Editors' Picks: May 2016
Monday, May 02, 2016
May isn’t just about may baskets (whatever those are) and dancing around maypoles (though people still definitely do this). It’s also about International Workers’ Day and traditions of political dissent. This month, TBA's journalism focuses on a very powerful form of popular dissent: political theatre. And so we are thrilled to welcome guest editor Velina Brown, a principal actor for the Bay Area’s legendary San Francisco Mime Troupe. (She's also the author of a wonderful monthly column for actors, “The Business of Show Biz”!)
On May 7, Velina will be performing as a soloist with the Brooklyn-based ensemble Barbez at the 80th Anniversary for the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, held at the Japan Society in New York. The Lincoln Brigade, made up of Americans, was one of the international brigades that went to Spain to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Amazing!
|Kiran Patel as Traffic, an Afghan boy who makes his living directing traffic on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway.
Photo: Navid G. Maghami
The Most Dangerous Highway in the World
Golden Thread Productions, SF
Human beings are capable of enormous resiliency when survival is at stake. Traffic, the central character in Kevin Artigue’s The Most Dangerous Highway in the World, is a case in point: eight years old and alone, Traffic keeps body and soul together by selling fish and rendering various kinds of aid to motorists speeding past on the highway between Kabul and Jalalabad in Afghanistan. I’ve read this script for two different selection committees, and have been rooting for someone to produce this insistent, irreverent, unsentimental, human play. It especially delights me that Most Dangerous Highway will be directed by Evren Odcikin, whose recent, terrifically effective production of I Call My Brothers at Crowded Fire left me simultaneously wrung out and giddy. Playwright Artigue is a graduate of the Iowa Playwrights Workshop and the Public Theater’s prestigious Emerging Writers Group. Script nerds can read a sample section on Artigue’s website. Visit What’s Playing or goldenthread.org.
I and You
City Lights Theatre Company, San Jose
May 19-Jun. 19
Lauren Gunderson’s I and You contains no feisty gay besties in cheerleader drag, no firearm-wielding undercover vegans, no husbands duct-taped to chairs, no revolution-fomenting beauty queens nor revolution-dodging actual queens—none of her signature larger-than-life or just-outside-the-realm-of-everyday-reality characters that serve to tease Gunderson’s audiences into realizing that maybe their everyday realities could use a little expanding. I and You presents a more contained world, where teens Caroline and Anthony share dreams, ponder mortality and discover how much—or little—distance there really is between “I” and “you.” Gunderson’s most lauded work to date; 2014 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award winner even has its own Tumblr. Noëlle GM Gibbs directs; with Ivette Deltoro and TBA featured member Davied Morales. Visit What’s Playing or cltc.org.
B Street Theatre, Sacramento
May 11-Jun. 11
The first time I undertook the hour-plus drive to Sacramento’s B Street Theatre, it was an act of loyalty—to see the premiere of a friend’s play. But B Street’s production was so impressive that I was floored; now I’m a fan. Not Medea, on a NNPN rolling world premiere with possibly the largest geographic reach of all time (companion productions are in Alaska and West Virginia), is a modern take on the Medea story, where a mother arriving to see a production of the play gets caught up in the action. What could go wrong? Visit What’s Playing or bstreettheatre.org. And script nerds can visit playwright Allison Gregory’s website to read a sample section.
|Paul Grant Hovannes in Ray of Light Theatre's production of The Wild Party. Photo: Erik Scanlon
The Wild Party
Ray of Light Theatre
May 20- Jun. 11
Feel like having a dangerously good time? Ray of Light Theatre is known for their on-the-edge, crazy (often literally crazy) productions, and The Wild Party has all of the above. Based on Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 book-length poem of the same name—and widely banned because of its lurid content—the musical is set in the salacious prohibition era, the night before the stock market crash of 1929. As a cast of frenzied characters party the night away, darkness and despair looms, steamrolling on to an ending you see coming but can’t stop. True to Ray of Light’s usual fare, The Wild Party is replete with dark themes and pulsatingly vibrant music. Andrew Lippa (book, music & lyrics) seems to be popular in the Bay Area, as we can also look forward to San Jose Stage Company’s The Wild Party and TheatreWorks’ The Life of the Party (a musical revue of Lippa’s songs) this year. Visit What’s Playing or rayoflighttheatre.com.
