Arts

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The Weekender: Presidential precedents, dead poets, and scary puppets

President Obama with US troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in a scene from the documentary “The Final Year.”
The White House/Magnolia Pictures
President Obama with US troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in a scene from the documentary “The Final Year.”

Is it possible to use your mind to stay warm? Can thinking warm thoughts fend off the winter chill? Can the imagination be the parka of consciousness? The answer may surprise you: Of course not. And that last question doesn’t even make sense.

Besides, it’s going to be slightly warmer this weekend, which means you’ll finally be able to think straight. And to take advantage of this partial thaw, this weekend’s selection of events offers something of a sustained cerebral limbering session — cultural calisthenics, even. No yoga pants required. (Please.)

WHEN WE WERE GROWN-UPS: The Globe’s Ty Burr gives three stars to Greg Barker’s new documentary “The Final Year,” which covers the closing act of Obama’s second term. Made for HBO but getting wide release ahead of broadcast, what could be a toast-dry toast to a retired president feels more like a heartbreaking work of staggering competence: “Regardless of what you think of that administration’s track record — or unless you’re a regular imbiber of Fox News Kool-Aid — the team’s professionalism, empathy, and pragmatic idealism are enough to make you weep with all that has gone missing,” writes Burr. Featuring Barack Obama himself, along with John Kerry, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. Opens Friday.

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DRY AND MIGHTY: While we’re doting on prezzies past, on Saturday evening you can catch a spirited chat between the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner and the endlessly listenable historian and author Sarah Vowell on the man of the hour [old timey drum roll] Abraham Lincoln! (Who did you think?) Moderator and Civil War scholar John Stauffer will ensure things don’t get too spirited. “The Lincoln Legacy” is presented by Celebrity Series of Boston, and you can grab tickets here.

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FEEL THE BERNHARD: If you prefer something equally dry but way stronger and with a healthy splash of bitters, the unblurbable Sandra Bernhard is coming to City Winery on Friday with her rock ’n’ roll comedy/cabaret one-woman-show “Sandemonium,” which stitches together select bits from recent New York performances in a kind of, uh, sort of a Sweeney-Sisters-meets-Hedwig-via . . . ah well, I’ll just let her do it: “What I’m attempting to do is break through the mundane, reflect on the obvious, and put it through my own meat grinder of a worldview,” she told Terry Byrne. “I use rock ’n’ roll songs to tell stories that cut through the hyperbole and crap.” So yeah, what she said. It’s, of course, sold out, But there’s a waiting list

MASTER BLASTER: If you’re more in the market for jokes that go down like shots of Wild Turkey, on Saturday night renowned Boston comedy vet Lenny Clarke brings a crew of close funny friends to the stage of Lexington’s Cary Hall. Will Clarke’s unpredictable, no-holds-barred, old-school style bring you back to a decisively yikes-ier era of comedy? It might! Will he talk about how secretly funny Bill Belichick is? I hope so! Will there be uncomfortable moments you’re not quite sure what to do with? My friends, that’s the Weekender guarantee. You can grab tickets here.

Kelly McIntyre stars in “A Night With Janis Joplin.”
Randy Johnson
Kelly McIntyre stars in “A Night With Janis Joplin.”

SHE SHREDS: On Friday and Saturday, you can catch one of three performances of “An Evening With Janis,” which is exactly (or almost exactly) what it sounds like, thanks to a spot-on performance from (freshly promoted) Newton North High School grad Kelly McIntyre in the lead role as the late Janis Joplin. Staged as a kind of rock opera in two sets, the “Evening” explores not just the personal letters and unseen sides of the young legend, but also the courage and guidance she owed to African-American singers who came before her, from Odetta and Bessie Smith to Etta James, Nina Simone, and Aretha Franklin. Fair warning: Anyone doing this plus the Sandra show is going to require some serious diva detox on Sunday. Tickets here.

WILL CALL: SpeakEasy Stage Company brings the New England premiere of super-1590s rom-com “Shakespeare in Love” to the Wimberly Theatre at the Boston Center of the Arts through Feb. 10, and Don Aucoin digs it, praising the “customary elan” of director Scott Edmiston, who “ensures that the action flows with such verve that the clumsy parts of [Lee] Hall’s sometimes-overly on-the nose script, adapted from Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s screenplay for the 1998 film, are less bothersome than they otherwise might be.” But “what also courses unmistakably through ‘Shakespeare in Love,’ ” he writes, “is a sheer love of theater and the eccentric, egotistical, obsessive, theatrical people who make it.” Tickets here.

