Jeff Dunham is a comic. He's also a ventriloquist. He recently released Excess Baggage, a CD in which some of his wooden pals -- and Hollywood Squares co-stars -- do their best Ashlee Simpson impressions. Dunham deftly moves from character to character without missing a beat. At least, we think he does. It's kinda hard to tell, since we can't actually see what's going on. We'll just have to give Dunham the benefit of the doubt that there's a dummy on his knee and he isn't moving his lips, while José Jalapeño and Peanut upstage the guy whose hand is up their butts. Dunham is at the Cleveland Improv (2000 Sycamore Street) through Sunday. Show times are 8 p.m. tonight and Sunday, 8 and 10:15 p.m. tomorrow, 7:15, 9:30, and 11:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $21; call 216-696-4677.
Friday, November 12
Is it too early to name Sideways the best movie of the year? From Alexander Payne, director of Election and About Schmidt, this smart story -- featuring a pair of buddies who take a week-long tour of wine country on the eve of one's nuptials -- is a subtle, funny, and loving portrait of friendship and responsibility. The soon-to-be-married guy (Thomas Haden Church, who played the mechanic on Wings) is immature and selfish; he's on the trip to get laid. His divorced pal (American Splendor's Paul Giamatti, perfecting rumpled discontent) just wants to sample the product of California's vineyards. Along the way, they hook up with a couple of local girls (including the radiant Virginia Madsen), play some golf, and drink lots and lots of wine. It opens today at the Cedar Lee. See Short Takes.
Part of the fun with poetry is surveying the names of the rhymers. And Def Poetry Jam, which comes to Akron tonight, has some of the best monikers in the biz: Lemon, Poetri, and (our favorite) Black Ice are among the wordsmiths taking the stage at Russell Simmons's hip-hop-fueled slam. And these aren't typical book-toting poem readers; Def Jammers mark their territory, punctuating their rhymes with flailing fists and jumps. Roll over, Longfellow. Show time is 8 p.m. at Akron Civic Theatre, 182 South Main Street in Akron. Tickets range from $23.50 to $43.50, available by calling 330-253-2488.
Saturday, November 13
Dead Horse Gallery is finally closing its doors. After announcing that it was shuttering a year ago, the four-year-old art enclave managed to keep itself on life support by presenting exhibits at other venues (like public libraries) and repeatedly postponing the inevitable. Douglas Max Utter's Spillway (Blobs and Halos) -- a mix of recent paintings and prints inspired by random placements of latex on canvas -- is the gallery's final show. Really. It's at Dead Horse (14900 Detroit Avenue, Suite 311 in Lakewood) through December 11; the gallery's open from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Admission is free. Call 216-228-7214 for more info.
Sunday, November 14
It's not even Thanksgiving, and already Santa's elves are busy touting the upcoming holiday season. The 33rd annual Christkindl Markt (no e's, please) features more than 100 juried artisans from across the country displaying handcrafted paintings, jewelry, photography, and of course, holiday items. Food and live entertainment will also be there to ease the transition into shopping season. The Christkindl Markt is opn 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Avenue in Canton. Admission is $5, $4 for kids; call 330-453-7666.
Monday, November 15
Trans-Siberian Orchestra provides the perfect soundtrack to Christmas in the 21st century: an outrageously loud and bombastic attack on the senses, wrapped in seasonal pomp. The N.Y.C.-based collective -- led by composer and producer Paul O'Neill -- recently released what must be its 500th holiday CD, The Lost Christmas Eve. Mixing traditional numbers ("What Child Is This?") with originals ("Wish Liszt") and spinning the entire project into some sort of concept about holiday spirit, TSO has effectively made Christmas even more overbearing. Onstage, at least, the 60-member group flourishes, merging rock, classical, pop, and whatever else O'Neill has in his bag of musical gifts. TSO rocks the Akron Civic Theatre (182 South Main Street in Akron) at 7:30 tonight. Tickets are $31.50 and $43.50; call 330-253-2488.
Tuesday, November 16
Best-selling author Susan Isaacs (Compromising Positions) swears she doesn't know where her protagonists come from. "These characters just walk into my head," she claims. "They don't even knock." Her newest book, Any Place I Hang My Hat, is about Amy Lincoln, a political reporter investigating an illegitimate son of a presidential candidate ("I was a freelance political speechwriter," explains Isaacs). This spurs exploration into Amy's own past, which includes a wayward mother, a shoplifting grandmother, and a jailbird dad. "There's so much social mobility in the country," says Isaacs. "And there's even more geographical mobility. And if you don't stay where you started out -- whether it's with your family or what you've hoped for -- where do you put yourself? Where's home? I relate to Amy in that way." Isaacs signs her book at 7 p.m. at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 24519 Cedar Road in Lyndhurst. Admission is free. For more information, call 216-691-7000.
Wednesday, November 17
She's done time in both Live Skull and Come, but indie rocker Thalia Zedek is more passive on her solo albums. Her latest, Trust Not Those in Whom Without Some Touch of Madness (what? Did Alanis Morissette help name this?), is a slow-burning and intimate affair, casually moving from lo-fi art-rock to singer-songwriter confessionals. There's hurt in her voice, but there's also resignation, which resonates through every song. Zedek is at the Beachland Tavern (15711 Waterloo Road) at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8, available by calling 216-383-1124.