Editors' Picks: September/October 2014
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
San Francisco Fringe Festival
| Annette Roman in Animal Love: A Tragicomedy, part of the
2014 San Francisco Fringe Festival. Photo: Louis Pépin
The unjuried lottery system ensures that one of the many charms of the SF Fringe is how freaking random it is, as evidenced by browsing the 35 shows for the 2014 fest: "Can a lesbian and a Mormon find Love at Home?" "The tale of an amnesiac Belgian cabaret singer named Gustave who is discovered frozen in a block of ice at the North Pole" (Cabaret Terrarium). "Spinning the Bottle is a curious comedy about bed-wetting, mammal mating rituals and the many bizarre human reactions to love." And Matthew Shepard Meets Coyote is pretty self-explanatory. There are several shows apiece about dating, shamanist and messed-up childhoods. There's vaudeville, horror, gothic tales, hardboiled detective parody, show biz stories about jugglers and clowns, dramas about breast cancer and breakups, and celebrations of playtime, happiness, human-animal love, mothers and rats. Visit sffringe.org.
Die Mommie Die!
New Conservatory Theatre Center
Oct. 3–Nov. 2
Charles Busch excels at creating campy gems packed with references and loving homages to classic film genres, such as his beach movie/Hitchcock mashup Psycho Beach Party, with ample opportunity for fabulous drag roles. Just six months after Virago Theatre Company staged his horror-comedy double bill Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Sleeping Beauty or Coma, New Conservatory revives Busch's adoring 1999 tribute to "grand dame guignol" Bette Davis flicks of yore. Die Mommie Die! (also made into a 2003 film directed by ACT's Mark Rucker) depicts a middle-aged lounge singer trying to revive her career despite a controlling husband, contemptuous children and a long-gone twin sister who may or may not be dead. The sly references, venom and other hazardous substances flow freely throughout this gleefully outrageous melodrama. Visit nctcsf.org.
Marin Theatre Company
Samuel D. Hunter seems to be everywhere nowadays. His Obie-winning play about fundamentalist Hobby Lobby employees (way before those words seemed like a natural combination), A Bright New Boise, played Berkeley's Aurora Theatre last November, and now Hunter's 2012 portrait of a 600-pound man stuck on his couch in Idaho, The Whale, makes its Bay Area premiere at Marin Theatre Company. Fortunately it's more than just a play about an obese man, despite its provocative title and extravagant fat suit. It's about the ways people use, abuse and need each other, as an online writing teacher (Moby-Dick comes up more than once) tries to connect with his estranged daughter and a conveniently arriving Mormon missionary. Visit marintheatre.org.
Year of the Rooster
Sep. 4–Oct. 12
Never let it be said that Impact let a play about chickens slip through its grasp. Joshua Conkel's MilkMilkLemonade in 2010 was set on a poultry farm and featured a chicken who wanted to be Andrew Dice Clay. And now, what the cluck, here's another. Despite the name, Year of the Rooster doesn't have anything to do with the Chinese zodiac. Twenty-something playwright Eric Dufault's comedy is about cockfighting, in which a put-upon underdog gets his hands on a champion rooster that's an unstoppable juggernaut of death. The play won Marin Theatre Company's 2013 David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize, and its premiere at New York's Ensemble Studio Theatre last year was such a hit that they revived it this January. Visit impacttheatre.com.
Meow Meow in An Audience with Meow Meow at Berkeley Rep.
Photo: Magnus Hastings
An Audience with Meow Meow
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Sep. 5–Oct. 19
After seeing lots of contemporary cabaret, it feels to me like many cabaret artistes tend to privilege either showmanship or relationship in their work. A performer can dazzle with an unstoppable voice, an appealing stage persona, and/or a figure on display in "look at me" attire (the corset-with-striped-stockings uniform always seems to work, regardless of gender). Others may not offer the same spectacle, but can somehow sense what's going on in people's heads; cued by audience response, they strike out into new territory, turning the room into a charged, almost sacred space of shared vulnerability. Where does Australian-born Meow Meow fit? Dunno yet—while the New York Times likened her breathlessly to cabaret superstars Liza Minnelli and Ute Lemper (although her performance apparently lacked Lemper's political commitment), a subsequent Guardian (UK) article focused on the intimate bond she creates with audiences: at a recent show, the singer, temporarily blinded by an airborne splash of martini, continued to sing and walk a narrow beam onstage as audience members literally guided her feet. Curious yet? Visit berkeleyrep.org.