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DANCER AND THE DARK: If you’re not big on seeing Shakespeare (or adaptations thereof), you may be a crank but you’re in good company. The late Russian poet and Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky would join you on the couch; as Patti Hartigan tells it via his close friend Mikhail Baryshnikov, he was no fan of Shakespeare. Or theater. Or ballet. Which makes his longtime friendship with Baryshnikov a precious, unusual thing, as well as the center of the latter’s new 90-minute multimedia solo piece. “Brodsky/Baryshnikov” finds the legendary dancer reciting and interpreting lines from the poet, though he seems more lost in conversation with a lost friend. Presented by the Cherry Orchard Festival (in Russian with surtitles), it runs through Jan. 21 at the Cutler Majestic Theatre. Find tickets here.

STROKES OF GENIUS: Cate McQuaid has good things to say about “Legacy of the Cool: A Tribute to Barkley L. Hendricks,” now on view at Massachusetts College of Arts’ Bakalar & Paine Galleries. The assembly of artists who’ve followed in the brush strokes of the influential painter makes for “a bright and breathtaking show that toggles between celebratory, Hendricks-style cool and a more urgent reckoning with racism,” she writes. Featuring works from two dozen artists including Steve Locke, Amy Sherald, Elia Alba, Delphine Diallo, Rashid Johnson, Simone Leigh, and Tomashi Jackson, it’s up through March 3. More info here.

IRISH-IZE: Shake off those Dolores doldrums (tall order, I’m right there with you) in favor of a few pints worth of the Boston Celtic Music Festival, which takes over Club Passim, the Atrium, and the Sinclair from Friday to Sunday. It’s the festival’s 15th year, and the lineup continues to venture far beyond the auld sod for its definition of “Celtic,” as Zoe Madonna reminds us. At BCMF you may hear “Irish airs square off with rollicking Cape Breton fiddle tunes” or “snappy Scottish strathspey in one room, and driving Quebecois foot percussion in another.” Or me sob-screaming “Linger” into a Guinness. I’d prefer you look away if you see that. Appreciated. More info here.

DOC APPOINTMENT: The beloved documentarist Frederick Wiseman will deliver the Norton Lectures in Cinema on Jan. 29 and Feb. 5, but in the meantime there’s a partial retrospective of some of his best works at the Harvard Film Archive through Feb. 18. You can catch “High School” (1968) and “High School II” (1994) at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday respectively, as well as screenings of “Hospital” and . . . oh what the hell, go back Sunday for “Kiss Me Kate” and “Cabaret.” Live that life! (By the way, if you have a library card, you can watch all of Wiseman’s works for free, right here.)

THE VOICES: And finally from the outside world, since we’ve really overloaded on smarties, here are some dummys (or puppets, I think we’re supposed to call them puppets now). Darci Lynne Farmer is a 13-year-old ventriloquist, singer, YouTube celebrity, and “America’s Got Talent” champ. Am I terrified of her? I think you know me well enough by now to know that of course I am. But I’m also fascinated, and objectively impressed by her skills, however frightening they may be. She and her “friends” come to the Chevalier Theatre in Medford on Sunday for a pair of performances at 3 and 7 p.m. Find tickets here.

An image of Lorraine Hansberry from “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart.”
Lorraine Hansberry Properties Trust
An image of Lorraine Hansberry from “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart.”

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OR STAY IN! On Friday, your best bet is the premiere of Boston documentarist Tracy Heather Strain’s biographical film on “Raisin in the Sun” playwright Lorraine Hansberry, “Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart” at 9 p.m. on PBS.

Then on Sunday, folksy insurance guy/abusive jazz teacher guy J.K. Simmons has a new sci-fi thriller premiering on Starz. It’s called “Counterpart,” and Matthew Gilbert is kind of ehhh on it — and not just because the plot is . . . complicated. Also on Sunday is the second season of Lexington native Pete Holmes’s charmingly awkward stumbling-from-grace comedy “Crashing” on HBO.

And for whenever you set about making your wings, consider the new Joe Perry album, “Sweetzerland Manifesto,” for your wing-making music. I don’t know why, I just really feel like these two things can work together. All smoky and spicy and stuff. I may just be hungry.

(And for that, I blame the Globe’s list of Boston’s Best New Restaurants, which come to think of it, may end up foiling all of these brainy plans I thought I had.)

And that, my very stable Weekenders, is all I’ve got for you this week. Well, that and I received some of the Wirth news ever this week. (I’ll see myself out.) Until next week, here’s to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; if those don’t work, there’s always Monday.

See you next week!

 Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at mbrodeur@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur