Whenever it seems that the shocking stories surrounding the Holocaust have all been told, another intriguing tale surfaces. Local playwright John O'Keefe's acclaimed play Times Like These takes place in Berlin during Hitler's rise, and is about two actors who sacrificed their lives for love. In real life, big-shot matinee idol Joachim Gottschalk, an "Aryan" actor, became increasingly ostracized by the public because his wife was Jewish. When it was eventually determined that she and their son were to be sent to concentration camps, Gottschalk asked to be sent with them. His request was denied, and the family committed suicide.
O'Keefe took this haunting tale and performed a little gender swap, making the Jewish woman the star who goes from being publicly adored to being racially hit-listed within a few years. As her career crashes, her husband's starts to take off -- but his success can't prevent her demise. Times Like These, which premiered at Petaluma's Cinnabar Theatre and recently played to sold-out houses in Los Angeles, begins tonight at 8 (and continues through Feb. 29) at Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida (at Mariposa), S.F. Tickets are $18.50-28.50; call 285-8080 or visit www.atjt.com.
-- Karen Macklin
That Old Chesnutt
Critics agree: He's really good
He's like Bob Dylan in a lot of ways: unpretentious, inexplicably sensual, scary-smart. And like Dylan's, Vic Chesnutt's writing -- just the words he uses, putting aside the music for a moment -- is so good that it has inspired many critics to write badly about it. It's weird, as if the quality of his lyrics ("She said something about a blood clot/ and a bad wild peach./ That nappy little news flash/ takes the cut right out of your crease") has a directly inverse relationship to the quality of the words written about him.
Humbled, afraid of the curse, we soldier on. We are driven not only by those cynical, wise observations, but also by the prettily spare instrumentation and elegant, unusual vocal phrasing of Chesnutt's music. Go to the show and you'll understand. Canyon and Danny Pearson open at 9:30 p.m. at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. (at Missouri), S.F. Admission is $15; call 621-4455 or visit www.bottomofthehill.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Ballet Gets Hip
Only in Harlem could that happen
A bustling 1940s gambling saloon and a raucous racetrack form the backdrop for Dance Theatre of Harlem's newest piece, St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet. Created by choreographer Michael Smuin (formerly of the San Francisco Ballet), this adaptation of a 1946 musical involves jazz riffs, nightclub moves, heartache, and running horses. The visiting New York-based company, now in its 35th season, also performs two other pieces -- just as hot, but with a little less street cred: "Meditation" from Thais (set to music from the opera Thais) and a George Balanchine work.
See these legendary performers this weekend at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley campus, Bancroft at Telegraph, Berkeley. Tickets are $32-52; call (510) 642-9988 or visit www.calperfs.berkeley.edu.
-- Karen Macklin
If McCoy Tyner had retired from music after his '60s stint in John Coltrane's legendary quartet, he would still likely be regarded as one of the most important jazz players to emerge during the last century. But the maestro keeps making music, returning for his 10th annual two-week residency at Yoshi's continuing tonight at 8 (through Feb. 8) at 510 Embarcadero West (at Washington), Oakland. Admission is $20-30; call (510) 238-9200 or visit www.yoshis.com.
-- Dave Pehling