Hep Cats, Kids, and Corner Stores What distinguishes the city depends on which photographer you ask at the three-artist photo exhibit "The San Francisco Show," but Paula Chamlee is headed the right direction with her series on neighborhood corner stores, taken from her new book Twenty Corner Markets and One in the Middle of the Block. By showing people coming and going at small, family-owned businesses, Chamlee tacitly honors neighborhoods that haven't been completely homogenized by chains and strip malls. Her photos hang with Ken Miller's portraits of Tenderloin kids, unveiled last spring at his multimedia collaborative project with Pearl Ubungen, "Take Me to the Tenderloin, Now!" Jerry Stoll offers a more typical picture of San Francisco with his photos of North Beach's jazz and poetry beat scene in the '50s and '60s. The show opens with a reception at 5:30 p.m. (and is up through Jan. 3) at the Scott Nichols Gallery, 49 Geary (at Market), Fourth Floor, S.F. Admission is free; call 788-4641.
Must This See You Theater troupe Common Cultural Practice dispenses with linear narrative in "New Word Order," a collection of short works by playwrights who thought word order was overrated. Gertrude Stein's I Like It to Be a Play evokes a vacation in Mallorca through a series of fragmented memories, while Michael McDonagh's Touch and Go uses meditative repetition a la Philip Glass to convey the obsessiveness of new love. Comic absurdity reigns in a conversation between two strangers in Kier Peters' A Dog Tries to Kiss the Sky, and five performers recount an ordinary event through five different narrative devices in French humorist Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style. Leslie Scalapino's Deer Night completes the program, which opens at 8 p.m. (and runs through Dec. 20) at Venue 9, 252 Ninth St. (at Folsom), S.F. Admission is $10-15; call 563-8369.
Finley's Open Fire After a career of confronting the narrow script to which women are often confined, performance artist Karen Finley takes a detour into the psychological profiles of Winnie the Pooh characters lost in an S/M bar. Devotees of Finley's art have come to expect that the journey won't be a direct one, and this new collection of monologues, The American Chestnut, is no different. Finley, who's come a long way from the days of opening for punk bands like the Dead Kennedys, threads together an Our Town-style narrative in this piece about small-town domesticity, illustrated with dollhouse diorama video projections and still-life slide images projected on her own body. Nicky, a woman young enough to still be concerned about her body image, and Lily, a woman old enough to be over it, are the principal characters Finley assumes to make her observations. This isn't the performance artist's first stab at the housewifely arts; her book Living It Up: Humorous Adventures in Hyperdomesticity parodied Martha Stewart's writings, apparently with enough severity that Crown Books, which had originally agreed to publish Living It Up, balked, for fear of offending Stewart, another one of its clients. The American Chestnut opens at 8 p.m. (and runs through Dec. 14) at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida (at 17th Street), S.F. Admission is $12.50-20; call 621-7797.
Making Spirits Bright Jesus and Santa Claus break into a cuss-laced kung fu showdown in The Spirit of Christmas; I Never Ho'd for My Father demonstrates how things might have been different if Santa had been raised in a Mafia neighborhood; in Yes Timmy, There Is a Santa Claus, a sour St. Nick gives mean gifts to a disfigured child. Spike and Mike, known for their annual animation compilation, must have been thinking about that Santa/Satan thing when they put together their "Sick & Twisted Christmas Cartoon Spectacular," a collection of anti-holiday holiday films that leans heavily on the naughty, and not at all on the nice. The animated works screen at 7 p.m., 9:30 p.m., and midnight tonight (and continue through Dec. 13) at the Castro Theater, 429 Castro (at Market), S.F. Admission is $6.50; call 621-6120. (The films move on to other Bay Area theaters after the Castro engagement.)
Marquee Mark Finally, a Christmas gift for that friend who keeps raving about Kama Sutra: Get him the film's promo poster at the UC Theater's Huge Annual Poster Sale, and tell him to shut up already. The repertory movie house will be selling loads of posters and memorabilia from good movies, too, from Fargo to Flamenco to Pink Flamingos. Film buffs and bargain hunters can expect to find lobby cards, those little two-sided color stills from the '40s, along with postcards and buttons and other ephemera related to classic, foreign, cult, and independent films. This year's sale will also feature tables specializing in Hong Kong movie items, including posters, T-shirts, and subtitled videos. Rare posters will be sold through a silent auction at the event, which begins at 9 a.m. at the UC Theater, 2036 University (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Admission is free; call (510) 843-0847.
Big Time There are plenty of nail-biting attractions at alternative circus show Big Top 23, but the "traditional carny food and drink" really sets off the alarm bells. More than the appearance of a real live buffalo, more than daredevil bicycle troupe Cyclecide, more than the robots of destruction built by Seemen, and the "unusual" magic of Chicken John, carny refreshments sound like trouble. From all indications, we're talking about stale tortilla chips swimming in gummy Velveeta, washed down with swigs from a hip flask of JD (never mind the Sno-Kone/cotton candy/green bud trinity). The event's first half, which also includes games, sideshow attractions, and performers from Defenestration and the San Francisco School for Circus Arts, is for children and parents who realize that this circus probably won't damage tender kiddie psyches any more than Ringling Brothers. The nighttime portion gives way to fire-eating and flesh-baring, with a multimedia presentation by Oakland industrial band Valley Fever and performances by bands Ubzub, Chika Chika, and the Centimeters. The daytime circus begins at 2 p.m.; the nighttime circus begins at 8:30 p.m. at Marin & Illinois, S.F. Admission is $5-10; call 647-BIGX.