Calendar for the week

thursday
november 20
The Food Chain: Though Nicky Silver is one of America's more promising comic playwrights, his writing sometimes straddles the line that divides standup patter from subtler characterization; there's surely no little connection between that and men having an en masse attraction to Silver's humor that mostly eludes those of the more reflective/less reflexive sex. In the off-Broadway hit Chain, Silver strip-mines for yuks in the deep, dark holes of dysfunction and narcissism; the largely unlikable characters here sift through largely unresolvable issues of physical and mental despair by gorging, purging, preening and obsessing. But there is an upbeat ending, of a wretched sort. D. Scott Withers of the Valley's In Mixed Company, the troupe presenting the show, says Silver actually wrote two finales to Chain, and "we picked the happier one, because we thought it was even more pathetic." Final performances are on Thursday, November 20; Friday, November 21; and Saturday, November 22. All start at 8 p.m. at PlayWright's Theatre, 1121 North First Street. Thursday is "barter night"; those who bring in $15 worth of nonperishable food items get a small price break, and St. Mary's Food Bank gets the donation. Regular tickets are $16.50, $14.50 for students and seniors, available at Herberger Theater Center and Dillard's (252-8497, 503-5555).

GameWorks Tempe Opening: The GameWorks chain, a co-creation of DreamWorks SKG's Steven Spielberg, Sega GameWorks, and Universal Studios billed as "a new breed of [nightclub that] redefines play" and--more grandiosely--as "the future of entertainment," unveils its fifth location out of a potential worldwide web of hundreds on Thursday, November 20. The opening coincides with the public debut of Tempe's Arizona Mills mall, which should really snarl things up at the already traffic-challenged intersection of Priest and Baseline. But back to fun and games; the ones on display at GameWorks--about 210 total--include those of the competitive/interactive strain, plus cutting-edge and classic arcade stuff. Oh, yeah, and there are both conventional and coffee bars. Admission is free; hours are 11 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays to 1 a.m., 11 a.m. Fridays to 2 a.m., 10 a.m. Saturdays to 2 a.m. 839-4263.

Otello: Arizona Opera reprises Verdi's great, late-period work, based on the Bard's intimate tragedy about the noble Moor's love for the purehearted Desdemona and his betrayal by the nasty little man named Iago. Eduard Ruivenkamp and Larry Thomas alternate the title role, Julie Newell portrays Desdemona and the Phoenix Symphony provides accompaniment. Performances, in Italian with English surtitles, are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 20; 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 21; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 22; and 2 p.m. Sunday, November 23, at Symphony Hall, 225 East Adams. Tickets range from $14 to $56, available at the opera's box office and Dillard's (266-7464, 503-5555).

Valley Song: The drama by Athol Fugard (Master Harold . . . and the Boys; The Blood Knot) is, like most of Fugard's works, South Africacentric but universal. The playwright's first work since the fall of apartheid, Valley Song relates simultaneous tales of upheaval centering on the cultural (growing pains on the karoo created by the advent of modernity and democracy) and the personal (the straining of the bond between traditionalist Abraam "Buks" Jonkers--portrayed by Jerome Kilty--and Buks' big-city-on-the-brain granddaughter, Tamilla Woodard's Veronica). The Arizona Theatre Company production continues with performances at 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday, November 20; 8 p.m. Friday, November 21; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, November 22; 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday, November 23; 8 p.m. Tuesday, November 25; and 8 p.m. Wednesday, November 26, in Center Stage at Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe. Thursday's matinee is audio-described for the visually impaired; a discussion follows Tuesday's show; Wednesday's show is interpreted in American Sign Language. The production continues through Saturday, November 29. Tickets range from $19.50 to $32.50, available via ATC, the Herberger or Dillard's (256-6995, 252-8497, 503-5555).

Gerry Spence: The Western wildcat of a lawyer is known for his cowboy garb, outspoken eccentricity and habit of winning cases. Spence discusses and signs copies of O.J.: The Last Word, his take on America's most infamous trial, at noon Thursday, November 20, at Borders Books & Music at Biltmore Fashion Park, 24th Street and Camelback, Suite 200 (957-6660); and at 5 the same afternoon at the new Southwest Story Teller at Arizona Center, 455 North Third Street, Suite L270 (495-6062).

friday
november 21
The Gate of Heaven: Thematically in key with Phoenix Theatre's Ghetto (see the Performance listing or the related story on page 59), this two-man piece by San Francisco playwrights/actors Lane Nishikawa and Victor Talmadge tells a similarly fact-based though little-known tale of World War II: that of the Japanese-American Army company that helped to liberate the Jewish prisoners of Dachau in April 1945 while its own friends and relations were interned in U.S. camps. Nishikawa and James Carpenter, respectively, enact the roles of Sam and Leon, who form a bond that transcends the passing of time and their differences of birth. Performances are scheduled at 8 p.m. Friday, November 21; 8 p.m. Saturday, November 22; and 2 p.m. Sunday, November 23, at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7380 East Second Street. Saturday's show is interpreted in American Sign Language. Tickets are $22 and $26, available at the center and Ticketmaster (994-2787, 784-4444).

Abra Moore: Though Moore's navel-gazing solo debut didn't even hint at such promise, Strangest Places, the sophomore disc by the Poi Dog Pondering co-founder, makes a case that the gangly singer/songwriter from Texas via Hawaii might be something truly special. Places is listenable throughout, full of finely rendered ear candy with a club-friendly beat. A few of the selections even approach the sublime, the most significant the lovely, off-tempo "Happiness," a misleadingly simple song that's really about the hamster-wheel pursuit of happiness. Moore performs two free shows on Friday, November 21. The first is at 6 p.m. at the new Virgin Megastore at the Arizona Mills mall, Priest and Baseline in Tempe (268-1500); the second starts at 8 at the Bash on Ash, 230 West Fifth Street in Tempe (966-5600).

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