Editors' Picks: July/August 2014
Monday, July 7, 2014
Happy summer! We hope you're seeing tons of great theatre. Here are the shows in July and August that our editors especially recommend!
San Francisco Mime Troupe
Jul. 4–Sep. 1
Because the San Francisco Mime Troupe has such a long planning process for its annual summer show in the parks, it's always interesting to see what political issue the 55-year-old theatrical collective winds up taking on as the object of its agitprop musical satire each year. Ripple Effect's topic is at once evergreen and timely. And no, the title doesn't refer to cheap "fortified wine"—or at least I don't think it does. Cowritten by Michael Gene Sullivan, Eugenie Chan and Tanya Shaffer, the play takes on the ever-widening class divide in San Francisco: Google Glass and Google Buses, Ellis Act evictions, and the general gentrification of the city. A revolutionary commie activist, an "immigrant turned super patriot" and a tech industry rising star all wind up together in a tour boat in the San Francisco Bay and find that all of them have a vested interest in the same overpriced Bayview apartment. You can expect fireworks to ensue, and not just because it opens on the Fourth of July. Visit sfmt.org.
Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, Lisa Hori-Garcia, Velina Brown and Michael Gene Sullivan in Ripple Effect. Photo: DavidAllenStudio.com
Fetch Clay, Make Man
Marin Theatre Company
Aug. 14–Sep. 7
This West Coast premiere of a 2010 play by San Francisco native and hip-hop theatre artist Will Power focuses on the unlikely real-life friendship between Muhammad Ali, the charismatic heavyweight champ who polarized sports fans with his conversion to the Nation of Islam and refusal to submit to the military draft, and Stepin Fetchit, a vaudeville and movie star who became the first African American actor to become a millionaire, but by playing an offensive stereotype of a lazy, shiftless black man. Preparing for a 1965 rematch bout with Sonny Liston, Ali hopes to get some of the secrets of the great Jack Johnson, the very first black heavyweight champion, from Fetchit. Inevitably, this leads to conversations about the very different public images of these two public figures and what they say about their respective eras. Visit marintheatre.org.
Stanford Repertory Theater
Jul. 17–Aug. 10
The former Stanford Summer Theater has newly changed its name to Stanford Repertory Theater to reflect its year-round offerings, but that doesn't mean its Summer Festival is going to be any less robust this year. This time it's all about the works of Orson Welles, starting with his blank-verse adaptation of Herman Melville's whale of a novel about a whale. The formidable Rod Gnapp takes up the harpoon of the vengeance-obsessed whaling captain hunting for the white whale that bit off his leg, costarring with Peter Ruocco, Courtney Walsh and David Raymond. And of course, up next in August will be a theatrical re-creation of Welles's infamous 1938 radio drama of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. Visit stanford.edu/group/repertorytheater.
The Taming of the Shrew
San Francisco Shakespeare Festival
Thru Sep. 21
Rebecca J. Ennals took over as artistic director of the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival in late 2012, after heading its education programs for the past decade. But The Taming of the Shrew is the first main stage production she's directed for the company's flagship Free Shakespeare in the Park program, directed by Kenneth Kelleher since 2003. Ennals, who directed an acclaimed production of Shrew for Shakespeare at Stinson in 2006, will explore the gender politics of the troublesome play about the domestication of a fiery woman with a diverse cast in which about half the male roles are played by women. Tim Kniffin and Carla Pantoja portray the battling newlyweds. Visit sfshakes.org.
Right from the Field: A Staged Reading of New Material Gathered by Anna Deavere Smith
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater
During the 1992 L.A. riots, my friends and I started hanging out in our high school's parking lot, where we'd stare blankly at the smoke rising from downtown. Suddenly, the world had changed: the news sounded like dispatches from some dystopian action movie; otherwise sane people we knew were making awful racist comments, out of nowhere; I discovered that my goofy, suburban dad owned a gun. When I read Anna Deavere Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, I was stunned by how well it captured the anger, fear and sheer confusion of that time. Smith's documentary plays, using only language collected in her interviews with the subjects, present a multiplicity of voices, examining—while respecting—their conflicting truths. In Right from the Field, Smith takes the same route to explore California's education and criminal justice systems. Marcus Shelby accompanies. Don't miss what is quite likely your only chance to see these astonishing artists perform together for 15 bucks. Visit ybca.org.
