Editors' Picks: October 2015
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Isn’t October just the best? It's got pumpkin-flavored everything, the last few weeks of booty-shorts weather and stores filling up with costumes and candy for the Bay Area’s favorite holiday: Halloween! Many of our editors’ picks this month reflect the spirit of the season, from large-scale puppets to bloody sopranos to super spectacle—this is a fantastic month to hit the theatre.
Guest editor: Joining Laura and Kim, our guest editor for October is Jonathan Spector—a director, a playwright and artistic director of Just Theater, a TBA member company and member of our Theatre Services Committee.
|Bread and Puppet Theatre's Fire. Photo: Mark Dannenhauer Photography
Editors’ Picks: Laura Brueckner, TBA editor
Bread and Puppet Theatre at various venues (SF, Oakland and Sebastopol)
The legendary Bread and Puppet Theatre visiting the Bay Area is a remarkable event. Like the SF Mime Troupe and Teatro Campesino, B&P leapt to life in the early 1960s, part of an explosion of new American theatre that brought theatre to everyday people and spurred social change using heightened theatrical forms and innovative production models. Begun in NYC by Peter and Elka Schumann, B&P performed at Vietnam war protests and collaborated with residents in hard-hit NYC neighborhoods to create shows addressing pressing issues (two decades before Cornerstone Theater). European tours followed, then relocation to rural Vermont, where the company launched Our Domestic Resurrection Circus, an annual outdoor festival showcasing its signature large-scale puppetry. B&P continues to support itself only through ticket and publication sales, donations, and volunteer help (no government or foundation grants). This tour includes performances of B&P’s classic work Fire, as well as workshops, artist talks, exhibitions and a parade through Dolores Park. Visit What's Playing or breadandpuppet.org.
The Unheard of World
FoolsFury at Exit Theatre, SF
Pretty much any production that cites Neil Gaiman as an artistic influence will sound worthwhile to me—doubly so during October, with its dying leaves and shortening days. This “journey to the underworld” seems like ideal seasonal fare, including such gorgeous/grotesque characters as “a magical little girl half-swallowed by a bear” and “a trio of vacationing raindrops.” It also occupies a niche in Bay Area theatre that sometimes feels sparsely populated: translations of plays by modern European playwrights. The Bay Area is fairly cosmopolitan, but its passion for exotic cuisines often outpaces its appetite for the challenges of theatre in translation; let’s hope this play helps reverse that trend. Translator Michelle Haner also directs this piece by Fabrice Melquiot, winner of the French Academy’s 2008 Prize in Theatre. Visit What’s Playing or foolsfury.org.
Arctic Requiem: The Story of Luke Cole and Kivalina
Bootstrap Theater Foundation at Z Below, SF
In a time with a heightened sense of worldwide disaster (cataclysmic earthquakes, deadly floods, Donald Trump), it’s heartening to see theatre artists using our art’s immense power in the service of meaningful change. Arctic Requiem tells the story of activist Luke Cole; the Inupiaq people of Kivalina, Alaska and the international lawsuit they filed against 24 energy companies for their contributions to global warming—which continues to destroy the arctic environment and the Inupiaqs’ way of life. Stellar cast includes Cathleen Riddley, Gendell Hing Hernandez, Lynne Soffer, Lawrence Radeker and Michael Torres. Read the recent HowlRound piece here; for performance information, visit What’s Playing or zspace.org.
|Jeffrey Brian Adams* and Caitlin Brooke in SF Playhouse's production of Dogfight. *Member AEA.
Photo: Jessica Palopoli
Editors’ Picks: Kim Cohan, TBA listings editor
San Francisco Playhouse
Sep. 26–Nov. 7
Of the many new musical theatre composers crowding the musical theatre scene today, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are among the few that have broken out of the pack with several successful productions, including A Christmas Story (2012 Tony nominee) and Dogfight, which premiered later that same year. In my humble opinion, they are also among the more interesting musical theatre composers today, with a style that combines many of the common and familiar musical theatre sounds used today with more classical musical theatre influences. Dogfight, set in San Francisco and Vietnam in the early 60s, brings the audience into the world of several young marines as they have one last night of fun before they go off to war—at the expense of some “unfortunate-looking” women. Although the show incites discourse about gender roles and how we rate attractiveness, at heart it is a simple love story. Visit What's Playing or sfplayhouse.org.
