Get Thee To A Play!

The San Francisco Bay Area is enriched with theatre companies, large and small, that do good theatre of all kinds.  I rarely go a weekend without seeing a play, or two, and it’s often hard to choose among the high-quality, eclectic offerings we are spoiled with.  But every now and then a moment comes along when there is a large number of very special pieces all on offer at the same time.  Such a moment is nigh.  This short list of plays to enjoy mid-May through June (or so) is so far from exhaustive that it doesn’t even include all the potentially GREAT theatre, so check around for more if you have the time, but at least see some of these if you can:

–  The Velocity of Autumn by Eric Coble at Theatreworks Silicon Valley playing in Mountain View June 1 through June 26.  I attended the first rehearsal last week, and I saw this beautiful play during its short run on Broadway in 2014.  The play is about a 79-year old woman who has armed herself with Molotov cocktails and is threatening to blow up her brownstone in Brooklyn when her children suggest she move to a retirement home.  When I first saw this play two years ago, I wrote:

“This play is not just a funny, poignant and thought-provoking 90 minutes of beautifully crafted theatre, it is an important addition to the national dialogue on the difficult subjects of aging, autonomy and control over the questions about how and if and where our last years or days should be lived.  As my friend and I were leaving the theatre, sharing our joint impression that the playwright must have interviewed our personal relatives in researching this play, we overheard a young woman (and the standing ovation audience was made up of all ages but trending to young) saying it made her want to call her grandmother right away. Whether you have a grandmother, or are one, this play is worth seeing and talking about.”

While I was resigned to no actress being able to pull off the part like Estelle Parsons did, Director Giovanna Sardelli knew just the right actress: Susan Greenhill  – whose first table read was extraordinary!  Theatreworks’ first read reminded me how much I love this very funny, moving and significant play.  Don’t miss this one!

Designer Andrew Boyce's scenic model for THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

Designer Andrew Boyce’s scenic model for THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

I and You by Lauren Gunderson won the Steinberg New Play Award in 2014 and has had multiple productions around the country.  Caroline, a high-school senior too sick to attend school while awaiting a liver transplant, is joined in her bedroom at home by assigned study partner Anthony to work on a project involving Walt Whitman’s poetry in “Leaves of Grass”. This play is full of wit, surprises (with a whopper at the end!) and the authentic  voices of articulate teenagers with some significant issues to face.   The production at City Lights Theatre in San Jose runs May 19 through June 19.  I may see you there!

Anthony (Davied Morales) and Caroline (Ivette Deltoro) work together on a school project about Walt Whitman, whose words will take on significant meaning to them. Photos by Susan Mah Photography.

Anthony (Davied Morales) and Caroline (Ivette Deltoro) work together on a school project about Walt Whitman, whose words will take on significant meaning to them. Photos by Susan Mah Photography.

–  The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar (winner of the Pulizer Prizer for Disgraced) at Marin Theatre Company June 2 – 26.

Playwright Ayad Akhtar

Playwright Ayad Akhtar

I was privileged to witness the first read-through of this edgy and compelling thriller at MTC recently and was left thinking how lucky we all are to be able to see this caliber of theatre.  The play is set in Pakistan where a terrorist group has kidnapped and holds an American financial trader for ransom. Since the U.S. will not negotiate with terrorists, the desperate American offers to teach and trade his way out by starting with his own personal savings and attempting to grow that sum to the ransom amount by helping his captors manipulate and master the world commodities and currency markets.  This stunningly good play is about quite a lot of things, not least the effect of money and western world thinking on others.  As dramaturg Lydia Garcia said, “What’s so great about this play is that there are no heroes; there are no villains; no one comes off clean.”  What I heard from the designers about the set and costumes and the research and thinking behind them seemed to intensify and enhance the authenticity of this fascinating work.  Even if you don’t live in Marin Country, go see it  – I promise you it will be worth it.  (And, again, take a look at their new upcoming season:  A++.)

–  Other intriguing theatrical offerings around the Bay now or soon include:

  • Mary Zimmerman’s Treasure Island at Berkeley Rep which (no shock) is beautiful, fun and just a delight, particularly if you have young ones to bring with you (through June 5);
  • The Last 5 Years, a musical by Jason Robert Brown about a relationship with an interesting structure:  told beginning to end by him and end to beginning by her – they meet on stage once: at the wedding.  At ACT San Francisco May 11 – June 5.
  • FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY:  The Village Bike, a play by Penelope Skinner the NY Times called “genuinely daring” in its exploration of a pregnant woman’s extra-marital sexual hunger and activities – I expect it to be unsettling and fascinating. May 25 – June 26  Shotgun Players at the Ashby Theatre in Berkeley.
  • Chester Bailey by  Joseph Dougherty.  Actor David Strathairn  plays a psychiatrist in a military hospital in this world premiere psychological drama set in 1945.  ACT’s Strand Theatre May 25-June 12.
  • Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti tells the true story of the first black actor to star on a British stage in 1833 London.  May 10 – June 25 at SF Playhouse.
  • For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday, a new play by Sarah Ruhl.  Berkeley Rep May 20 -July 3.
  • Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare, directed by Stuart Bousel.  Not a new play, but a great one!  Custom Made Theatre in San Francisco May 19 – June 18.

So much more.  Do your best.  Enjoy.

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