quiet, working-class neighborhood to a gay mecca: the GI Bill and automobiles, which they say led to urban flight and suburban development. O'Shea and Johnson are just two of dozens of people producer Peter Stein interviewed for The Castro, the next segment in KQED's locally focused Neighborhoods series. Stein combines archival materials and contemporary footage with interviews and commentary from comedian Marga Gomez, author Allan Berube, World War II vet Stuart Loomis, and others, paying special attention to local and national political and social factors that helped shaped the area's character. The world premiere screening of The Castro is held at 7 p.m. at the Castro Theater, 489 Castro, S.F. Admission is a $50 donation benefiting KQED; call 553-2337 for ticket information. The segment will also screen Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 9.
Leading the Way Bastard Out of Carolina author Dorothy Allison reads new work and singer Ronnie Gilbert performs excerpts from American Agitator, her one-woman show about Mother Jones, the union activist the magazine is named after, at "An Evening to Remember," a benefit for community nonprofit groups coalition the Progressive Way. A silent auction of books signed by their authors will be held, and refreshments will be served at the event, which begins at 7 p.m. at St. John's Presbyterian Church, 2727 College, Berkeley. Admission is $20-50; call (510) 559-9184.
Bad Director! No Encore! Flogging the director after a mediocre show is an option, for once, at the Fratelli Bologna "Praise and Punishment Show." Bologna brothers Richard Dupell, William Hall, and John X. Heart make a slight departure from their regular format to present competitive improv with Keith Johnstone's Gorilla Theater, in which five improvisers direct one another in theatrical scenes based on audience suggestions. At the end of each scene, viewers decide whether the director should be praised or punished. And while actual beatings are, in truth, discouraged, the alternatives -- performing one minute of solo mime, for example -- make corporal punishment sound attractive. Local actors, comics, and TV and film directors will put their professional reputations on the line during surprise guest appearances. (Fratelli Bologna also performs at the San Francisco Comedy Group Summit this weekend; see Slap Shots, Page 4.) The show opens at 8 p.m. (and continues on Thursday nights through May 29) at the Bayfront Theater, Building B, Fort Mason, S.F. Admission is $10; call 285-4328.
Meet the Salsa Stalker The hazards of dating in the '90s are distilled in Marcella Pabros' Salsa Stalker, a theatrical recounting of the salsa night from hell. Pabros, co-founder of Kulintang Arts, airs her work-in-progress monologues at "Dance Makers," a showcase of original Asian-American and Filipino contemporary dance and performance art that also presents new works like Take Me to the Tenderloin, Now! a postmodern dance piece using interview text and photographic images developed in the neighborhood by Pearl Ubungen Dancers and Musicians. The program also includes Jesselito Bie and Steamroller's Box, an expansively physical treatment of shrinking physical space; Alleluia Panis' choreographic take on the rituals of mourning, Cleansing by Smoke; and Wilma Consul's hip-hop solo piece Miss Thang Ain't No Punk. The show begins at 8 p.m. (and runs through March 23) at ODC/S.F. Performance Gallery Theater, 3153 17th St., S.F. Admission is $12.50; call 863-9834.
Ballroom Blitz Like many retired people, Roberta Meyer took up ballroom dancing as a hobby, but unlike many people, Meyer used to dance professionally with the New York City Ballet, and so she had something of a competitive edge when she began to enter and win amateur ballroom dance contests. Meyer has since created one of the nation's first professional ballroom dance companies, the San Francisco Ballroom Dance Theater, with members who have all danced competitively (and some of whom are titleholders). The SFBDT presents an evening of premieres and repertory works in "Moonlight Rhapsody, 1997" at 8 p.m. (and continues through March 23) at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida, S.F. Admission is $12.50-22; call 621-7797.
Excitement Is Building Would-be design moguls, empire builders, and advertising types get two chances to spy on their peers this week: at the annual film program World's Best Commercials 1996, screening Monday through Wednesday at the Castro; and at the SFMOMA exhibit "Recent Acquisitions: Selections From the Permanent Collection of Architecture and Design." The exhibit, which features over 40 architecture, furniture, product, and graphic designs by several local notables, includes Dan Friedman's Three Mile Island Lamp and Stand and Thom Mayne's Sixth Street Series. The show opens at 11 a.m. (and is up through July 8) at the SFMOMA, 151 Third St., S.F. Admission is free-$7; call 357-4000.
Mime Alert Swiss mask and mime trio Mummenschanz speaks to people without speaking their language, relying instead on the universal medium of movement to express common human experience. The troupe's greatest appeal may be due not to their adept acrobatic work and contortionism, but to their clever mask work: Toilet paper rolls unfurl like tongues in exaggerated silent speech, while eyes in various stages of opening and closing are drawn large on note-paper tablets, then torn off in a cartoonlike sequence, simulating motion and gradually changing a character's expressions. Youngsters warm to this kind of storytelling, but the humor is sly enough to entertain oldsters, too. The show begins at 8 p.m. at the Marin Center, Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. Admission is $9-25; call 472-3500.
Maidu in California The oral tradition of California's Maidu Indian tribe lives through the more tangible medium of Maidu painter Frank Day's canvases. Back in the '60s, Day began painting narrative images of the folklore and history of his tribe, using symbolism and oil paints to convey the spiritual, sacred, and unseen. Artifacts from Day's life, his paintings, and his accompanying tape-recorded interpretations and stories, along with work by other Maidu artists Day influenced, will be shown in the exhibit "The Legacy of Maidu Indian Artist Frank Day," which opens at 10 a.m. (and is up through Aug. 3) at the Oakland Museum, Oak & 10th Street, Oakland. Admission is free-$5; call (510) 238-2200.
Cows Are for Hugging Have a vegan burger, courtesy of the San Francisco Vegetarian Society, Animal Rights Connection, and EarthSave, whose free vegan picnic the Great American Meat-Out piggybacks on the American Cancer Society's smoking cessation slogan. Guests are asked to bring their own picnic supplies and any vegan potluck dishes they might wish to share -- the burgers will be complimentary. Entertainment will be provided in the form of Ronald Says Eating Animals Is Fun, a street theater performance by Animal Justice Too. EarthSave, the SFVS, and the Animal Rights Connection will distribute educational information, which may be best read after ingesting meat-free products. The picnic begins at noon at the Conservatory of Flowers, on Kennedy Drive near Second Avenue in Golden Gate Park, S.F. Admission is free; call 331-9595, ext. 909.
Darwinsome Social Darwinism is just one example of the corruption of Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory, and zoologist Richard Dawkins won't stand for it any longer. Dawkins, the author of best-selling science books The Blind Watchmaker and Climbing Mount Improbable, has been lauded as a witty, well-spoken defender of Darwin's original concepts. So committed is he to expressing the ideas of his vocation in plain and interesting language that Oxford University appointed him professor of public understanding of science. KQED radio host Michael Krasny interviews Dawkins at 8 p.m. at the Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness, S.F. Admission is $16; call 392-4400.
Staying Abreast Allie Light's film in progress Rachel's Daughters is both a tribute to Rachel Carson, author of the pollution primer Silent Spring, and an exploration of known and suspected causes of breast cancer. The documentary bridges visits to research centers and contamination sites with interviews of seven women living with the disease, including Light's own daughter. Light, who won an Oscar for her 1991 documentary In the Shadow of the Stars (which, incidentally, shows at noon Thursday, March 13, at the New Main Library), screens excerpts of the work at 12:30 p.m. (and at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 20, at City College's Castro/Valencia campus) in the Rosenberg Library, Room 304, CCSF campus, 50 Phelan, S.F. Admission is free; call 239-3580.