Editors' Picks: November 2015
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Happy November! We here in the Bay Area have so much to be thankful for—especially the fantastically rich and varied theatre work that abounds here. This month’s Editor’s Picks are all over the map; from “post-punk vaudeville” to Baptist Church blues, from visiting troupe Rude Mechs to Sarah Ruhl, we hope you enjoy the Bay Area’s creative bounty this month.
Our guest editor for November is Brian Katz—artistic director of Custom Made Theatre Co., a TBA member company and valued member of our Theatre Services Committee. Check out its next production, In Love and Warcraft, opening Nov. 15.
|Degenerate Art Ensemble cofounder/performer/director/choreographer Haruko Nishimura in Predator Songstress: Dictator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this month. Photo: Bruce Clayton Tom
Editors’ Picks: Laura Brueckner, TBA editor
Predator Songstress: Dictator
Degenerate Art Ensemble at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF
Echoing an earlier sentiment by September guest editor Evren Odcikin, I thank the theatre gods for YBCA. Bursting onto its main stage for only three performances, the Seattle-based, nationally and internationally touring Degenerate Art Ensemble brings on the weird in Predator Songstress: Dictator. Songstress is the story of an “anti-heroine in search of her stolen voice,” told through a nightmare-tinged script; highly disciplined movement (Butoh is an obvious influence); audience-sourced text and the violin-heavy, hybrid synth/analog live music over which this text is floated, heightening its poignant mundaneness into poetry (Laurie Anderson is an obvious influence). The production claims to fuse “live music, dance, and media to create an immersive art environment set in a world of hyper-surveillance, interrogation, and data mining.” From the tiny taste I’ve gotten of the work—choreographed, directed by and starring the astonishing Haruko Nishimura, with music by music director/performer/company cofounder Joshua Kohl—it is definitely something new. Visit What’s Playing or ybca.org.
Aurora Theatre Company, Berkeley
Nov. 6-Dec. 6
Even if the script weren’t by the deft, brisk, Pulitzer finalist Amy Freed, even if the story weren’t a darkly comic sendup of the dehumanizing effects of poststructuralism (what?), I would still be giddy about seeing this production’s creative team in action. Danny Scheie manifests the mega-celebrity, megalomaniacal architect at the center of this whirlwind satire—the script sparkles with glints of Faustus, Macbeth, Frankenstein and yes, Ibsen’s Master Builder—who glories in imposing his aggressive, totalitarian environments on everyday people. The team also includes actors Nancy Carlin and Rod Gnapp; fight director Dave Maier; and multiple-Ovation Award-winning scenic designer Tom Buderwitz—who may be the production’s real monster-builder. Visit What’s Playing or auroratheatre.org.
13th Floor Theater at ODC, SF
Nov. 6-8 & 12-15
With winter approaching and night falling earlier, stories and myths begin to creep out of the dark corners of our minds and take center stage. Broken Knife, a devised piece by five-year-old movement/theatre company 13th Floor, collides Greek and Norse mythology in something called “an original graphic novel for the stage.” In welcome contrast to at least one other production claiming the same genre-ality in recent years, Broken Knife successfully theatricalizes the character movement aesthetic of graphic novels—its focus on panel composition favoring striking, not-necessarily-realistic poses—rather than making unfortunately earthbound actors perform in front of a big screen where their comic-book selves tell the same story better. Visit What’s Playing or 13thfloortheater.org.
|Hannah Kenah, Lana Lesley, Jason Liebrecht, Shawn Sides and Thomas Graves in The Method Gun at the 2010 Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Photo: Alan Simons
Editors’ Picks: Kim Cohan, TBA listings editor
The Method Gun
Rude Mechs at Z Space, SF
The Rude Mechs, an awesome, collaborative performance group based in Austin, TX, have been working on and touring The Method Gun since 2007; now, in their first Bay Area appearance, as part of a two-week residency, they’re bringing it to Z Space. Method Gun tells the story of Stella Burden, the actor-training guru of the ‘60s and ‘70s, exploring her life and acting techniques as well as the effect on her students and followers of her sudden emigration to South America and later death. Focusing on Burden’s company’s rehearsals for A Streetcar Named Desire, The Method Gun pieces together text by actors in the company, performance reports and scenes from Streetcar to show the company grappling to find direction, recover their faith and create meaningful work. And even after researching this piece, I’m left still wondering who Stella Burden is. (The Mechs’ residency will also include performances of their piece Stop Hitting Yourself at Cal Performances, Nov. 19-22.) Visit What’s Playing or zspace.org.