We Players at Fort Mason Center, SF
If you’re searching for a different, physical, local piece of new theatre, look no further than We Players’ Heromonster. An interactive piece of storytelling involving poetry, mythology and an original score by Charlie Gurke, Heromonster is the first of a series of planned collaborations based on the ancient epic poem, Beowulf. The poem is used as both a source of text and as a starting point in exploring such concepts as heroism and monstrosity. This is a new type of project for We Players—a step away from their large-scale, site-integrated performance projects and a step toward exploring productions that can be adapted for different spaces. Visit What's Playing or weplayers.org.
Lucia di Lammermoor
San Francisco Opera
Of all mad scenes in all theatrical repertoire ever, Act Three of Lucia di Lammermoor is truly a perfect how-to guide for going completely bonkers. Lucia di Lammermoor, by Gaetano Donizetti (one of the leaders of the Italian bel canto opera style) and Salvadore Cammarano, is one of the most-performed operas today, largely because of this make-or-break opportunity for coloratura sopranos. And for all of you non-opera buffs, never fear—although the opera is sung in Italian, there are English supertitles. There’s a pre-opera talk before every performance as well, if you’re interested in learning more before delving into this insane piece of work! Visit sfopera.com.
|Matt Kahler as the Major-General in the Hypocrites' high-energy staging of Pirates of Penzance.
Photo: Evan Hanover
Editors' Picks: guest editor, Jonathan Spector, director, playwright and artistic director for Just Theater
The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance
Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Osher Studio
Oct. 16-Dec. 20
The Chicago-based Hypocrites are best known for their David Cromer-helmed production of Our Town, which moved to New York and ran for many months off Broadway.* I became a fan several years ago, when I caught their production of Miss Julie. Like Penzance, it was an ambulatory show—in which the audience moved in, out and through a giant wooden box of endless tricks. The sheer rate of ideas per minute was dizzyingly fast, and it was one of the wildest, most alive and highly explosive revisions of a classic I’ve ever seen. I’m generally not a musical theatre person, and in no way a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, but I can’t wait for this show. With a run time of 80 minutes, it’s certain to be the fastest Penzance you’ll ever see. Visit What’s Playing or berkeleyrep.org.
The Object Lesson
Curran Under Construction
Geoff Sobelle is a longtime member of the great Philadelphia-based company Pig Iron. Along with Trey Lyford, he’s also half of the devising duo rainpan 43, whose brilliant, existential clown show All Wear Bowlers came to Berkeley Rep about a decade ago. I saw three different incarnations of Bowlers and loved every one of them. Having made a devised piece about objects some years back myself, I’m very curious to see what Sobelle is cooking up. As a side note—everything coming to Curran Under Construction looks pretty amazing. Visit sfcurran.com.
Crowded Fire Theater
Australian playwright Lachlan Philpott has been spending lots of time in the Bay Area recently. He’s developed work all over town and just completed a residency at American Conservatory Theater. Now he’s finally getting a production here, thanks to the good folks at Crowded Fire. Philpott has a seductive, distinctive voice, and his language moves fluidly between dialogue, asides and narration in a beguiling and poetic way. A big hit in his native Sydney, this will be Truck Stop’s US premiere. It’s also worth noting that Truck Stop was part of Crowded Fire’s Matchbox series last year—it’s always heartening to see plays from a company’s development program move into full production. Visit What’s Playing or crowdedfire.org.
*Guest editor’s note: My wife still has not forgiven me for making us turn down tickets to that production of Our Town when it was first in previews in Chicago.