Kentucky conjures up a myriad of enticing images: extravagant hats on the heads of Derby-goers, luscious bourbons blended to perfection by Maker's Mark and small-batch producers, and, of course, the bat that hits the hardest, the Louisville Slugger. What doesn't immediately come to mind are the trials of assembly-line workers at a meat processing plant, a brutal reality explored in Slaughter City, which makes its West Coast premiere.
In Naomi Wallace's riveting drama, first performed in 1996 by England's Royal Shakespeare Company, two thirtysomething neighbors on a slaughterhouse assembly line -- lifelong friends Roach (an African-American woman) and Maggot (a Caucasian man) -- are confronted by the thanklessness of their jobs, industrial labor issues, and a mystical force going by the name of Cod. Passion, desire, and other human foibles come to the forefront as Cod (played by San Francisco native Gillian Chadsey, returning to town for this role) awakens an unexpected fervor and power in the workers.
With a slightly surreal bent, Wallace's play examines a complex tangle of issues -- gender, race, politics, and the human condition -- while still maintaining tinges of humor and poetry. Audiences become grittily entrenched in the world of Kentucky's blue-collar workers, without having to cross state lines or get drenched in the blood of recently butchered animals. The show has its final open dress rehearsal tonight at 8 (and continues through May 8) at the Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy (at Taylor), S.F. Admission is $15-20 (the gala opening on April 10 is $25); call 675-5995 or visit www.crowdedfire.org.
-- Sunny Andersen
An ancient play, steeped in Greek politics, revamped and set in modern China? The very idea sounds like a Hollywood stunt. But playwright Cherylene Lee picked appropriate source material for Antigone Falun Gong, her meditation on religious repression, People's Republic of China style. Sophocles' original debate over individual rights versus the power of the state easily takes to Lee's adaptation, which centers on Antigone's calamitous decision to defy the government by openly practicing a forbidden religion. It opens tonight at 8 (and continues through May 16) at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Admission is $28-40; call (510) 843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Samba for a good cause
There's something about the Portuguese words for music that just seems more evocative of Brazil's many rhythms than those terms' English translations. "Drum group," for example, just doesn't have the energy of bateria.
At "Future Samba," audiences might understand this concept more clearly, thanks to the lineup of music and dancing. The caipirinhas and free barbecue might help their learning, too. Aguas da Bahia dance company music director and top-shelf drummer Gamo da Paz performs as part of Bateria Quimbanda, along with beat-boxer Kid Beyond and DJ Soulsalaam. The first 50 people seeking to deepen their affinity with samba will be rewarded with a special CD mixed by Soulsalaam, so get there early. This benefit for Project Open Hand begins at 3 p.m. at El Rio, 3158 Mission (at Cesar Chavez), S.F. Admission is $10; call 282-3325 or visit www.elriosf.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
The divine pop of Sparks
I came by my Sparks yen courtesy of Valley Girl, an '80s teen sex flick with a scene featuring a randy delivery boy bicycling to an assignation over the rollicking strains of the group's "Eaten by the Monster of Love." It's a cut so odd you could dismiss the band as a novelty outfit -- until you listen to the rest of Sparks' oeuvre, which traces an eccentric path from the new-wave jitter of the act's Todd Rundgren-produced 1972 debut to the saucy grooves of 1974's Propaganda (produced by Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti).
Though the band's fame has faded, Sparks continues to make quirky art rock that's both unclassifiable and unforgettable. Catch the duo as they tour to support their latest (Lil' Beethoven) at 9 p.m. at the Independent, 628 Divisadero (at Hayes), S.F. Admission is $25; call 771-1421 or visit www.theindependentsf.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
Southern California rock band Buchanan has garnered some buzz of late, partially because Jay Buchanan's ethereal crooning bears a marked resemblance to that of late, great underground hero Jeff Buckley. Yet to my mind the group's sound instead echoes that of terribly underrated '70s studio masters Steely Dan. Smooth, jazzy, complex, and ever so slightly creepy, Buchanan's music is an appropriate soundtrack for dark nights of the soul, with melancholy lyrics about madness, murder, love, and war that delve into the angst of modern nightmares. Buchanan opens for Busta-Groove tonight at 8 at the Red Devil Lounge, 1695 Polk (at Clay), S.F. Admission is $8-10; call 921-1695 or visit www.reddevillounge.com.
-- Joyce Slaton