Wily West Productions
I've been impatient for Bay Area theatres to start producing Krista Knight's giddy-smart, disorienting plays for a few years—and now, here's the second in two months! (Nanoman, a multimedia "interactive nerdcore musical" by Knight and collaborator David Brinegar about nanotechnology in cancer treatment, premiered in August at the Monkey House in Berkeley.) Knight's plays are excitingly strange, populated by outlandish figures with obsessions ranging from science to marching bands to murder. The plays also move insanely quickly, so if you find you don't have time to reconcile your expectations of psychological realism and dramatic logic to what's happening on stage, drop that ballast and hop on board. Visit wilywestproductions.com.
Rapture, Blister, Burn
Aurora Theatre Company
It may be a comedy, but Rapture treads some pretty dark ground: women's ambitions, needs and regrets in a cultural atmosphere that simultaneously goads them to strive to "have it all" and, through entrenched mechanisms of inequality, prevents them from getting it. Interestingly, the Aurora's promo text contains the arresting assertion that Rapture "grapples with feminism's foibles"—"foibles" being a term for harmless, almost cute flaws or endearing weaknesses of character. (Copy for the recent production at the Geffen claimed that it "tackles feminism's foibles.") How will that attitude play out in this production, helmed by the redoubtable Desdemona Chiang (The Hundred Flowers Project)? Find out: visit auroratheatre.org.
Sep. 26–Oct. 19
Lauren Gunderson's new romantic comedy, Fire Work, a 2011 winner of the Global Age Project at Aurora, will have its world premiere at TheatreFirst in Berkeley. Mina Morita directs the piece, which she says asks, "What are you willing to sacrifice to overcome the obstacles of love?" In a press release, TheatreFirst artistic director Michael Storm stated that this project has been under discussion "long before the Gunderson craze took off." However awesome the notion of a "Gunderson craze" may be, I attribute at least part of her work's popularity to something very real: an ongoing, inspiring commitment to intellectual and emotional generosity that transcends trend. Visit theatrefirst.com.
The Late Wedding
Crowded Fire Theater
Lauren Spencer and Kathryn Zdan in Crowded Fire Theater's
The Late Wedding. Photo: Cheshire Isaacs
Sep. 18–Oct. 11
To read the work of author Italo Calvino is to delve into the wild imagination of a child mixed with the acute perceptivity of a social scientist and the precise, figurative eloquence of a poet. The playwright Christopher Chen, in his first collaboration with Crowded Fire Theater since the 2012 Glickman Award–winning The Hundred Flowers Project, drew inspiration from the Italian fabulist for this world premiere. The play actually begins with a social scientist-qua-narrator, who describes what follows as "an anthropological tour of imagined tribes and their marital customs." Visions of marriage include marriage as ceaseless shared remembering; marriage where the possibility of being married is more valuable than, and hence worth preserving at the expense of, marriage itself; and marriage as death—though not in the way that you'd think. Like Calvino, Chen gives expression to the weird and, in so doing, makes it wonderful. Marissa Wolf directs. Visit crowdedfire.org.
Roughin' It III: Theater. On. The. Rocks.
Few annual Bay Area theatrical events have a greater spirit of adventure than PianoFight's Roughin' It. The show features short pieces by local playwrights, all written for a grand setting: the forested grounds of the Paradise Healing Center in Lagunitas in Marin (which the company has moved to after hosting the show the past two years at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company near Point Reyes). Intimidated by site-specific theatre in the great outdoors? Fear not, cautious theatregoer! This excursion isn't too "rough" at all: PianoFight offers barbecue, local brews and shuttle service for the city-dwelling and car-lacking. Visit pianofight.com.
Penthesilea—Queen of the Amazons
Actors Ensemble of Berkeley & Inferno Theatre
Thru Sep. 7
Goethe might have called Heinrich von Kleist's 1808 drama "unplayable," but that clearly isn't stopping these two small companies from staging this bizarre battle, between the title character and Achilles, of military and sexual wills. Throughout the play, which is set outside Troy, with the Amazons intercepting the Greeks before their famous battle (those pesky women!), the two warriors take turns throwing themselves at one another in a hazy mix of bloodlust and regular ol' lust. Much of the action, though, is merely described, an intriguing challenge for adaptor and director Giulio Perrone. Visit aeofberkeley.org.
Wonderboy & 29 Effeminate Gestures
Z Space and Joe Goode Performance Group
Sep. 25–Oct. 4
These pieces by the legendary Bay Area choreographer Joe Goode are two of the most influential in his 35-year oeuvre; both make ecstatic use of one his signature devices: letting dancers talk! 29 Effeminate Gestures, first performed as a solo by Goode in 1987 and here performed by Melecio Estrella, celebrates womanhood as an abundance of feeling and experience that society denies men, even as the piece comically interrogates the body language women are conditioned to adopt. Wonderboy, which features puppetry by Basil Twist, elevates the banal to the miraculous as it deems one sweet puppet's sensitivity a superpower. Visit joegoode.org.
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.