Swallowing Hard 

Walidah stretches out

FRI 4/4

Hanifah Walidah has long been one of Oakland's most kinesthetic artists, with a performance history stretching back to Brooklyn Funk Essentials and East Coast boogie, then popping forward to collaborations with wordsmiths Saul Williams and Mike Ladd. Since October's sold-out preview run of her one-woman show, Straight Black Folks' Guide to Gay Black Folks -- a day on the block of "around the way, USA"--Walidah is an artist with a growing theater audience as well. These shows, the first two weekends in April, serve as West Coast tune-ups before she takes her Guide to New York's Hip Hop Theater Festival this summer. To the "stand and deliver" of performance poetry, she brings an awareness that folks just as often speak in swallowed words. Combining a lyricist's laser-sharp focus with an elasticized ability to inhabit anyone's body, she dramatizes that act of swallowing. With a rich empathy for all her characters -- including those she doesn't like much -- the result is theater that breathes new life into tired ways and portrays characters who don't usually inhabit themselves this succinctly on the stage. By the time she makes a preacher-and-congregation scene fresh (by noting the son they keep in the back pew), you know you're in the hands of a consummate artist. Walidah, who has been conceiving hip-hop operas since the early '90s, stretches the Alice Arts Center's multimedia capacity -- something that should excite anyone who has seen her bring the boom-bap in dance beneath her own slide projections before.

Fridays-Sundays, April 4-6 and 11-13, 7 p.m.; with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. 1428 Alice St., Oakland. Tickets $12 advance, $20 door, from www.trustlife.net. 510-594-4335. -- Aaron Shuman

THU 4/3

Bitch, Bitch, Bitch

The plot may be old-fashioned, but the characters and their relationships are part of basic human nature, then and now, in Clare Booth Luce's all-female comedy, The Women. The 1936 multicharacter play is famous for its bitchy dialogue and class-conscious backbiting. Now Lafayette's Town Hall Theatre Company is giving it a spin, in a production directed by Alan Cameron and starring Daniela Chestnut, AJ Van Reen, and Maureen Williams, with extravagant wardrobe by Linda Wenzelberger. The Women opens Thursday at 8 p.m. and runs through April 27 at Town Hall, 3535 School St., Lafayette. Tickets: 925-283-1557. Info: www.thtc.org -- Kelly Vance

THU 4/3

South of Albany

One of the great things about living in the East Bay is the community of so many writers. Take John Oliver Simon, for instance. The Berkeley poet, translator, and teacher wrote his 2002 poetry volume Caminante: A Narrow Road into the Far South about his long sojourn in Latin America. Simon arranged it as a series of 31 octaves. Thursday evening at 7 p.m. Simon reads at the Albany Library, followed by an open mic. It's part of the library's First Thursday series. Other types of events happen other nights as well. 1247 Marin Ave., Albany, 510-526-3720 x20. -- Kelly Vance


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