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Street photographers usually don’t want to be noticed. In the ’30s, Ben Shahn used a trick lens so that he could stand at right angles to his subjects and appear to shoot something else. Lely Constantinople and Antonia Tricarico don’t use such trickery: Their mostly black-and-white portraits of people in daily life are revealing—and slyly funny—even when their subjects are staring into the lens. Constantinople talks with her subjects, exchanges addresses, and eventually sends them prints of her finished pictures. Adishewe Akinseye and Her Brothers is typical: A young African-American girl bends down toward her two younger brothers, gathering them closer. The youngest brother, down in the lower third of the picture, clutches a large pair of pliers and stares nervously; the older brother holds his head high, projecting attitude. This psychologically rich image seems wholly contemporary—until one notices the odd Peanut Hut sign behind them, featuring a faded cartoon of a giant steaming peanut. Constantinople likes handwriting in the urban landscape: In Laundromat, a boy sprints past hand-painted images of washers and dryers; in other shots, memorials to the fallen or ominous messages—say, land of the lost—are sprayed onto masonry, tree trunks, and pavement. Tricarico enjoys strange correspondences, as well: Her four candid images of Fugazi (in which her husband, Joe Lally, played bass), all in a row and on the same print, sit across from Skid Row, another sequence of four images, depicting a homeless woman gathering trash. The show’s presentation is typical Transformer: The photos are packed close together, floor to ceiling, unframed, giving the impression of a contemporary installation piece. But the work is more traditional and conservative than this treatment suggests, and these pictures would benefit from cleaner presentation and room to breathe. “Seen” is on view from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, to Saturday, March 10, at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. Free. (202) 483-1102. (Jeffry Cudlin)

Thursday, Feb. 8

Like some mythic creature from the medieval bestiary, Child Ballads is rarely seen, difficult to hear, and—when finally experienced—elusive. Fronted by ex–Jonathan Fire Eater singer Stewart Lupton, the band materializes in concert only once or twice a year, then quickly vanishes. After months of delay and anticipation, the band’s debut EP is finally available—but only in the United Kingdom. The music itself is just as mysterious. Still one of D.C.’s most gifted performers, Lupton bursts with tumbling poetry that’s one part Charles Simic and two parts Mick Jagger. “I tried hard to make the world an exotic place,” claims Lupton during the song “Cheekbone Hollows”—and if one were to judge by his lyrics about blooming wallpaper, secret handshakes, and animal bones, he’s succeeded. Child Ballads is a timid and bizarre animal but one that’s certainly worth the time it takes to seek it out. Child Ballads performs with Dust Galaxy, Revival, and Georgie James at 8:30 p.m. at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. $12. (202) 265-0930. (Aaron Leitko)

Friday, Feb. 9

Perhaps the children of the ’60s had an excuse for missing out on Vashti Bunyan. After all, they lived in the era of sexual awakening and mind expansion—only squares would have listened to songs about lily ponds and tea when they could have been spending their days romping in the “Octopus’s Garden” and their nights grinding to “Foxy Lady.” But in 2007, a time of sexual overexposure and mind flaccidity, there’s no longer any reason to overlook the psyche-folk luminary. There’s now something comforting about music that aspires to innocence and domesticity instead of sinful curiosity. Warm and welcoming, Bunyan’s songs are about as scandalous as a worn copy of The Tale of Peter Rabbit; they revolve around simple pleasures such as pets, gardens, and family—and offer a fanciful escape to modern tedium without any messy flashbacks. Bunyan performs with Vetiver and Vandaveer at 9 p.m. at the Rock and Roll Hotel, 1353 H St. NE. $18. (202) 388-7625. (Aaron Leitko)

Given the sheer number of Shakespeare productions trying to take an ‘original’ or ‘daring’ spin on the playwright’s work, it was only a matter of time before a company tried not just one but two flips on a particular piece. That’s exactly what self-styled rebels and nonprofit theater company the Rude Mechanicals are trying with their production of Much Ado About Nothing. For starters, it’s set in 1943, with Europe burning to its foundations and all the men on the battlefield. Setting a Shakespeare play within an age-of-fascism context isn’t exactly a new trick—Orson Welles dressed the protagonists of Julius Caesar in Nazi-inspired uniforms, and Ian McKellen starred in a film version of Richard III set in a 1930s totalitarian England—but the Rude Mechanicals take it one step further, employing a conceit from the Bard’s time: a unisex cast. With the men off to fight World War II, it’s all women taking part in this particular battle of the sexes, with Hero (Morrigan Condo), Claudio (Elise Berg), Benedick (Jaki Demarest), and Beatrice (Branda Lock) engaging in cuckoldry, disguise, and “skirmish of wit” (Elizabethan for romantic-comedy banter)—adding yet more layers of illusion to an already complex work. The play begins at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, and Saturday, Feb. 10, at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. $15. (301) 317-7964. (Nick Kolakowski)

