Wot Ales Ye? 

Lusty, dusty Ren Faire


Many years and incarnations later, the Renaissance Faire is once again raising its filthy, laughing head in Northern California. It may have taken the word "Pleasure" out of its title, but you can bet a bucket of ducats that none will be missing from this costumed harvest fest. Whether you're a longtime faire geek (you know who you are, you with the crescent moon of bone strung from your ruddy neck) or a virtual virgin, don't overlook this year's production. For the first time ever it's being run by the participants, and as always it supplies the fictitious shire with its share of lusty bodies, fyne wares, and excellent elixir. In the time-honored tradition of sensory overload, prepare to have your imagination and mortal soul be worked over by the ghosts of Renaissance past -- 1490s to 1630s, to be exact. Begin your journey with a warm cinnamon bun and a little browsing at more than a hundred craft booths. Mayhap a new sunhat garnished with pretty dried flowers will put you in the mood for debauchery under makeshift tents. Watch your backs, young gents: Eager young maidens lurk among the oaks looking for a strapping lad to hog-tie, a traditional game in which girls clasp hands around their prey until he bestows a kiss on each one. Mongers, Puritans, fools, and constables all wander freely, adding to the authenticity.

If participation isn't your thing, pull up a scratchy hay bale and a nice cold Guinness or a succulent twelve-inch turkey leg and prepare to be entranced at one of four Faire stages; there's even a special kids' stage for the wee ones. Among the scheduled players are storyteller Jack Morgan, commedia dell'arte troupe La Commedia Shrew, belly dancers, Celtic musicians, and the jousting Knights of Avalon. By the time you make it back to modern times you should be wearied, drunk, and slightly used. God save the queen!

Weekends through October 24, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Casa de Fruta, 10031 Pacheco Pass Highway, Hollister. $20 general, $10 kids five to eleven. Advance purchase at NorCalRenFaire.org -- Justine Nicole


By a Thread

Desert Stormed

The short stage plays in Golden Thread Productions' ReOrient 2004 series take a broad view of the Middle Eastern experience. Kevin Doyle's Compression of a Casualty picks apart CNN's coverage of the Iraq war. In Naomi Wallace's Between the Eyes, an Israeli man guiltily recalls his mistreatment of his Palestinian housekeeper. Don't Eat the Tomatoes by Fatma Durmush has surreal fun with transubstantiation -- people turn into tomatoes. And so on. The series, now in its sixth edition, opens Friday night (8 p.m.) at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, and runs through October 24. $18 general, $12 students and seniors. Info: GoldenThread.org or 510-986-9194. -- Kelly Vance


Holy Binary!

A portion of a religious hymn has shown up in a randomly generated piece of computer music -- is it a miracle, a prank, or just a serendipitous fluke? The Acme Players Ensemble tackles this conundrum in Ghost in the Machine , a giant stylistic leap from its inaugural production, Martha Stewart in Hell. Head APE Jordan Winer directs David Gilman's drama -- focused on two academic couples caught in a snare of theory, scandal, and lust -- at the APE Space, 2525 Eighth St. (at Dwight), Berkeley, Fridays at 8:30 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at various times. Suggested donation is $5-$20; call 510-332-1931 for info and reservations. -- Stefanie Kalem


New Convenient Capulets

How to make the classics seem radical? Place them in historical context. That seems to be the strategy of the Diablo Valley College drama department's production of famed dead white Euro playwright William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, opening Thursday evening (8 p.m.) at DVC's Performing Arts Center (321 Golf Club Rd., Pleasant Hill). The Shakespeare chestnut of tragic teen love, directed by Doug Dildine, is being presented as experimental -- in Elizabethan terms, that is -- for its thematic content, use of time, etc. All that will melt away, of course, when light through yonder window breaks. Tix: 925-687-4445. -- Kelly Vance


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