Talk to Gus Edwards, and it's clear he has an opinion on everything under the sun. It's also clear that he doesn't take them or himself too seriously, leaving the subject of his latest hour-and-20-minute play, Dear Martin, Dear Coretta, in a rather precarious situation. But under Edwards' deft direction, Martin Luther King Jr. just might shed his somber image for the better. Edwards and his four-year-old theater company, Pipes of Pan, delved into the quagmire of fact, fiction and legend surrounding the historical giant to portray the lesser-known details of King's life. Presented through letters exchanged between King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, the play lacks extravagant sets and costumes, leaving only its provocative soul as fodder for post-theater conversation. The production previews Thursday, January 15, and Friday, January 16, at 8 p.m., and opens Saturday, January 17, at The Space Theatre, 4700 North Central. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for students, and performances last through the end of the month. Call 602-230-0920 or visit www.pipesofpan.org for details. - Elizabeth Exline
The Black Ambition Tour hits Dodge
Plenty of comedians can tickle your funny bone, but what about your brain? A perfect blend of smart and smart-ass, Chris Rock gets laughs while getting to the guts of race, romance and politics. His Black Ambition Tour comes to Dodge Theatre on Thursday, January 15. Call Ticketmaster at 480-784-4444 for ticket info. - Michele Laudig
Dance troupe covers the classics to the modern
Disguising athleticism with a graceful, witty style, the River North Chicago Dance Company puts hot-blooded jazz moves to music both classic and current, from Cole Porter to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Feel the heat at 8 p.m. Saturday, January 17, at the Orpheum Theatre. Call 602-262-7272 for tickets. - Michele Laudig
Gospel group takes over Scottsdale Center for the Arts
If good things come in threes, the Blind Boys of Alabama are set to have a memorable 2004. After all, the gospel group is entering its 64th year with more accolades than ever; the recent release Go Tell It on the Mountain reached No. 1 on the Billboard Gospel Charts just five weeks ago and received a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album. This year may see the Blind Boys' third consecutive win in that category, following Higher Ground last year and Spirit of the Century in 2002. Expect traditional harmonies as well as soulful contemporary tunes when the group performs at Scottsdale Center for the Arts Thursday, January 15. Call 480-994-2787 for details. - Michele Laudig
Irish harpist strums at Kerr
Behold the pluck of the Irish this Friday, January 16, when harpist and storyteller Patrick Ball shares two traditions of Celtic culture. A master of Ireland's ancient brass-strung harp, Ball performs at 8 p.m. Friday at Scottsdale's Kerr Cultural Center, 6110 North Scottsdale Road.
That morning, Ball warms up by hosting ASU's "Coffee at Kerr" series. Coffee and refreshments are served at 10 a.m.; the performance follows at 10:30. Admission is free, but reservations are required. Call 480-596-2660 to RSVP or to purchase tickets to the evening performance, $17.50 to $20.50. - Jill Koch
Mom's the Word
Relationships spell trouble in Eleemosynary
"I'm not going to tell you what it means," says director Patrick Du Laney of Eleemosynary, the latest offering from Theatrescape. But the title comes from a spelling bee within the play. "I was a speller as a youth, so that is what originally interested me in the play," adds Du Laney.
The story centers on three generations of women, played by Barbara McGrath, Lauren Bahlman and Michelle Chin. "They all have strengths and weaknesses and flaws," explains Du Laney, who says the message of the play is forgiveness. "Each woman tries to be what the next generation needs, but they never even come close."
Eleemosynary runs Thursday, January 15, through February 8 at the New School for the Arts and Academics, 1216 East Apache in Tempe. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $10 to $15. Call 602-405-3681. - Quetta Carpenter
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Diss Me, Kate
Love is an uphill battle in Shrew
1/15-1/31 He's gone from a starring role on daytime TV to a sparring role on a Valley stage. All My Children alum James Kiberd plays the persevering Petruchio in Southwest Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, opening Thursday, January 15.
Marking the local troupe's 10th dramatic year, the Bard's battle of the undersexed -- and the inspiration for Broadway's Kiss Me, Kate -- continues through January 31 at Westwood High School Auditorium, 945 West Eighth Street in Mesa. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, following a 7 p.m. director's orientation and green show. Discussions follow most performances. Tickets are $20 for adults, $16 for seniors/students and $10 for children; $10 student rush tickets are available after 7:15 p.m. Call 480-990-4404 or see www.swshakespeare.com for more information. - Jill Koch