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Jenna McCracken’s carving up cuts of preserved pottery at Dupont Circle’s Meat Market Gallery, in a performance that lives up to the venue’s name. The sculptural performance—hosted in the project space, a former meat locker—bears a resemblance to Roxy Paine’s late-’90s SCUMAK (Auto Sculpture Maker). McCracken’s performance is composed of three stages. She—or one of her assistants—begins with clay, which she throws on a wheel and shapes into small pots; she slices these vertically into halves. Despite the distancing name, this “generation” station features the regular tools of the trade: wheel, water, shaping knives, and so on. Another person mans the “preservation” station, featuring tools less familiar to craft: Using generic food-saver plastic bags and a vacuum sealer, the preservation technician encases two clay halves. The pot pieces implode in the process, folding in on themselves and taking on vaguely organic shapes. At the “presentation” station, each sealed artifact is signed, sealed, and delivered by a third technician. Hanging along the walls, the artifacts have the look of anthropological samples discovered at a dig; the technicians’ white frocks and sleek protective eyewear enhance the effect. (McCracken’s undergraduate degree is, in fact, in anthropology.) Tagged and priced at $16 per pound, the objects carry an eerie similarity to harvested organs. More significant, the pottery pokes at the distinction between high art and oft-snubbed craft, postulating that the latter is the tradition with the longer history. Stasis is on view from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, to Sunday, Feb. 25, at Meat Market Gallery, 1636 17th St. NW; performances run from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Free. (202) 328-6328. (Kriston Capps)

For Nigerian-born novelist Chris Abani, cities are traps. Elvis, the adolescent hero of his 2004 breakthrough novel, GraceLand, struggled to hustle his way out of chaotic Lagos; the young heroine of his follow-up, 2006’s Becoming Abigail, is all but imprisoned after she’s sold into prostitution in London. The East L.A. depicted in Abani’s latest novel, The Virgin of Flames, isn’t much cheerier: Here, gangbangers use dogs for target practice, overdoses are part of everyday life, and Black, a starving artist, flays himself over his infatuation with Sweet Girl, a transsexual stripper. Abani is a muscular, lyrical stylist, and that talent has often allowed him to cover up his weaker characterizations. But in The Virgin of Flames he richly imagines the people who surround Black, including Iggy, a boutique owner who lets Black use her space, and Bomboy, a butcher who participated in the Rwandan genocide. (“Human bodies are hard to cut with a dull knife,” he tells Black. “Cause many blisters.”) The plot follows Black’s struggle to build a relationship with Sweet Girl while dumping the baggage of his sexually abusive childhood, causing an emotional short circuit that all but forces the novel into its overly melodramatic conclusion. But Abani is aiming for a mix of gritty realism, sexual transgression, and spiritual intensity that has no real model in American fiction; where a weaker writer might turn this material into a Bukowski–Selby-Marquez purée, Abani has crafted a cleareyed and compassionate portrait of an urban underclass. Abani discusses and signs copies of his work Friday, Feb. 9, at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Mark Athitakis)

Saturday, Feb. 10

American public-service films of the post–World War II era are notorious for their clumsy style and ham-fisted moralizing, but it appears that the Brits took the genre a bit more seriously. The six government-sponsored shorts in “How to Survive the 1940s” address typical topics such as child nutrition and sexually transmitted disease, but they do so with higher production values and better writing than what Uncle Sam was cranking out at the same time. Of course, the films are still capable of inducing belly laughs, depending on your favored version of U.K. humor: Pythonians will dig the food-poisoning film, which plays like a Rube Goldberg machine of germ transmission; Blackadderists should enjoy the cynical narrator in the traffic safety short; and Benny Hill devotees might wonder what the comedian would’ve done with the film about typing pools. The films show at 12:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, and 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th St. & Constitution Ave. NW. Free. (202) 737-4215. (Joe Warminsky)

