I'm Your Puppet A dead-end carnival and a tired clown serve as perfect metaphors for the eternal, internal debate over quitting work in the Bindlestiff production Memento Mori. Puppeteer Chrystene R. Ells stars as Pasqual, a much-abused and continually disappointed clown who waltzes with a life-size Death the Jester and stumbles upon a mangy blue dog and an accordion-playing baby in her quest. Three puppeteers join Ells in this dark comedy, which features an original musical score. The show begins at 8 p.m. (and runs through July 5) at Bindlestiff Studio, 185 Sixth St., S.F. Admission is $5-10; call 974-1167. Meanwhile, Monkey Thump does percussive puppetry and the Red Eye Puppet Collective presents The Black Sheep (based on the Italo Calvino short story) at an evening of puppetry, live music, and family dinner at 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday at Cell Space, 2050 Bryant, S.F. Admission is $7-14; call 263-1598.
Great Shakes All's Well That Ends Well, which opens the California Shakespeare Festival's 1997 season, is known as a "problem play" because of its heroine's unflagging desire to marry a jerk. The story revolves around Helena (played here by Oregon Shakespeare veteran Michelle Morain), whose good deed wins her a bad husband and whose cleverness in the end undoes him and his lousy pal Parolles, as the Bard makes the case that rank doesn't equal class. The play is set in the mid-15th century, in a Gothic France and a colorful Florence. The amphitheater will be open two hours before the show for picnicking. All's Well previews at 8 p.m. (and runs through July 27) at Bruns Memorial Amphitheater, Orinda. Admission is $10-35; call (510) 548-9666 for directions and more information.
Fleet of Feet While the rest of America is slavering away over Riverdance and Michael "I'm Lord of the Dance" Flatley, San Francisco is treated to an international dance experience on a truly grand scale, with 38 California-based companies performing numbers originating from around the world. The Ethnic Dance Festival, split into three thematic programs over as many weekends, begins with "Dance Odyssey," featuring sacred, social, and classical dances like the Chinese Tang Dynasty court dances, Polish polkas, and Mexican zapateados. Haitian troupe Petite la Croix and hip-hop company Housin' Authority help draw the lines between past and present in the second weekend's program, "Torchbearers and Innovators." The series concludes with "It's the Feet!," a rhythmic, percussive show featuring South African gumboot dance, Argentine gauchos (whose nail-studded boots make an agreeable racket), Appalachian cloggers, Indian temple dancers, and special guest tap star Al Robinson. The festival opens tonight at 8 p.m. with "Dance Odyssey" at the Palace of Fine Arts, 3330 Lyon, S.F. Admission is $15-23 per program; call 392-4400.
This One's for You "Bay Area Now" is all about locals and takes place locally, with locals in it. The summerlong exhibit and adjoining performing arts and film fest get off to a suitably styley beginning with a dance party and multimedia show in the Center for the Arts Forum, where musical guests including Freaky Chakra, Astral Matrix, Professor Smith, and Mood Clinic go gunning for club kids with a live sampling of the jungle and trip hop to come. The galleries will show off paintings by Ruby Neri, sculpture by D-L Alvarez, photography by J. John Priola, and work in various media by 34 other artists. The spotlight on up-and-coming artists is also trained on young writers, performers, and filmmakers like Jon Moritsugu, whose Mod Fuck Explosion screens Saturday at 8 p.m. The exhibit officially opens at 11 a.m. Saturday; the dance party begins at 8 p.m. tonight at Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, S.F. Admission is free-$10; call 978-ARTS for advance tickets.
Living Large Katie Guthorn was winsome as the doggedly cheerful Karen in A Karen Carpenter Christmas, the musical comedy that captured the true essence of the performing family. ("The Carpenters weren't reviled because they were bad musicians," according to Christmas director Tom Ross. "They were reviled because they were dorks.") Guthorn takes up a new acting challenge, one that doesn't involve diuretics, when she plays Mama Cass in Mama Cass' Summer of Love-In, another timely production by the Christmas creators. In this second comedy, with music by members of Big Bang Beat!, Cass is beset by crises shortly before the Monterey Pop Festival, but some groovy '60s tunes and a little help from her friends see her through. The show opens at 8 p.m. (and continues through June 21), followed by a dance party with Big Bang Beat! tonight and on the 20th at 10:30 p.m., at the Transmission Theater, 314 11th St., S.F. Admission is $15-20; call 861-6906.
My Oh Maya It's not just the literary voice with poet/author Maya Angelou: It's the literal voice, the well-modulated tones and rolling cadences that continue to transfix audiences, including all those people who got choked up just hearing Angelou read for the United Negro College Fund advertisement, or for Clinton's first inaugural. Angelou's experiences as a dancer, writer, activist, playwright, and educator spill over into works like her landmark novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and the more recent Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now; she'll speak at 8 p.m. in the Masonic Auditorium, California & Taylor, S.F. Admission is $19 (benefits the Women's Foundation); call 392-4400.