Anna Deavere Smith. Photo: Mary Ellen Mark
The Other Sight
Named 2014's "Best Genre-Defying Sci-Artistic Collaborative" by SF Weekly, Kinetech's team reads like the start of a shaggy dog joke. Well, okay, what do you get when you cross a dancer and a physicist...and a software developer and a martial artist...and a choreographer and an engineer? In this case, you get a collaborative company that fuses technology and movement into performances and installations that (as it says on Kinetech's website) "challenge possibility." The Other Sight, which focuses on surveillance, forms part of the Seventh Annual Summer Performance Festival at ODC; if you miss it, Kinetech holds a weekly lab at Kunst-Stoff Arts open to all pioneering spirits. Beam up to kine-tech.org.
Sunshine Biscuit Factory
Hungry for something out of the ordinary? You may want to stop by the Sunshine Biscuit Factory. There, artists Mary Armentrout, Merlin Coleman and Ian Winters curate the Milkbar, a specifically experimental and cross-disciplinary artist salon series that's been running since 2004. Individual salons vary in content, but have included site-specific theatre, dance, film, performance art, butoh, singer-songwriters, video installations, photography and a woman "playing the innards of an upright piano." Wake up your soul and senses with something you've never seen before; you may find the experience quite a treat. Head to milkbar.org.
As You Like It
Santa Cruz Shakespeare
Jul. 1–Aug. 10
I probably could have written just, "Because yay, Santa Cruz Shakespeare!!" here and you would've known what I meant. The sudden, dismaying closure of Shakespeare Santa Cruz hit our theatre community hard—so the fact that this company exists at all, less than a year later, is reason to celebrate. Still, As You Like It is perfect summer fun in its own right. This play has it all: danger, love and cross-dressing; that "Seven Ages of Man" speech we all studied in school; Charles the Wrestler and one of the most complex female roles in Willy's canon. Aroint thee to santacruzshakespeare.org.
The New Stage
Jul. 16–Aug. 16
If you watch the trailer for Patterns (and do, just for the high production values), it's hard not to laugh out loud. Twenty-three-year-old performance artist and San Francisco native Amy Munz has a dry, whimsical sense of humor that leavens her lovely, imagistic character studies of disparate souls all in the throes of deeply unsettling emotion; they are connected less by plot than by what they feel. A subtitle of the piece is "For some reason, it really tickled me," and eggs are an evident culprit, inducing a laugh that's a cross between the noises of a walrus and a mouse. Munz is the artist-in-residence at the French American International School, where she's staging this piece under the direction of Henry Godinez. She simultaneously projects three different video installations, each her own creation, on three different screens while also performing live and solo on a bare stage. Did we mention she also dances? Visit thenewstage.com.
Amy Munz in Patterns. Photo: Courtesy of Amy Munz
No Nude Men Productions
Marissa Skudlarek's play is the love child of Jane Austen and Wendy Wasserstein. Originally produced as part of the 2011 San Francisco Olympians Festival and attesting to that annual event's power in establishing local playwrights, the play, like the Greek myth, follows seven young sisters (how's that for giving women equal opportunities in casting?). Here, though, it's 1971 in the Hamptons. At their family-only consciousness-raising, the sisters say things like, "Even a liberated woman can enjoy a good tea cake." But for all its wit, Skudlarek's play, under the direction of Katja Rivera, takes one feeling very seriously: youthful desire. Visit pleiadessf.wordpress.com.
Those Women Productions
Aug. 29–Sep. 7
Carol Lashof's new play also follows women of Greek mythology, but hers prefer a different kind of passion: vengeance. Allie, Meg and Tizzie are the Erinyes (or Furies), and they're out to get revenge on one of the most famous avengers of all: Orestes. Lashof ingeniously channels both what many treasure about Greek tragedy—its pitting of evenly matched foes in debates that dig deeper and deeper as combatants seem to be going in circles—while also skewering its misogyny. The Furies don't get let off the hook, though; they might not even get to keep being Furies. Visit carolslashof.wordpress.com.
Hick: A Love Story
Crackpot Crones and Theatre Rhinoceros
The set of this solo show is piles of letters—packed in shoeboxes, flowing out of a wardrobe—which are meant to suggest the 2,336 letters Eleanor Roosevelt wrote Lorena Hickok. Hick, as she was known, was the first woman reporter with a front-page New York Times byline and also the first lady's secret lover. Terry Baum wrote this play from Roosevelt's letters, Hick's own writing and an excerpt from a Pat Bond play about the journalist. Hick, directed by Carolyn Myers, captures the real-life Hick's contradictions: a salty, self-deprecating wit, plucky ambition and girlish naiveté—and passion—in love. Visit crackpotcrones.com.
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.