KQED's Cy Musiker and David Wiegand share their picks for great events around the Bay Area this week.
The holiday season and circus are deeply connected for me, because this is the time of year when the late, great Pickle Family Circus always presented a show. But we have some terrific replacements this year, deeply influenced by the Pickles. My first choice is the scrappy and intimate Kinetic Arts Center's show Inversion in West Oakland, which we profiled a few weeks ago. But don't overlook Cirque du Soleil's gorgeous, extravagant and funny Luzia. Just note that the death of stage technician Olivier Rochette on Tuesday night (Nov. 29) has forced the company to suspend performances for a few days. Now for this week's show.
Dec. 7: The Handsome Family’s Brett Sparks always sings a little off-key to my ear. But it's in the same way folk-protest singer Phil Ochs was off; it doesn't matter because the songs are so full of heart and humanity. He and his bandmate and wife Rennie (who writes the surreal, sometimes somber lyrics) got a huge boost when HBO’s True Detective made their single “Far From Any Road” the theme song for the show's first season. They live in Albuquerque, and don't like to tour much, but they've got a 10th album with songs, Rennie says, about "things we cannot see," and it's terrific. Details for their show at the Great American Music Hall are here.
Dec. 5: Monday nights can be kind of depressing, with the work week stretching before us. But I have an antidote for this week: comedian Jackie Kashian. She's a smart, funny woman who likes to gently poke white privilege and nerdiness. Her husband's a game designer, and she hosts the podcast The Dork Forest, a tribute to geeks and pop culture freaks. Details for her Monday night show at Doc's Lab are here. And it's a Cheap Thrill, with tickets just $12-$15.
Dec. 2, 8 and 9: Comedian Lewis Black nailed the dynamics of this past campaign season as well or better than any other commentator. And he's a great relief valve for our own frustrations and anxieties, because he's so righteously angry about it. As our producer Suzie Racho says, he looks a walking heart attack, so catch him before he self-destructs. Details here for his three Bay Area shows: Dec. 2 at the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco, Dec. 8 at the Uptown Theater in Napa, and Dec. 9 at the Golden State Theatre in Monterey.
Dec. 2 and 4: Baroque composers wrestled with the same moral dilemmas as we do now. In The Indian Queen, Henry Purcell (1659-1695) asked “Why should men quarrel here where all possess as much as they can hope for by success?” Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato performs an excerpt from The Indian Queen as part of a suite of songs on war and peace on her new CD and tour, inspired by the attacks on Paris a year ago. (Check out Steven Winn's preview for the show in the San Francisco Chronicle.) She's joined forces with the period-instrument ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro, stage director Ralf Pleger, choreographer-dancer Manuel Palazzo and costume designer Vivienne Westwood to create a thoroughly theatrical recital. Details for her show tonight at Stanford’s Bing Hall are here, and for her Sunday afternoon concert at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley here.
Continuing through Dec. 23: Last year, the Bay Area’s Lauren Gunderson was the second most-produced living playwright in the country. She's prolific, profound, and often funny. She’s got a new show, co-written with Margot Melcon, called Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. It's an update on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Gunderson says it's her and Melcon's stab at the perfect Christmas play -- a witty love story, set during the Christmas season, blending sentiment and smarts. And yes, it’s a bit of an escape from the anxieties of this past election season. “But the day after the election, going into rehearsal," Gunderson tells me by phone, "we realized this play is more appropriate in part because it is still rare to have a lot of women on stage not talking about men, but talking about their own futures, their own agency, their own ambitions, and their own hearts." Details for Miss Bennet at Marin Theatre Co. are here.
Dec. 8: The Shelters sound a little like the Byrds, the Beatles and a bit of the Allman Brothers all mixed together. Sebastian Harris, Josh Jove, Jacob Pillot, and Chase Simpson make classic rock 'n' roll, something we don't really hear all that often these days. They also have an ace in the hole; their new album was produced by Tom Petty, who was so impressed with the band that he produced their new album in his home studio. It's very catchy stuff. Details for their Starline Social Club show are here. It's another Cheap Thrill!