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Amber Adrian

Sunday's San Francisco Theater Festival Is Free, Features Beach Blanket Babylon & More

Comedians, people in very large hats, one-man shows, and the world’s only pencil musician join the dozens of theater companies converging on Yerba Buena Center this weekend.

In a cunning plot to rope in new audiences, the San Francisco Theater Festival puts on a whole cluster of shows at Yerba Buena Center once a year - all for free.

The Pastures of Heaven

After my 14-year-old self was scarred by The Red Pony, I could never work up suitable enthusiasm for John Steinbeck. But local playwright Octavio Solis's beautifully-wrought adaption of The Pastures of Heaven has me convinced Steinbeck is as crucial to the American literary canon as everyone claims. (As is Solis to the theater, but that I already knew.)

Warm, deftly poetic, and funny even in tragedy, The Pastures of Heaven follows the lives of farmers and teachers and dreamers as they search for contentment in Steinbeck's lush Salinas Valley. It's the perfect show for Cal Shakes, with rolling hills behind the outdoor ampitheater and stars rising as the evening darkens.

Weird Art in Bars: Foreign Cinema Gallery

Fine, the gallery at Foreign Cinema isn't precisely a bar, despite the suspiciously bar-like counter in the corner. Laszlo, the official watering-hole, boasts weird art as well - a skull swinging morbidly from the ceiling, skateboards pasted to the wall, et cetera.

But while a dangling skull conjures up warm and fuzzy images of Yorick or the Grateful Dead, it doesn't have the same Dali-smooshed-with-Picasso-on-the-cover-of-The-New-Yorker aesthetic that marks Alex Nichols' canvas-on-wood concoctions.

The Tosca Project, Reviewed

"I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. But I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful that it can't be expressed in words."

Morgan Freeman's Shawshank Redemption voiceover kept rattling around in my head during The Tosca Project, mainly because I wasn't always entirely sure where the thread of the plot went, but I didn't really care because it was so pretty.

Killing My Lobster Goes Undercover

Tackling the wide world of espionage, amateur stalking, and clowns on pogo sticks, San Francisco's beloved sketch comedy group gives James Bond the lobster treatment. (The deliciously Scottish James Bond, rather than the Pierce Brosnan incarnation who, you must admit, fights like a girl.)

Weird Art in Bars: Latin American Club

Referred to in certain circles - circles that don't seem to operate under the standard practice of using given names - as That Bar With The Chihuahuas, the Latin American Club is the de facto national gallery for small dogs. Oversize canvases featuring pint-size canines with Napoleon complexes and ears like slices of pizza line one infamous wall. Drink enough tequila and they may even bark for you. (Just sayin'.)

Forever Never Comes

Proving the distance between rural Virginia and San Francisco is much farther than can be expressed in mere mileage, Forever Never Comes is a lively ode to playwright Enrique Urueta's hometown. It's also a darkly funny love story - a young trans man loves a young woman, but their romantic arc is complicated by her nightmares about her brother's death and then complicated more when she strikes a deal with an otherworldly creature who isn't forgiving of debts. Urueta calls it "a psycho-southern queer country dance tragedy," and really, how can you improve on a label like that? (Note: you can't.)

In God's Ear

Grief - and what occurs in the space between loss and healing - is explored via Jenny Schwartz's adeptly fragmented prose in God's Ear. When a couple's son drowns, they're bowled over by the expected guilt, love, and pain. But life's ceaselessly marching parade of waiting rooms and loose teeth and barroom insults don't stand quietly by until the confusion passes.

Schwartz's fragmented language and director Erika Chong Shuch's swirl of movement are a compelling frame for the bravery and mistakes and hallucinations (in the guise of cameos by the Tooth Fairy and G.I. Joe) that occur as parents navigate their loss.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band Play The Fillmore

In the past year and a half, pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph has spent over $5,000 on iTunes. "Before this record, I didn't sift through music past the seventies," says Randolph. So he's been catching up. Guided by the legendary T Bone Burnett, Randolph mined the canon of 20th century African-American music, pulling from gospel, blues, rock and field recordings from as far back as the '20s to find inspiration for his new album, We Walk This Road, which comes out on June 22. "T Bone is a link between the past and the present," notes Randolph. "He listens to music our grandmothers would listen to as children - the music people working in the fields across the south likely sang nearly a century ago. These are the real roots of rock and roll, where everything comes from.

Classical Roundup: Depeche Mode and Angelic Choirs

Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble

...performs Depeche Mode's Violator album in its entirety at Eagle Tavern tomorrow night. My 14-year-old self would find that more awesome only if Jordan Catalano was featured on the cello. (No disrespect meant to Adam Young, who actually plays the cello - and is certain to do a much better job than Jordan Catalano.) Playing the album live from start to finish, the ensemble (led, as one might expect, by classical composer Jack Curtis Dubowsky) blends violin, trombone, and the aforementioned cello with synthesizer and drums. And a hefty dose of awesome.

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