No Elephants 

It's a brand-new circus

THU 4/17

Lions, tigers, and bears: how hopelessly passé. For an animal-free circus experience, you could drop serious smackers to see Cirque du Soleil's O splashing around in 1.5 million gallons of water, but cheaper and funkier by far is the Technomania Circus, running at Oakland's 21 Grand (449-B 23rd St., 510-444-7263) Thursday through Sunday this weekend and next. The Technomania crew, familiar to habitués of Burning Man, is doing two separate shows -- the Vaudeville Circus at 8 p.m. and the Blacklight Illusion Cabaret at 10 p.m. Each performance will be different, as visiting circus, vaudeville, and musical guests join the wild rumpus.The Vaudeville Circus features old-school virtuosity, with Willy Bologna, juggler Paolo Garbanzo, Dr. Techno's Traveling Minstrel and Medicine Show, fire-swirling Princess Safira, and the accordion of Duckmandu. Contortionists, stiltwalkers, clowns, unicyclists, ladder derring-do -- a madhouse of the highest order. Things get ultramodern with the Blacklight Theatre Cabaret's humorous black-light illusion play. Dr. Techno guarantees that "you will enjoy the show or I will personally clean your house," which is more than Cirque du Soleil promises. Tickets: $12. www.21grand.org -- Lisa Drostova

THU 4/17

Bite-Size

All dysfunctional families are more or less alike -- unless they're Harry Kondoleon's families. The late Yale-educated playwright (who died at age 39, after penning seventeen plays) specialized in ruptured relationships and the bleak humor that escapes from them. His 1984 comedy The Vampires is a case in point, the story of an eccentric suburban family (is there any other kind?) full of people who yearn to do something other than what they're doing now: an unsatisfied carpenter, his two-faced wife, a would-be costume designer, and a junkie. Sounds like the ideal ingredients for a night with Shotgun Players. Shotgun has tackled Kondoleon before -- his Christmas on Mars in 1999 -- so expect artistic director Patrick Dooley to sink his teeth into the material. Dooley, Nina Auslander, David Maier, and Robert Martinez star, directed by Joanie McBrien. The Vampires runs through May 10 at La Val's Subterranean, 1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley. 510-704-8210 or www.shotgunplayers.org -- Kelly Vance

FRI 4/18

Twirling Tightly

Sometimes it's good to duck in out of the big bad world and seek refuge In Small Spaces. Friday night (8 p.m.) at Buzz Gallery, a gaggle of dancers takes over the space and makes it their own. The evening includes "Small Space, Set One," a new dance by Oakland choreographer Elly Karl, performed by the Foot and Meter Performance Works. Also on the bill is Kate Corby's solo offering, "The Wavering." Accompaniment from Luke Brechtelsbauer on accordion. 2316 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. 510-465-4073. -- Kelly Vance

FRI 4/18

Coffee and a Role

She's a young Russian widow raising a biracial daughter. A recently arrived black Englishwoman. An Italian-American policewoman with a secret white-supremacist agenda. A transparently sweet Jewish grandmother. In fact, Sarah Jones is frequently all of the above, as well as a real-life actor, playwright, poet, and political activist. We can experience most if not all of Jones' multitudinous characters in her one-woman show, Surface Transit, which opens Friday on the Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage (2025 Addison St., Berkeley). The New York performance artist's many-faceted reflection of race, religion, and gender runs through May 18. Tickets: 510-647-2949 or www.berkeleyrep.org -- Kelly Vance

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