Palanza Dance-Theater at ODC, SF
Lysistrata, a comedy written by Aristophanes in Athens in 400 BCE, shows how one woman ends the Peloponnesian War by convincing all of the women in Greece to withhold sex from their husbands until the men agree to negotiate for peace. This new production is a collaboration between French director Pascale Couderc, with her company Platypus Theater, and director Hilary Palanza's Bay Area-based Palanza Dance-Theater. Their goal is to take the classic tale and remake it for modern audiences while combining dance, theatre and music. Playing at ODC Theater, this Lysistrata will include eight actors and 12 dancers. Visit What’s Playing or palanzadance.com.
Mother’s Milk, a Blues Riff in Three Acts
The Marsh, Berkeley
Oct. 29-Dec. 10
Solo shows are always interesting and always different, but Wayne Harris’ new show at The Marsh in Berkeley looks especially cool. Written by Harris, with music composed and arranged by Randy Craig with assistance from John McArdle, Mother’s Milk is an inviting and exciting blues- and gospel-based piece. The production uses a combination of story and song to take audiences along on one young man’s coming-of-age story as he discovers “a true understanding of the gifts and lessons from a mother we all wish we had.” Directed by David Ford. Visit What’s Playing or themarsh.org.
|Gabe Marin* and Carrie Paff* in SF Playhouse's regional premiere of Stage Kiss by Sarah Ruhl. *Member AEA. Photo: Todd Tankersley
Editors’ Picks: guest editor Brian Katz, artistic director of Custom Made Theatre Co.
San Francisco Playhouse
Nov. 17-Jan. 9
Over a decade ago, I read an early draft of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice; I’d expected a cool new look at the Orpheus myth, but had no idea about the level of genius I was about to encounter. Upon reaching its quiet, tragic conclusion, I wanted nothing more than to produce anything by this brilliant woman, whose voice felt ripped out of our collective subconscious. Ruhl began her academic career as a poet until Paula Vogel convinced her to try playwriting, so the fact that her Stage Kiss is a backstage farce (of all things!) means attention must be paid, as this MacArthur winner continues to experiment with form and genre in thrilling ways (Berkeley Rep’s production of her Dear Elizabeth was a revelation). This regional premiere, in the skillful hands of SF Playhouse, also stars two of my Bay Area favorites: Gabe Marin and Carrie Paff. It should be a real treat for the holidays. Visit What’s Playing or sfplayhouse.org.
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Nov. 6-Dec. 20
Our history is driven by the immigrant experience, so plays of cultural assimilation (involving either the attempt to keep one’s culture or hide one’s difference) always feel like the most American of dramas. This story of a Muslim-American lawyer—who, having repressed his heritage to get ahead, must confront his past during an explosive dinner party—is a tight, 90-minute pressure-cooker of a play, and won playwright Ayad Akhtar the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. Berkeley Rep has brought in director Kimberly Senior, who helmed the triumphant Chicago and New York productions, so we’re in for a first-run look at the most-produced new show in the country. Visit What’s Playing or berkeleyrep.org.
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Douglas Morrison Theatre, Hayward
Alex Timbers (book) and Michael Friedman (music) are the dazzling team behind the audacious Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson—an underappreciated title now lost in the shadow of Hamilton—so I cannot wait to see what they’ve done to William Shakespeare’s comic ditty. If a production is going to mess with Shakespeare, I prefer it go all the way, and this L3, which features doo-wop songs, stoners, and tap dancers, sounds like it has no respect for stuffiness and a great love for all things inappropriate. I suspect Bill would have approved of this regional premiere. Visit What’s Playing or dmtonline.org.