"The people at the grey hotel / Are either aged or unwell." That's the uplifting first page of The Iron Tonic (Or, A Winter Afternoon in Lonely Valley), one of the bleakest-beautiful picture books in Edward Gorey's fascinating oeuvre and the theme of this year's Edwardian Ball, San Francisco's annual homage to transcending the cruel light of day by playing dress-up at night. Founded by Rosin Coven, the city's premier post-apocalyptic cabaret orchestra, the regal dance party and its accompanying World's Faire revel in an aesthetic that marries early 20th-century posh with living-dead persistence in the face of The Iron Tonic's portrait of "darkness and dismay" -- where runaway orphans lie dead in the snow, random objects fall from the sky, and mean old clouds yell at passersby. We're talking freakshow fun that transports the audience to another world. The circus acts (including high-flying dance troupe Vau de Vire Society), live music, steampunk machines, handcrafted exotica, and theatrical staging of the Gorey text seem to exist outside of time. A great part of this gig is its interactivity. Devoted attendees must stop, look, and listen. They must taste, touch, and kick up their heels. It's an immersive spectacle like few others. Top hats and DIY gowns required.
Sat., Jan. 21, 8 p.m., 2012