The members of Grand Ulena long ago declared themselves "ambassadors of St. Louis," and like any good ambassadors, they rarely perform their duties in their hometown. This is either their second or third performance here in St. Louis (depending on if you count their inflammatory opening set for Wilco two years ago), and the gap between the shows is prodigious (something on the order of ten or eleven months). Tonight's show at the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center (3301 Lemp Avenue, 314-771-1096) is probably, like, Grand Ulena's only appearance in Mound City until 2005. Are you really going to pass it up? Don't you want to be hip? You already pierced your uvula and tattooed the words "Earth" and "Dog" on your eyelids; go all the way -- pay the five bucks, show up at 8 p.m. for Cory Ronnau's opening set (he's one half of Sissy Spacek -- but you knew that already) and exult in the furious polynomial-equation rock of Grand Ulena. Dammit, they've done so much for this city, the least you can do is thank them in person.
Thursday, December 4
In the hyper-competitive world of puppet-based comedy, Jeff Dunham stands head and shoulders (and another tiny, puppet-set of head and shoulders) above all other puppet comics. Through his advanced, three-pronged puppet technique, Dunham can go with the hard, cynical comedy of the elderly grouch "Walter," the laconic wit of "José the Jalapeo-on-a-Stick," or he can bust out the head-scratching, avant-garde "Peanut." Witness the work of this modern-day puppetmaster at 8 p.m. tonight at the Funny Bone Comedy Club-Westport (I-270 and Page Avenue; 314-469-6692). Tickets are $25, but if you prorate that at $8.33 per puppet, you're actually seeing Dunham for a mere penny -- and that's comedy value.
Friday, December 5
At last year's exhibit of sculpture by Washington University grad and undergrad art students, one clever piece really stole the show. Someone obtained one of those CPR dolls we used to bang on and blow into in high-school health classes. The doll, representing a real person in distress, lay on the floor just underneath one of those glass-fronted "break-in-case-of-emergency" boxes. Inside the box was a bunch of bananas. You gotta love a plastic person having a fake emergency in a slapstick world (where bananas -- or is it banana peels? -- can save the day): absurd art for absurd times. This year's group sculpture-student show moves from Mossa to ArtDimensions at the Kastle (3207 Washington Avenue) and is rechristened Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey. Guests can check out sculpture in traditional media, along with "video projections, installations and interactive bunny costumes" by 30 artists from 6 to 9 p.m. tonight or noon to 4 p.m. tomorrow (314-935-6500, free, with cash bar).
Saturday, December 6
Staged readings are analogous to "theater, unplugged." All sets and costumes are stripped away, leaving only the technique of the writer and the actor. While certain shows would never, ever work in this format (say, Miss Saigon), the works of Samuel Beckett are particularly suited for the bare-bones production of the staged reading. Beckett's bleak language needs no extra encumbrance to convey its power. The Arts League Players of Edwardsville have wisely chosen to present Beckett's All That Fall, a "radio play" that relies entirely on the sound of the words and their delivery for its dramatic thrust. Enjoy the sparse beauty of Beckett today at the Edwardsville Public Library (112 South Kansas Street, Edwardsville, Illinois; 618-692-0681). The 3 p.m. performance is free.
Sunday, December 7
Maybe the whole reason our planet is going to hell in a Prius is because our grade-school gym teachers forced us to play competitive, cutthroat games, such as dodge ball and duck-duck-goose. Now if we had played noncompetitive games, like building a human pyramid or twenty-minutes-in-the-closet, we might have grown up to become a caring, loving, tight-knit society of compassionate altruists -- nah, we doubt it. They're fighting the good fight over at the Commonspace, where today's Budding Urbanists' Reading Hour, a strangely named new monthly story- and playtime, begins at 3 p.m. Ages three through seven and their parents are welcome to hear animal stories read by actor Phillip Bozich, and play noncompetitive improv games with Christina Meneses-Coan. The free lovefest happens at 615 North Grand Boulevard, where you can also buy cocoa, juice, cookies, coffee and even copies of today's featured storybooks (www.thecommonspace.org).
Monday, December 8
Today is the last day to check out an art exhibit that slinks into and out of town quietly but packs quite a punch. The annual Arts for the Parks competition features hundreds of paintings of natural scenes from our national parks, and the work is the very best that American landscape painters have to offer. The detail in the renderings of cliffs or forests or glass-like lake surfaces is tight like Winslow Homer's, and if you happen to paint landscapes, this is a show that may make you throw away your brushes and give up -- it's really that good. Jennifer Friend's "Death Valley Dunes" is as clear as a photo, and Dan Stouffer's painting of a White Sands, New Mexico landscape is a gateway to an all-white, moody world. Plan to spend at least an hour at the Old Courthouse (11 North Fourth Street, 314-655-1700, www.artsfortheparks.com). Admission is free.
Tuesday, December 9
What's a little art looting? The Vatican and the Hermitage are full of looted art, and we've probably got a few things in our own Saint Louis Art Museum that have passed through Nazi hands. Don't forget the ancient art recently looted from Iraqi museums when the bombs started falling. It was no different 3,000 years ago when a Greek army sacked Troy and made off with the "Treasure of Troy," more than 8,000 gold and silver artifacts worth more than $1 billion today. In a "James Bond/Indiana Jones/Dick Tracy thriller involving lost treasures, international intrigue, war booty, covert operations and unsolved murders," according to UM-St. Louis archaeology professor Michael Cosmopoulos, the booty went through Turkey, Germany and a number of other spots before arriving in Russia, where it remains today. The Archaeological Institute of America-St. Louis Society welcomes Cosmopoulos for a free slide talk on "The Gold Treasures of Troy and Other (In)Famous Stories of Art Looting" at 8 p.m. at Forest Park's Saint Louis Art Museum (314-721-0072, www.slam.org).