The Pick List: The Week’s Recommended Events

Wednesday, Oct. 30

Simon Winchester

The timing of Simon Winchester’s latest pop history is so perfect it’s almost funny. The Men Who United the States (Harper, $29.99) surveys the men—all men—who through canal, rail, and Napoleon’s land broker crafted this sprawling nation. Absent current events, the book would stand as a thoroughly readable and insightful piece of history. But with the 113th Congress in gridlock, it also serves as an indictment. The United States is a nation created not by royal decree, not by divine right, but by men willing it to happen. The question of whether that will still exist hangs over the entire book; I stepped away from several chapters fearing the answer is “No.” Winchester, born in Britain, recently became a U.S. citizen, and his writing has a newly patriotic streak that leads him to breeze by the dark truths of U.S. history. He acknowledges the crimes committed against Native Americans as settlers expanded west, but he doesn’t spend much time on it. So Indians come off as the proverbial eggs cracked to make the national omelet. Still, Winchester reminds us how an unwieldy collection of states and political interests become a superpower. Seattle Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., 386-4636, Free. 7 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 31

NT Live: Frankenstein

Danny Boyle knows a thing or two about horror. He had James Franco cut off his arm in 127 Hours. He burned James McAvoy alive in Trance. And then there were the swift brain-munching zombies in 28 Days Later. But did you know he also directed theater? Frankenstein is his 2011 adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel, scripted by Nick Dear and staged for England’s National Theatre to much acclaim. Swapping roles on alternating nights, portraying the monster and his creator, were Benedict Cumberbatch (before his star turn as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness) and Jonny Lee Miller (yes, from Trainspotting). Now you can view both versions in one Halloween-tastic evening of filmed theater. “Rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban’s point of view. Boyle’s production is a bravura triumph,” said The Guardian, which also praised the “astonishing performance” by Cumberbatch as the forlorn creature. The New York Times even sent a critic to London, who lauded the “wrenching stage portrait of the terror and wonder of being born.” Should we be surprised that this befuddled, fresh-created monster is treated more sympathetically than the mad doctor who stitched him together from cadaver parts? Not tonight, of all nights. (Also 9 p.m. Sun., Nov. 2.) SIFF Cinema Uptown, 511 Queen Anne Ave. N., 324-9996, $15–$20. 6 p.m.

Black Weirdo Halloween Party

Hip-hop duo THEESatisfaction uses the term “black weirdo” as shorthand to describe the ethos behind its art—one that’s self-assured and unconcerned with the expectations foisted upon musicians who are black, queer, and female. It’s also a banner under which like-minded artists can gather: THEESatisfaction’s website features a series of posts, tagged “black weirdo of the week,” showcasing important, boundary-pushing Seattle artists. The duo has curated parties like tonight’s Halloween event in San Francisco, Toronto, and New York; here they’ve chosen the two Seattle acts that (besides being frequent THEESatisfaction collaborators) most obviously embody the “black weirdo” ideal: avant-garde rap duo Shabazz Palaces and genre-melting beatmaker OCnotes. Along with THEESatisfaction’s Catherine Harris-White, both will play DJ sets at this party that’s shaping up to be totally weird, whether or not you’re in costume. Lo-Fi Performance Gallery, 429 Eastlake Ave. E., 254-2824, $12–$15. 9 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 3

Bot Brawl

With names like Angry Ant, Gutter Monkey, and Mr. Plow, the combatants in this radio-controlled demolition derby do not sound particularly impressive or lethal. Organized by the gearheads at Western Allied Robotics (aka WAR), Bot Brawl likes to keep things small. The combatants are organized by weight, in four divisions from one to 30 pounds. Through a series of preliminary three-minute bouts, the mostly wheeled robots fight in an elevated, Plexiglas-enclosed ring, meaning you and your kids can get plenty close to the carnage. (Don’t worry: The rules prohibit flames or any kind of toxic fuel.) And from a parent’s perspective—especially if you’ve got sons between the ages of, say, 4 and 14—there’s nothing better to do on a soggy autumn afternoon than watch stuff get blowed up real good. We kid about the explosions, of course. And the atmosphere is more wholesome and alcohol-free than Hazard Factory’s power-tool races; it’s more like Tonka trucks meets Mad Max. Most of the devices, as on the old TV show Robot Wars, scuttle about with low and wedge-shaped noses, trying to flip their opponents over like turtles. Their drivers and designers tend to come from engineering and tech backgrounds, meaning not a few Ph.D.’s and software mavens will be working off their workplace frustrations from Microsoft or Amazon. At the same time, as America worries about the skills gap in science and technology education, here’s a way to get your kids hooked on circuit boards and gadget design. From these wee warriors may come future careers at NASA or Google, whose Mars rovers and self-driving cars will have a very different set of design specs, of course. Seattle Center Armory, Free. Noon–6 p.m.

