At 27, Berkeley's Tanya Shaffer decided to cut and run. Leaving behind a boyfriend who'd just popped the question, the performance artist fled the familiar and wound up in West Africa. What she saw there would later emerge in her 1999 solo show, Let My Enemy Live Long!, which ran at the Berkeley Rep and netted her a Bay Area Theatre Critics' Circle Award, and which she is currently preparing for the New York stage.Africa takes center stage, too, in Shaffer's travel memoir Somebody's Heart Is Burning. Hot off the presses this week, it recounts her wanderings through Mali, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Burkina Faso, and all the way to the shores of Timbuktu and the uncharted terrain of malarial delirium. Middle-class memories and progressive politics have a way of taking strange turns in the furnace heat and mean streets of the Third World, as Shaffer discovered while navigating the realms of romance, discourse, and renting rooms.
Also a contributor to Salon.com and Chicken Soup for the Traveler's Soul, having plucked Nicaraguan coffee and dug Czech ditches, the Cal Shakes vet will launch her new book this evening at 7:30 at La Peña Cultural Center, with a little help from her friends. These include SF Mime Trouper Michael Gene Sullivan along with the San Francisco Chronicle's Carol Lloyd and local traveloguists Carla King, Jeff Greenwald, and Brad Newsham. Emceed by Shaffer, the evening's globe-spinning agenda will also include African drumming, Balkan singing, and excerpts from the musical revue Are We Almost There? Written by fellow Bay Area Theatre Critics' Circle Award-winner Morris Bobrow and currently playing at San Francisco's Shelton Theatre, the revue pokes fun at going places.
In Somebody's Heart Is Burning, Shaffer muses, "Sometimes I think I'll never go back to the US. The words are seductive, and once in a while I play them in my head, a tantalizing refrain: 'never go back, never go back.' Of course, it's all drama, because what do you fill that 'never' with? You still have to spend the rest of your life somewhere."
The $15 admission price to the event includes a copy of the book. For more information, call 510-849-2568. Late birds who miss the La Peña event can catch Shaffer at Easy Going Travel Bookstore in Berkeley on May 20. -- Anneli Rufus
Street art in Pittsburg
Surely, sleepy Pittsburg isn't exactly a stronghold of graffiti art -- or is it? Starting this weekend, the Pittsburg Arts Collective presents a graffiti show titled In Struggle We Trust at the Impulse Gallery (685 Railroad Ave.). The show features recent works by Scott Hoag, Tres, JD Davis, Borish, Kurve, and Nefertari, and runs through May 25. The opening reception, from 7-9 p.m. Saturday, should be just as cool, with music by DJ A "Freakie" Frakes and friends, plus the usual wine and cheese assortment. Call 925-439-1056 for more info. -- Stefanie Kalem
Behind the high-rises of Bangkok lie ramshackle villages that seem lifted straight from the jungle. One such neighborhood is Klong Toey, nestled along the Chao Phraya River downstream from the capital's financial district, home to generations of farm families who moved there from the impoverished countryside -- and who are now reportedly branded as illegal squatters by officials. Oakland high-school student Monty Suwannukul spent two summers teaching kindergartners there, and his photos make up Slum Klong Toey, an exhibition opening Thursday at the Asian Branch of the Oakland Library, 388 9th St. in Pacific Renaissance Plaza. Thursday's reception is at 6 p.m. www.oaklandlibrary.org -- Kellly Vance
On their Web site, Les Batons Rouges opine: "We like to think of our music as 'a friend punching another to wake him up from a terrible catatonia.'" Please forgive the strange quotation mark placement -- the band is three-quarters Portuguese and living in Berlin. But LBS, comprising singer/guitarist Suspiria Franklyn, guitarist James Jacket, bassist Peter Shambles, and drummer (and Berliner) Lars Friedrich, have a tighter handle on their divergent influences than they do on French tenses and punctuation, and that's just fine. Check out their vaguely New Wavey, riot grrrl-inflected classic punk at the Chapman Warehouse (2846 Chapman, Oakland). Bonfire Madigan also appears. 510-366-2462. -- Stefanie Kalem
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