She’s a whirlwind with words, a sirocco of the stage, and a gale-force gust of “all good.” Sarah Jones certainly qualifies as a breath of fresh air, and then some. After busting out of the hip-hop theater/slam poetry ghetto alongside Danny Hoch and Will Power in the late ’90s, the Nuyorican character actress, monologue mistress, and superfly performance artist has blasted into the stratosphere of public awareness and A-list celebrity. Not only did she make Vibe‘s list of “100 Most Influential People,” she has been championed by Oscar-winner Meryl Streep as da shiznit; Streep reportedly called her “the best of our time,” which is high praise indeed. Jones has kept it so real — going toe-to-toe with the FCC over her censored, Gil Scott-Heron-influenced poem “Your Revolution,” which, she promised, will not happen between these thighs, for instance — that even USA Today, Newsweek, Variety, and Entertainment Weekly, media outlets not particularly known for their ultra-progressive content, have given her the love-love, along with feminist bible Ms., Essence, and The New York Times. Come see what all the commotion is about on Thursday when she presents the West Coast premiere of her new show, Bridge & Tunnel (which comes to Berkeley Rep for twenty workshop performances to fine-tune it before hitting Broadway). In the show, directed by Tony Taccone (who also helmed Jones’ previous show, Surface Transit), Jones doesn’t just impersonate, but becomes fourteen characters, including a Jewish grandmother, an old-country Chinese mother with a lesbian daughter, a wheelchair-bound migrant worker, a young Latina, a young black male rapper, and a Pakistani accountant. Her vocal inflections and body language are so spot-on, they’re eerie, so prepare to be amazed, astounded, and impressed, as Jones’ creations describe their experiences and offer their perspectives on the American Dream.
Also prepare to give Jones and Taccone some feedback. Audience members will be asked for insights and observations as Bridge & Tunnel takes shape over the course of the monthlong run (which goes through February 20), and comments will be posted on the Rep’s Web site (BerkeleyRep.org). It’s a treat for Bay Area theatergoers, and an honor as well: Jones and Taccone could be honing their production anywhere, but they’ve chosen to do it here. Tickets cost $20-$40. For more info: 510-647-2949 or 888-4-BRT-TIX. — Eric K. Arnold
Something to declare
Argentine author Guillermo Verdecchia wrote his solo stage piece Fronteras Americanas (American Borders) in Toronto in 1993 as a meditation on the cultural stereotyping he encountered on his many trips between North and South America. The gringo culture may be dominant, but Verdecchia is never submissive — he and his alter ego Wideload make a business of skewering clichés and squelching Anglo-Saxon misconceptions. Bay Area actor and comedian Ben Ortega, a native of Peru, tackles the role of Verdecchia in the latest production of the show, directed by Wilma Bonet, which opens at 8 p.m. Friday (after previewing Thursday) and runs through February 13 at Mills College’s Lisser Hall, 5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland. 510-436-5085. — Kelly Vance
Six Chairs, No Waiting
Don’t even try to figure out how five — count ’em — members of the Peking Acrobats troupe can manage to form a human ziggurat using six chairs teetering atop one another, with the bottom chair balanced on four little bud vases. They just do it, that’s all. Which is one of the things that makes this 53-year-old troupe from the People’s Republic of China so fantastic. Also their various contortions, wire-walking stunts, cycle tricks, juggling, and the acrobats’ general rubber-bodied flexibility and strength — all set to Chinese traditional musical accompaniment. They perform Friday and Saturday at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. $22-$30-$42. CalPerfs.Berkeley.edu — Kelly Vance
“Well, tickle my tits till Friday!” Yep. That original desperate housewife is back, and she’s kicking Danville in the arse. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., Shirley Valentine sasses into the Village Theatre (233 Front St.) courtesy of the Town of Danville and the Role Players Ensemble. Sue Trigg is Shirley in this incarnation of Willy Russell’s one-woman show. Tickets cost $19-$21 for adults and $17-$19 for seniors, with discounts available for students. VillageTheatreShows.com, 925-314-3463. And now back to Shirley: “I think sex is like supermarkets, you know, overrated. Just a lot of pushing and shoving and you still come out with very little at the end.” — Stefanie Kalem