Editors' Picks, May/June 2014
Monday, May 5, 2014
Hello there, noble reader! We're rolling out a new web format for our bimonthly Editors' Picks: combining all three sets of Picks into one piece. Let us know how you like it!
Since its founding in 2002, the Exit Theatre's DivaFest has been devoted to new work by female playwrights, so it's interesting that the play premiering in a full production at this year's fest was actually written by a man: Stuart Bousel, impresario of No Nude Men Productions, the San Francisco Olympians Festival and San Francisco Theater Pub. But Bousel's Rat Girl is adapted from the memoir of the same name by Kristin Hersh, an alt-rock icon known primarily for her seminal band Throwing Muses and also as a solo recording artist. Bousel's play is billed as "part biography, part rock concert, part experimental theatre" and includes live covers of Throwing Muses songs. Claire Rice directs a cast that includes Exit artistic director Christina Augello. Also in this year's festival is a staged reading/workshop of Margery Fairchild's play Pas de Quatre, which also had a reading in the 2012 fest, and At the White Rabbit Burlesque by returning performers Red Velvet and If-N'-Whendy, whose burlesque shows have been part of DivaFest for the last few years. Visit theexit.org.
Shay Wisniewski, Allison Fenner, Heather Kellogg, Sam Jackson and Eli Diamond in Rat Girl. Photo: Claire Rice
Daylighting: The Berkeley Stories Project
May 22–Jun. 22
Berkeley's Shotgun Players have experimented before with plays woven out of community interviews, in playwright Marcus Gardley's one-two punch of 2006's Love Is a Dream House in Lorin, about Shotgun's own South Berkeley neighborhood, and 2009's This World in a Woman's Hands, an ode to Rosie the Riveter and the Richmond shipyards. Now the company takes another look at the rich patchwork of its hometown culture in this commissioned world premiere by Dan Wolf. Daylighting weaves together the stories of a myriad of Berkeley residents, seen through the eyes (and heard through the ears) of a questing young Berkeley High grad named Bee. Visit shotgunplayers.org.
T.I.C. (Trenchcoat in Common)
Main Stage West
Marin-bred playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb has a diabolical knack for very dark comedy, and that's certainly on display in T.I.C. (Trenchcoat in Common), which San Francisco's Encore Theatre Company commissioned and premiered at Magic Theatre in 2009. Now that her mother's dead and she's been sent to live with a sperm-donor dad she'd never met, a perpetually annoyed teenage girl spends her days spying on and blogging about her oddball neighbors in a San Francisco apartment building. These include a chatty flasher (thus the trench coat), a sensitive songwriter, a fragile and needy young woman, an ardent feminist activist, and the girl's lonely, gay-porn-addicted dad. Oh, and one of these may very well be a murderer. It's great to see the play being given a second life so close to home when Sheri Lee Miller stages it at Sebastopol's Main Stage West. Visit mainstagewest.com.
May 17–Jun. 22
The latest new play to come out of the new Central Works Writers Workshop is local playwright Sally Dawidoff's adaptation of Ha Jin's 2002 novel about a graduate student in China in the days leading up to the Tiananmen Square massacre. (Born and raised in China, Jin himself was studying at Brandeis at the time of the incident, and naturally opted not to return to his home country after that.) The story centers on the student's relationship with a professor who's had a stroke and now spends his days raving about the wrongs of the regime, and the life-changing effect these discussions have on the younger man. Visit centralworks.org.
Impact Theatre/Ferocious Lotus Theatre Company
May 1–Jun. 8
Christopher Chen makes complicated things beautiful. And beautifully. His Glickman Award–winning meta-meta-metatheatrical play The Hundred Flowers Project depicts the sinister machinery of political power as created by, manifested in, and defended by performance—all that and it was a good play, too. Mutt gets up close and personal about race, specifically the complex negotiations involved in being hapa (of mixed Asian/Pacific Islander-and-something-else descent) in America. It's lighter in tone than Flowers, too; an earlier version of the title was Mutt: Or What We Think We're Talking About When We Think We're Talking About Maybe Talking About Race Maybe Sometimes? This world premiere is the first coproduction between the more established Impact Theatre and Ferocious Lotus, a newish company launched in 2010 after cofounder Lily Tung Crystal won a Titan Award to get it rolling; its mission is to improve Asian American actors' access to support, training, mentorship and work. Evren Odcikin directs. Visit impacttheatre.com.
Michael Uy Kelly and Matthew Lai in the world premiere of Mutt: Let's All Talk About Race! by Christopher Chen. Coproduced by Impact Theatre and Ferocious Lotus Theatre Company. Photo: Cheshire Isaacs
May 21–Jun. 15
Christina Anderson is all over the place. I don't mean she's scattered; I mean she's had work staged at Steppenwolf, Yale Rep, ACT and NY's Public Theater, just to name a few. If you didn't catch Good Goods at Crowded Fire (2012), or even if you did, this is your chance to see a world premiere by a writer American Theatre magazine named as one of 15 artists "whose work will be transforming America's stages for decades to come." In this darkly mysterious play, set in 1896, a father and son board a ship bound for Africa; what they discover on the open sea will change their lives forever. Visit magictheatre.org.
