THE ART OF THE PERSONAL: This Thursday, Crestwood Coffee Company will hold the opening reception for their newest gallery exhibition—a series of paintings by Atreus Sacco. The young artist is an Alabama School of Fine Arts alumni, and a fresh face in the ever-changing atmosphere of Birmingham art. His work deals in mature themes that can range from loneliness, isolation and diffusion to connection and intimacy. Many of the paintings are noteworthy for their number of layers—new materials obscuring figures and sketches just barely visible under a veneer of gesso, splatters, drips, and other abstractions of shape and color. Sacco draws on decidedly personal experiences— one recent installation incorporated family photos and old home movies; other series of paintings and films have used friends and family as models, however disfigured and indistinguishable they turn out. Visual themes to look for include paper airplanes, tin can telephones, faceless, contortionist figures and strands of notebook paper, among others. This will be Sacco’s first solo show, and will stay up for a month at Crestwood. The reception on Thursday starts at 6 p.m. For more information about daily times and prices, call (205) 595-0300.
ILL COMMUNICATION: As far as I can tell, theater in Birmingham is on the right track. Every week, there are at least two or three interesting productions to check out, with more openings lapping at their heels. Based on the presence of theater alone, I’d assume success. How lucrative those productions are, however, is another story. I can’t claim to know the financial viability of running a theater company, but I can guess that if the city had more troupes like the Extemporaneous Theatre Company, we ’d be even further onto that right track. I’ve talked about the benefits of improv before, how it throws everything out the window and takes a joke to its basest form, as a fleeting thought in a comedian’s head. Unscripted performances are often more fun to watch for me, because anything can, and does, happen. The more companies that embrace improv, the more live theater we’ll be treated to, simply because there’s no rehearsal time in between. The Extemporaneous Theatre Company’s latest show, “Totally Illin’ PM!” makes its premiere this Friday, and continues through Saturday. Both performances start at 8 p.m., and all tickets are $8.75. For more information, call (205) 933-2383 or visit www.extemporaneoustheatre.com.
THE GERMANS LOVE JAPAN: The situation in Japan is another in a long line of disillusioning disasters for which no one really has an answer. All it makes me think about is how quickly it could happen anywhere in the world, at any time. Obviously, America has had their devastations, and most people know in some way or another what it is to lose decades worth of effort in one fleeting storm. But while we may understand and sympathize, and we’re always quick to show support, our relief efforts never last as long as they should. As many have repeated before me, we lose one problem in favor of the next news cycle. Many people might be under the impression that Haiti is doing better, when anyone with a little time to research it would know for certain that is not the case. We have the capacity to help—don’t get me wrong. But we simply don’t know how to manage our priorities. And even as I recognize this, I can still recommend attending The German Club’s “Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief Concert” this Saturday, if for no reason other than the fact that it’s something. If Japan ends up another recycled news story in the wake of another disaster, at least we did the most we could with the attention spans we have. All 100 percent of the proceeds from the fundraiser will go the American Red Cross’ tsunami relief organization. Participating musicians include All Things Equal, Between the Atom, DJ Krystoph, The Dirty Clergy, Oxmoor Road, Softspeak and Zak Mak Attack. No one under 21 will be admitted. The show goes from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. Tickets are $5 at the door. For more information, call (205) 324-5949.
GO OUTSIDE, ALREADY! Much of what I like to recommend in this section are events that involve the actual city of Birmingham. But every once in a while, it’s good to remind people that the Alabama Wildlife Center and Oak Mountain State Park exist, and are quite the viable destinations for getting outdoors. This week, they will host something called “Audobon Teaches Nature: Reptiles and Amphibians of Alabama,” a walk through the park to locate some of their most interesting (you guessed it) reptiles and amphibians. The event will extend from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tickets are free admission, or $3 without. For more information, call (205) 663-7930 or visit www.awrc.org.
GREAT ALABAMIANS RULE! If you’ve lived here a while, you’ve surely been told a little about the important, larger-than-life figures of Alabama history. If you’ve ever been to the Civil Rights Institute, or walked into the Public Library and gazed at their mural of celebrities, you’re somewhat familiar with those parts of our history. Ever wanted something more comprehensive? Roy Hoffman’s latest book, Alabama Afternoons, is a series of profiles Hoffman released through the Mobile-Press Register, detailing the lives of famous Alabamians. Hoffman will be promoting and signing copies of that book at Alabama Booksmith this Monday at 4 p.m. For more information, call (205) 870-4242 or visit www.alabamabooksmith.com.
SUBTITLES ARE YOUR FRIEND: It’s always good to watch more foreign films. Believe me, America produces a lot of fine cinema, but our fine-to-crap ratio is astronomical compared to almost any other country. The UAB Foreign Film Series is a way to expose yourself to some of these films without having to spend a dime. This week, they’re showing Tokyo Sonata, about a Japanese family’s struggles with losing wealth. It starts at 8 p.m., and like I said before, it’s free. For more information, call (205) 934-4250 or visit www.uab.edu.
TERRIBLE TALES: About a month ago, I did a segment on the “Darkness into Life” exhibit at the Birmingham Public Library. The display is a collection of photographs and information about 20 Alabama Holocaust survivors. This week, BPL has invited one such survivor to speak to any willing participant. Max Herzel escaped from Belgium with his family to end up in France, and he surely holds no shortage of simultaneously disturbing and fascinating information. The talk starts at noon, and is free. For more information, call (205) 226-3742 or visit www.bplonline.org.
GOTHIC GOODNESS: Southern Gothicism is a genre that’s hard to avoid. Especially once you’ve lived in the South for more than a few years. Hell, even if you haven’t lived here, you’ve surely been exposed, however briefly, to Faulkner, Capote, O’Connor, McCarthy or any number of others—because the South is a pervasive force in the world of literature. What’s become interesting, over the last few decades, is how musicians have embraced the themes and tone of old Southern Gothic writers. I think foremost of Nick Cave and Tom Waits, two artists that straddle that blues/folk line to create something even darker than what blues and folk can achieve by themselves. Gruff voices swoon over atmospheric noise, chugging beats and other Southern staples—gospel choirs, slide guitar, and a general dirtiness to the sound. One of the only artists I can say has successfully fallen into the wake of this tradition is Jim White. Primarily influenced by gospel recordings, White has produced six albums now that transcend what any individual genre could accomplish. He’ll be playing at Old Car Heaven, following an opener from Glen & Libba. The show starts at 7 p.m. For more information about times and prices, call (205) 324-4545 or visit www.oldcarheaven.com.