Editors' Picks: April 2016
Friday, April 1, 2016
Marvels abound this April, and this month's Editors' Picks highlight the cream of the crop: from virtuoso puppeteers to Victorian travelers to vigorous poets of the body, you'll experience the unusual at these shows.
This month, we welcome TBA membership and events associate Laura Ng as our guest editor–if you've ever called the TBA office to learn more about adjudicating the TBA Awards, she's the one who's helped you out.
Editors’ Picks: Laura Brueckner, editor
|Puppeteers Saskia Lane and Julian Crouch deftly handle the star of the show, made of brown paper, in Birdheart.
Photo: Jill Steinberg
Z Space, SF
Thirty seconds into this video of Birdheart, I was already holding my breath, wide-eyed. The first collaboration between the renowned Julian Crouch—who cocreated, codirected and designed the internationally fabulous Shockheaded Peter and whose Broadway Hedwig design earned him a Tony nomination—and Saskia Lane—a Juilliard-trained musician who’s shared the stage with Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Natalie Merchant and Enya—this brief fantasia on birth and transformation, less than an hour long, uses humble materials to spectacular effect. Watching Crouch and Lane build this strangely moving story out of a sheet of paper, a box of sand, found objects and shadows, accompanied by their own original music, not only proves (anew) that virtuosity transcends medium but makes me look at the everyday objects around me in a new way. Hatched in New York in 2013 as a commission, with a world premiere at Brooklyn’s artist-led venue National Sawdust in October 2015, Birdheart alights in SF fresh from its award-winning European premiere at Edinburgh’s Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival. Visit zspace.org.
Grapes of Wrath
Ubuntu Theater Project, Oakland
We know that the expense of (and lack of government support for) making theatre in the US has a trickle-down effect on playwriting; when writers know that a three-actor play is far more likely to get produced than one with five, and an eight-actor play seems like a reckless extravagance, why dream big? However, theatre is an art of the senses as well as the intellect, and there’s no substitute, however artful, for the near-animal rush of seeing/feeling a large, skilled cast working together. Adapted from Steinbeck by Frank Galati, Ubuntu’s Grapes boasts a cast of 29, suiting the source material’s epic sweep. Visit What’s Playing or ubuntutheaterproject.com
Shotgun Players, Berkeley
Mar. 31-May 8
This production gets its own article later this month, from theatre/dance writer Kathryn Roszak, so she’ll be the one exploring detailed questions of process. For me, what makes this Hamlet sound like such sheer fun is not only the “roulette” casting concept, which resembles a Mountain Dew-fueled summer-theatre-camp skit—Hamlet Tag!—but, even more, the thrill of imagining how this stellar team will harness the raw and sometimes unpredictable energy unleashed when adrenaline meets uncertainty. Design all-star alert: Nina Ball, Christine Crook, Heather Basarab and Devon LaBelle are all working on this one show. Mark Jackson directs. Visit What’s Playing or shotgunplayers.org.
Editors’ Picks: Kim Cohan, listings editor
|Joy Sherratt*, Rachel Powers, Amy Franklin Leonards and Bijou the dog in Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre.
*Member of Actors' Equity Association. Photo: Antonio Gonzalez
Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre, Pleasanton
Apr. 23-May 8
I’m always excited to see full-scale productions of new musicals in the Bay Area. Enchanted April was commissioned back in 2009 by West Bay Opera in Palo Alto, workshopped at the Kennedy Center in D.C., and has now come home for its world premiere at PCRT. New musicals are notoriously harder to pull together than plays, because of the greater number of people involved and the inevitably higher costs. David Judson, coartistic director of PCRT, met composer Richard B. Evans and immediately started discussing how to get this musical to the stage. Directed by Lois Grandi, assisted by Evans (music) and Charles Leipart (book and lyrics), Enchanted April has not only a full orchestra but a quartet that sings and narrates throughout the show. Based on the novel, The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim, the production is set in post-Victorian London, and follows four women vacationing in Italy—unexpected love and comedy ensues! Visit What’s Playing or pcrtproductions.org.
Ragged Wing Ensemble
Apr. 16-May 7
This funky, original play, written and directed by RWE cofounder and artistic director Amy Sass and coproduced with PlayGround, is another exciting world premiere. Inspired by both the death of Sass’s father from a heart attack and the beaching of a baby whale on Stinson Beach in 2013, Whale’s Wake blends the profoundly personal with more broadly global themes. Sass received a commission from PlayGround to develop Whale’s Wake; after two workshops and many more drafts, the finished product is here! This production brings together Ragged Wing’s physical theatre techniques and PlayGround’s new-play expertise, and will feature cast members from both companies. Visit What’s Playing or raggedwing.org.
Sunnyvale Community Players
Apr. 9-May. 1
I love Rent. As a musical theatre kid, it was never really a question: I absolutely had to spend a full year freaking out about how cool the musical Rent was. It’s actually a fitting pick this month as well, since one of my March’s picks was Puccini’s La Bohème, the opera upon which Rent is loosely based. While plenty of details differ, Jonathan Larson (book, music & lyrics) kept many of Puccini’s themes—like the devastation of a serious disease—as well as musical themes, like the use of “Musetta’s Waltz” (mentioned last month as “Quando me'n vo”). Sunnyvale Community Players’ production of this modern classic is sure to be a fun one! Visit What’s Playing or sunnyvaleplayers.org.
|Sonja Dale and Jane Selna in Sharp & Fine’s All Roads Are Lined with Teeth. Photo: Shannon Kurashige
All Roads Are Lined with Teeth
Sharp & Fine at ODC, SF
Art director-sisters Megan and Shannon Kurashige present a new dance-play in which a woman flees a crumbling world to encounter memories transformed into teeth. This dance-theatre collaboration features music by electroacoustic/avant-jazz composer Aram Shelton—whose graphic scores derived from trail maps cue musicians to improvise passages along individually chosen routes—and a script by London playwright Amber Hsu, informed by volunteer work in the Calais Jungle refugee camps, under strain from an immigration crisis of asylum seekers forsaking their war-torn homes. How Megan’s fiction writing and Shannon’s work in design might play in their aesthetic for this interdisciplinary classical-contemporary project—shifting between stark realism, fairytale, and absurdity—intrigues all the more. Visit odcdance.org.
Tagalog: A Festival of One-Acts
Bindlestiff Studio, SF
Apr. 21–May 7
For those arthouse-chasing and subtitle-exclusive addicts, here’s the chance to hear non-English tales in their magnetic native rhythm. Tagalog serves up your Pilipino fix with highlights from the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ annual Virgin Labfest: two passed souls meet their former flames in purgatory’s waiting room; illicit closeness between teacher and student teases the comedic and desperate tensions of flustered desire; and a young girl sets herself on a fantastical quest to build a kite that will lift her up to her beloved’s gaze in the stars. Performances are surtitled. Visit bindlestiffstudio.org.
A Cappella—Our Bodies Sing
Oakland Ballet Company
Apr. 14–16, Oakland; Apr. 21, SF; Apr. 23, Hayward
What is new and still to do for a company basking in a shimmering, mint Izzie Award for Five Decades of Dance? How about a world-premiere choral ballet choreographed by Val Caniparoli, Graham Lustig, Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton, performed to the naked vocal power of three choirs? The company known for its Diaghilev revivals commissions new dances with music sung by the Berkeley Community Chamber Singers, Vajra Voices, and Nona Brown and the Inspirational Music Collective—whose styles run from medieval chant to spirituals and novel arrangements of Americana. An aural-movement marvel at the range of bare human expression. Visit oaklandballet.org.