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House of Tudor 

Bubble blowers, tranny divas, and a Roxie rent party

Wednesday, Apr 3 2002
Sterling Johnson is a silver-haired lawyer with a passion for bubbles -- not the kind that burst when wild rabbits attack you during your weekend hike through Sonoma, but the rainbow-hued variety that float on gentle breezes and entice little dogs and children to leap into the air. The Bubblesmith, as Johnson is known throughout the worldwide bubble-blowing community, is unique to his peers because he uses no hoops or tools, only his hands and a not-so-"super secret" bubble formula that he makes available to everyone on his Web site ( With a bit of glycerin, some Mr. Bubble, and a smidgen of liquid detergent, Johnson creates ephemeral delights: glistening bubble chains, bubble pyramids, vibrating bubbles, bubbles in bubbles, enormous bubbles, tiny bubbles, and, his specialty, juggling bubbles. His artistry garnered him an appearance on Evening Magazine, as well as features in OMNI, Smithsonian, and Klutz's The Unbelievable Bubble Book. But no one goes to see the Bubblesmith because of his fame; instead, people go because he conjures innocent wonder and aerial fancy. And he is just one of the guests taking part in this month's "Unnatural Acts," a vaudevillian retreat from all that is snide, hosted by longtime clown Doll-ya Hoffman-Kaufman-Stein-Steinberg. Other performers include ventriloquist Ron Coulter; mentalist Bob Taxin; a "Russian psychic" named Madame Natasha, who promises benediction in the style of old-timey medicine shows; and the musical delights of the Tami Show and the Cotton Candy Cabaret. "Unnatural Acts" will be held on Saturday, April 6, at the Hemlock Tavern at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 923-0923.

As the imagined love-child of Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine, New York's Varla Jean Merman easily drew sold-out crowds to "Trannyshack" and the sadly departed Josie's Juice Joint during the late '90s. (Varla Jean had the last curtain call at Josie's, you may recall.) In those cozy rooms, corset connoisseurs marveled and mewed over Merman's Olympian voice and guttural humor. Oftentimes, beer shot out of my nose due to Merman's uproarious bits and my own poor timing. Sadly, the days of cut-rate supper clubs and vodka-soaked dives are long over for Merman, at least professionally. The flame-tressed gem -- beloved by such well-primped members of the gay glitterati as Sir Elton John, Boy George, RuPaul, Julie Walters, and Joan Rivers -- has recently performed at Carnegie Hall and garnered raves and awards in New York, Los Angeles, and London. Her latest one-queen show, The Very Worst of Varla Jean Merman, puts our buxom bastard in the honored role of educator. Songs like "Talk to the Genitals," "Act Insane," "Love on the Rocks," and "Disco Inferno" teach us what not to do when faced with organ thieves and aerosol cheese, while video clips -- such as the one following Merman through Japan in search of a Hello Kitty toaster -- clearly show why she may not be the perfect travel companion. The Very Worst of Varla Jean Merman runs April 6 through May 4, with performances Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., at the New Conservatory Theatre Center (25 Van Ness at Market). Tickets are $20-35; call 861-8972.

For 26 years, the Roxie Cinema has been the arbiter of independent films and radical good taste in San Francisco, from its politically galvanizing screening of Doing Time, Doing Vipassana to its staunch devotion to obscure B-movies and vintage shock cinema to its tireless enthusiasm for championing "odd" films like Man Bites Dog, Freeway, Red Rock West, and Kurt & Courtney. All along, the theater has shown a gleeful willingness to offer the venue to trannies, sex workers, and synchronized dance troupes at the drop of a hat. The Roxie represents everything I hold dear about San Francisco: It's small, smart, quirky, and freethinking. Unsurprisingly, it's also broke. Changes in the city's landscape as well as the growing mainstream popularity of independent movies have challenged the theater's ability to stay afloat. Using money from a city grant, the Roxie recently began work on a second screen, which its owners had hoped would increase revenue and put the theater back in the black. Sadly, the grant didn't fully cover expenses or help decrease the amount of back rent the venue had accrued, so the Roxie has been given 21 days to pay up or get out. In order to raise funds and stave off the further cultural decline of our little burg, the theater is throwing a Roxie Rent Party. The feature will be The Last Picture Show, Peter Bogdanovich's beautifully captured story of a Texas town whose communal disintegration is marked by the closing of its movie house. The benefit matinee will be followed by a gala with musical mayhem by the Brass Monkey Brass Band, followed by another screening of the movie. (Robin Williams, Boz Scaggs, Metallica, Sharon Stone, and Carlos Santana are all fans of the Roxie, so we'll see who puts their fame where their heart is.) Hopefully, the film title will be more figurative than fitting, and this party will become just another night to remember at the Roxie. The Roxie Rent Party will be held on Sunday, April 7, at the theater (3117 16th St. at Valencia) with The Last Picture Show screening at 2 and 8 p.m. and the gala starting at 4:30 p.m. Admission to the 2 p.m. screening is $7; tickets for the evening gala are $20, or more if you can afford it. Call 431-3611 to make donations by mail; go to for more info.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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