Monday, Nov. 4

Isabella Rossellini

It would be wrong to call the whimsical zoological film/lecture series Green Porno a second career for the great Isabella Rossellini, since she’s had so many. Journalist, model, actress, and now tongue-in-cheek educator—her rich and varied life befits her famous lineage as the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. If Hollywood doesn’t know what to do with her, she does her own thing. Since 2008, that means a series of short films on the sex lives of shrimp, bugs, and the like, wearing colorful costumes and working with a variety of collaborators. Tonight she’ll screen several of those shorts and read from texts by Jean-Claude Carrière. Not all are about sex: Survival in the animal kingdom comes before procreation. But the two topics are intertwined in Green Porno (seen on the Sundance Channel). Why, Rossellini asks, do we and all animals have species-specific sexual organs? “So I don’t get screwed by a bear.” The Moore, 1932 Second Ave., 877-784-4849, $37.50–$62.50. 8 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 5

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

Though it’s been nearly 40 years since they started collaborating, February’s Old Yellow Moon is the first album by Harris and Crowell, two enduring icons of Nashville royalty. As a member of her Hot Band in the ’70s, Crowell is the songwriter behind a long list of Harris’ hits, a partnership that began with “Bluebird Wine” from her 1975 debut Pieces of the Sky. The impeccable instrument that is Harris’ voice never had any difficulty attracting songwriters, but the handful of them she’s repeatedly championed over the years—Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, and Gram Parsons, to name a few—have clearly benefited from her interpretations of their work. (See: “Pancho and Lefty,” “If I Needed You,” “Luxury Liner,” etc.) Meanwhile, Crowell established a highly respected solo career and wrote songs covered by Johnny Cash, Tim McGraw, and Willie Nelson. Yet it’s his projects with women artists that have lately kept him busy, again working with Harris and author Mary Karr (with whom he co-wrote the songs on last year’s Kin, with contributions from Harris and Crowell’s ex-wife, Rosanne Cash). On Moon, Harris and Crowell sing beautifully together. At 66, Harris’ angelic country croon has taken on a weathered patina. With Crowell’s lucid harmonies, they sound effortless and natural, like a couple of old friends catching up over a cup of coffee, as if no time has passed at all. (Sardonic songwriter and guitar virtuoso Richard Thompson opens the show.) Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., 215-4747, $40–$200. 7:30 p.m.

Craig Sheppard

Among many magnificent performances I’ve heard from UW faculty pianist Craig Sheppard, two composers who have stood out are Bach and Rachmaninoff. To one he brings clarity and expressiveness without theatricality; to the other, a technique that conquers the most exacting complications, a sweeping way with a tune, and an arch-romantic grand manner. Put these together and you have just what you need to make the piano music of Brahms work (oh, is that all?), so tonight’s “Mostly Brahms” recital will surely thrill. This repertory poses challenges: an ability to keep Brahms’ dense textures from sounding logy and to tease out his melodies and countermelodies and bring them to life. Plus, in a way, Brahms is a link between the two: a descendant of Bach in that he continued the line of German classicism into the 19th century (as opposed to the more self-consciously “modern” Wagner/Liszt tradition), yet Rachmaninoff’s ancestor as an imposing, serious-minded pianist/composer (as opposed to the more-glitter-than-substance school of virtuosi). Sheppard’s chosen Brahms’ op. 4 Scherzo and the two sets of Klavierstücke, op. 118 and 119. As if that weren’t enough, he’s added (this is the “Mostly” part) Schumann’s Fantasy in C, op. 17: hugely difficult not only in terms of finger dexterity, but, with its episodic structure, in a “Where is this piece going and what am I supposed to do with it?” sense. Meany Hall (UW campus), 543-4880, $12–$20. 7:30 p.m.

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