Sunday, Feb. 11

It’s easy to envision a dancer with the name Princess Mhoon Cooper floating across a stage and twirling about in a frilly costume, looking airy and bright. Mhoon Cooper, however, is not one for dance that is easy. The D.C. performer/choreographer’s 2003 solo debut, “Women of the Last Half Hour,” was about the increasing number of women infected with HIV; “This Woman’s Work,” a program co-curated by Mhoon Cooper, tackled issues including body image, spirituality, and sexuality. Named one of Dance Magazine’s “Top 25 to Watch,” Mhoon Cooper participates in “Black Expressions: Dance,” in which she will showcase her expertise in modern, hip-hop, jazz, ballet, and African dance forms. Expect light feet and heavy themes when Mhoon Cooper performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, at Dance Place, 3225 8th St. NE. $20. (202) 269-1600. (Sarah Godfrey)

Monday, Feb. 12

If local journalist (and Washington City Paper contributing writer) Adam Mazmanian’s perception of Valentine’s Day happiness could be stamped on one of the chalky candy hearts that will be passed around as part of the F.W. Thomas Performances’ “Breakup Episode,” it would read hope u choke on me. Attendees to the Hallmark Holiday–themed edition of Mazmanian’s “semi-monthly, live-action, literary variety show” are encouraged to bring their “unsent love letters, breakup stories, and tales of romance so humiliating that you have repressed them under a feeble veneer of good humor for most of your waking life,” to the occasion. This rare opportunity provides one with the chance to share the shameful truth of your undesirability with a roomful of strangers who will, in all probability, squeal with delight at your broken-hearted misfortune—and all to the tune of a live violin accompaniment. Remember: They’re not laughing at you, they’re laughing at your pathetic excuse for a love life when the performances begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Warehouse Theater, 1021 7th St. NW. $5. (202) 783-3933. (Matthew Borlik)

Tuesday, Feb. 13

Baltimore’s James “Twig” Harper has always been a tad more modest than other contemporary electronic musicians regarding his power needs—relying instead on an arsenal of makeshift equipment, homemade oscillators, and modified toy instruments—though not always by choice. Last March, while in Brooklyn to take part in the annual ear-ringing gathering known as “No Fun Fest,” disaster struck: An accidental fire broke out in his home turned practice space. The damage to the already decrepit building was extensive and has since left him with no electricity. Thankfully, the absence of working outlets in his home hasn’t kept Harper completely in the dark: Less than a year after the fire he’s back to twiddling knobs and mutating tape-loops with a lo-tech aesthetic—perhaps with the help of more than a few batteries. Bring a package of Duracells when Harper performs with Sightings, Demons, and Ultimate VAG at 9 p.m. at the Velvet Lounge, 915 U St. NW. $8 . (202) 462-3213. (Mike Petillo)

Wednesday, Feb. 14

If critics across the nation can’t help but heap continuous praise on Matthew Bourne’s dance adaptation of Tim Burton’s film, Edward Scissorhands, they have even less control over their collective use of groan-inducing puns while doing so. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review says the touring production “cuts to the heart of the story”; the Charlotte Observer calls it a “cutting-edge fantasy”; the San Francisco Chronicle has gone so far as to declare it “a cut above the musical norm.” But if the sentiments behind such not-quite-witticisms are to be believed, the gothic fairy tale is every bit as versatile as it is timeless: Stripped of all dialogue and accompanied by new musical arrangements based on composer Danny Elfman’s original cinematic score, Burton’s examination of the social intolerance festering underneath suburbia’s visage of single-family-home happiness has lost none of its poignancy—nor its sharpness. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, 2700 F St. NW. $29–$84. (202) 467-4600; see City List for a complete schedule. (MB)

Thursday, Feb. 15

Who would have guessed that more than 20 years ago—when they first proclaimed we must fight for our right to party—the Beastie Boys weren’t simply advocating the reckless consumption of cheap booze but instead challenging the societal restrictions placed on a primal urge that has driven mankind since ancient times? The denial of such “ecstatic revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing,” claims social critic and journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, is more than just a bummer—it’s a contributor to large-scale individual depression. Ehrenreich—most famous for writing Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America—tackles the suppression of mass celebration in Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. By scrutinizing Western culture’s war on Dionysian ecstasy, as well as hearty partying’s unlikely survival in the forms of sports and rock ’n’ roll, Ehrenreich argues that the need to get down is not just a cultural prerogative but a human necessity. Ehrenreich discusses and signs copies of her work at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Justin Moyer)