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fair(l)y Stupid Tales
Peninsula Youth Theatre
There will always be a soft spot in my heart for this surreal, snarky, not-necessarily-children's book, now adapted for stage. Peninsula Youth Theatre, for its part, has won awards for both its performances and its success as a program for developing participants' self-esteem and leadership skills through teamwork and shared responsibility. In short, this looks like one of those win-win situations. Happily, with stories like "Little Red Running Shorts" and "Jack's Bean Problem," the material is also likely to offer audiences (and performers!) welcome relief from saccharine-sweet musicals and bowdlerized, fangless "classics" that can plague TYA. Visit pytnet.org.
The Fifth String
Golden Thread Productions
May 2–4 & 15–18
As a card-carrying music nerd, I'm always excited to learn more about the history of music. The subject of this playful biography, Ziryab, was a 9th-century musician of cultural-hero proportions, as not only the pioneer who brought Persian and Arabic musical influences to Spain (which changed Spanish music forever) but an extravagant fashionista and consummate courtier, and quite possibly the guy who invented toothpaste. This "family-friendly" production at Oakland's Islamic Cultural Center and SF's Brava Theater Center also features live original music; look up any of the musicians on your computron to find YouTube videos proving they're not messing around. (If you really feel like immersing yourself, May 17 is "Classical Persian Music Night" at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley.) Visit goldenthread.org.
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind
San Francisco Neo-Futurists
As a theatre critic, I don't usually see shows twice. (I prefer to spread the, er, love.) What's drawn me back to TMLMTBGB isn't just the fact that each performance is different. It's also the raw, contagious energy of rapid-fire creation. Following the same format as the Neo-Futurists in Chicago and New York, the ensemble races to perform 30 bite-size plays, in an order determined by the audience, in 60 minutes. If it doesn't beat the clock, the remaining plays don't get performed. They might be gone forever: each week, the ensemble throws out some plays and writes and rehearses new ones to replace them. Those could be deeply moving dance pieces ("In the Land of the Blind"), silly romps ("Nudity for One") or terrifying bits of satire ("Such a Pretty Me"). All, however, spring from that joyous place where impulse is celebrated, where idea germ is lifeblood. Visit sfneofuturists.com.
Zoë Lehman, Amy Langer, Micael Bogar, Megan Cohen and Lily Mooney in San Francisco Neo-Futurists' Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Photo: Adam Smith
Savage in Limbo
The Rabbit Hole
May 30–Jun. 7
All five characters in this John Patrick Shanley play, one of his earliest, are 32. Having fallen short of their youthful ideals, they are now digging the ruts that will define the rest of their lives, but not without protest. In a dive bar in the Bronx, they all act out, obliquely but passionately (one holds forth about his new plan to have sex only with "ugly girls"), against the fates they have carved for themselves. Lynda Bachman's production emphasizes the play's connection to millennials, by many accounts the first generation to be worse off than their parents. Visit therabbitholesf.com.
never fall so heavily again
The title of this piece of dance theatre comes from a lyric of Diana Krall's "Narrow Daylight," which, like the show, delves into heartbreak. Told in flashback with three main characters and nine performers, the piece, says writer/director Gabriel Grilli, asks "why we fall so hard sometimes and so gently other times." It's an ambitious project for the two-year-old company, marking the biggest space they've used (Dance Mission Theater), the most dance they've incorporated into their work (choreography is by Katerina Wong) and the first time they've done a two-phased development process. Visit brickabrack.org.
In writing this poetic version of Antigone, Anne Carson didn't just translate from the ancient Greek; she also wrote the text by hand, and the published version features her handwriting overlaid with illustrations on transparent paper. Scatterstate's production, directed by Caitlyn Tella, adds yet another layer to the mythic tale of a young woman fighting for her right to give her brother a proper burial: an all-female cast. It's staged in the San Jose Armory, which, though a popular space for rehearsals and auditions, has never before hosted a theatrical performance. Visit scatterstate.com.
About the editors:
Sam Hurwitt is editor-in-chief for Theatre Bay Area. He is also the author of The Idiolect, a blog about theatre, movies, comics, media and the decline and fall of Western civilization.
Laura Brueckner is digital content manager for Theatre Bay Area, and the author of "Bread and Circuits," a TBA Online column on intersections of theatre and technology. She is also director of new works at Crowded Fire Theater in San Francisco and a PhD candidate in dramaturgy.
Lily Janiak is listings editor for Theatre Bay Area. She is also a theatre critic for publications including SF Weekly and HowlRound.