Self-Absorbed 

The next step in hip-hop

Fri 5/14

What do you get when you fuse postmodern urban culture with spoken-word poetry, performance art, theater, and music, then put it on a stage? A cutting-edge art form that creates its own medium out of its various and sundry influences. The hip-hop theater movement has been called the "next shit," and rightly so -- it's an evolutionary step miles beyond rudimentary rap and ordinary slam poetry, and may just be the most progressive thing to happen to the performance art world since the heyday of Karen Finley. It has also injected a youthful, dynamic, and relevant social commentary into otherwise-stodgy dramatic productions, creating a multigenerational, multicultural following in the process. Best of all, it continues to grow in stature and quality with each passing year. It's been exciting to see talents like Sarah Jones and Danny Hoch emerge out of the underground subculture and gain national attention. And while NYC's annual Hip-Hop Theater Festival (now in its fourth year) has made the biggest splash nationwide, the Bay Area is catching up fast. We've already lent the Big Apple our own Will Power, and local artists such as Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Aya de Leon, and Paul S. Flores -- not to mention the Youth Speaks organization -- have risen to well-deserved prominence. So what's next? Nexthetics.

Premiering this weekend at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and La Peña in Berkeley, Nexthetics, presented by the Bay Area Hip-Hop Theater Consortium, offers performances on both sides of the bay, in addition to an artist discussion on opening night (Thursday) that should explain the context behind the aesthetics of Nexthetics. The program's East Bay segment Friday at La Peña (510-849-2568; www.lapena.org) offers a look at up-and-coming hip-hop thespian, poet, and performance artist Robert Karimi -- soon to be seen on HBO's Def Poetry Jam showcase. Karimi's show, Self (the Remix), delves deep into the issues of personal identity and what it meant for an Iranian/Guatemalan kid growing up in the '70s and '80s to "sample" bits and pieces of various cultures together into a unified consciousness. The idea that we can mix and remix our personas is an intriguing one, and assisting Karimi in his piece are DJs Yellowfist and D Double, who provide musical backdrops to the artist/poet's narrative tales of self-discovery. Yes, yes, y'all. Self sounds like the sureshot. -- Eric K. Arnold

Sun 5/16

Ha!maica

Satire at Scottish Rite

Though it's billed as An Evening of Comedy -- Jamaican Style starring Oliver Samuels, what the Jamaican Association of Northern California really brings to the Oakland's Scottish Rite Theater (1547 Lakeside Dr.) tonight is the Bay Area premiere of Patrick Brown's satirical take on Columbus' discovery of Jamaica, Christopher Cum-Buck-Us. The popular musical comedy stars Samuels as Running Belly and costars Caribbean actors Glen Campbell, Voiler Johnson, Dahlia Harris, and Claudette Pious. Showtime is 6 p.m. Tickets cost $25-$45. JANC.org -- Stefanie Kalem

5/12-5/16

Tragic Greek Three-Way

So there's an opera based on the story of a shepherd who gets squashed by a huge rock, then is transformed into a body of water? Relax: the music of Acis and Galatea is by George Frideric Handel, and the myth of the two young Greek lovers -- Galatea pursued by Polyphemus the Cyclops but in love with Acis, who gets crushed when the Cyclops hurls a chunk of mountain at him -- is appropriately tuneful and dreadfully romantic. Berkeley Opera stages the opera in the original English for three more performances, tonight (Wednesday), Friday, and Sunday, at Berkeley's Julia Morgan Theater (2640 College Ave.), under the direction of Mark Streshinsky, with music conducted by George Thomson. BerkeleyOpera.org -- Kelly Vance

5/3-6/12

Identity Misses

The heroines of Cowgirls are classical musicians mistaken for the Cowgirl Trio while stranded in Kansas. The cast of the Center REP production could be mistaken for the original off-Broadway show; unsurprising since it features Bay Area actors starring alongside two women who created their roles in New York, Rhonda Coullet and Cowgirls creator, composer, and lyricist Mary Murfitt. The musical comedy opens at DLRCA this Thursday at 8 p.m. Info: DLRCA.org or 925-943-SHOW. -- Stefanie Kalem

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