Pear Slices 2016
Pear Theatre, Mountain View
Summer is the time for new play festivals in the Bay Area (see our list of upcoming festivals)—and Pear Theatre’s Pear Slices 2016 is not one to miss! This will be the Pear’s 13th annual “slice” of short plays by local playwrights. In honor of their move earlier this year to a new and larger theatre, this year has twice as many plays, with two alternating evenings of seven plays each. Audiences can also catch all 14 plays in 24 hours through a Saturday matinee. From virtual reality to chocolate shops to retirement to gambling addictions to unconventional love stories, these plays are sure to entertain! Visit What’s Playing or thepear.org.
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
New Conservatory Theatre Center
May 13-Jun. 12
I adore reimagined classics—and NCTC’s On a Clear Day is that and more! With music by Burton Land and book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, the original musical premiered in 1965 and was pushing boundaries even then, with themes of reincarnation, ESP and the paranormal. In 2011, a revised version with a new book by Peter Parnell premiered, keeping the already crazy plotlines and replacing main character Daisy with gay florist David. While both versions of the musical struggled on Broadway, I’m eager to see NCTC’s adaptation. Directed by NCTC artistic director Ed Decker, and with new instrumental arrangements by Ben Prince, it’s going to be a wild, whimsical ride. Visit What’s Playing or nctcsf.org.
|Carl Lumbly* as Ira Aldridge in Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti. *Member AEA. Photo: Jeffrey Adams
May 10-Jun. 25
It’s 1833 in London, and during his performance as Othello, Edmond Kean (Tim Kniffin), considered the greatest actor of his generation, collapses on stage. A young, black American actor, Ira Aldridge (Carl Lumbly), is invited to take over the role. However, not everyone is aware until he arrives that he won’t be needing the black greasepaint. Margaret Hughes had been the first woman to play a woman character (Desdemona) on the British stage in 1660; 157 years later, can this work—a black man playing a black man? Despite the consternation and scandal, the barrier-breaking performance made Aldridge a living legend who went on to international acclaim; upon his death, he was given a state funeral in Poland. But in the United States the conversation about race, casting and the role theatre can play in shaping perception continues today. Aldridge’s is a largely forgotten story that everyone should know. By Lolita Chakrabarti; dir. Margo Hall. Visit What’s Playing or sfplayhouse.org.
Antony and Cleopatra
African-American Shakespeare Company
Fresh from a record-breaking run of George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum that gave some wonderful newcomers a chance to take the spotlight, now AASC is serving up their own artistic director, renowned Shakespearean actor L. Peter Callender, with fierce and fabulous Leontyne Mbele-Mbong (did you see her Medea at AASC? OMG!) as the title characters in this evergreen tale of power and status versus forbidden love. Yeah, baby! Helmed by visionary and adventurous Jon Tracy, this production is set in the modern day and promises to be very cool and oh-so-hot. I am there. Visit What’s Playing or african-americanshakes.org.
Robert Louis Stevenson: Jekyll & Hyde
May 14-Jun. 12
The 51st original Central Works method play. In this two-hander, starring Brian Herndon (Stevenson) and Danielle Levin (his wife, Fannie), we learn the story behind the creation of Jekyll and Hyde. Fannie, worried about money, wants her husband to write something that will get them back on firm financial ground—but not this monstrous tale! Extruded from Stevenson’s painful, fever-induced nightmares, Jekyll and Hyde catapulted he and Fannie to riches beyond their wildest dreams, but the price was high. I look forward to learning about the creation of this iconic tale...but they had me at Herndon and Levin. By Gary Graves; dir. Jan Zvaifler. Visit What’s Playing or centralworks.org.