Show Me Yours is a weekly column in which Senior Arts Editor Chloe Veltman shares her picks for the Bay Area's best bets in the performing arts.
December is the time when almost every arts journalist in the land -- actually, scratch the word “arts”; what I’m going to say applies to practically anyone in a newsroom with a beat -- has to come up with a list. Yet somehow, I’ve managed to exist in this business for just shy of two decades without ever once having to compile a rundown of the best shows, or best anything, of the year. I feel a bit left out.
Then again, maybe not.
But as I look back at 2015, I’ve had some truly memorable cultural experiences. Most outstandingly there was Method Gun, the weirdly compelling, many-layered play from The Rude Mechs of Austin (hosted at San Francisco’s Z Space), about a theater troupe sent into a tailspin about the weird disappearance of its acting coach. Another coup was the musical version of Amelie at Berkeley Rep. I was ready to hate it. But instead I left the theater with my head full of the songs. Then there was Dragon Theatre Company’s ghoulish-fun, Breaking Bad-inspired take on the little known Haydn and Goldoni opera, Lo Speziale. I’ll wager Redwood City had never seen the like. And I’ll never forget traveling up to Santa Rosa one day soon after my return to the Bay Area last May to witness the madcap brilliance of SitCalm!, The Imaginists’ lunatic spoof on the formulas of the American sitcom.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll get to round out my year with a few more hits. Here, forthwith are some suggestions for the coming days. In list form, of course.
Monday, Dec. 14 - Tuesday, Dec. 15: Shotgun Cabaret presents Chris Black’s Tough at The Ashby Stage, Berkeley. John L. Sullivan, aka the “Boston Strong Boy,” is one of boxing history’s most famous hardnuts. The burly Irishman was the sport’s first ever heavyweight champion, holding the title from 1882 to 1892. The well-oiled fighting machine was also one of the last bare-knuckle boxers, and had a well-oiled moustache to match his vicious right hook. Sullivan, who died almost penniless at 59 after years of heavy drinking, is the inspiration for a solo show by performance artist Chris Black. Black uses the Boston Strong Boy’s story as the jumping-off point for an exploration in theatrical form of what it means to be strong in an era in which athletes are over-glamorized and overpaid.
Now through Sunday, Dec. 20: The Little Prince at Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley. Like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Goodnight Moon, The Little Prince is one of those timeless children’s books that theater people can’t resist adapting for the stage. The dramatic retelling of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novella about a stranded pilot who strikes up a friendship with a young prince visiting Earth from outer space currently underway at Marin Theatre Company is very family-friendly. Adaptors Rick Cummins and John Scoullar (who have also created a musical version of The Little Prince) have carefully excised the more unruly elements of the original such as the drunkard, switchman and merchant characters, as well as much of the aviator’s narration.
Friday, Dec. 18 - Sunday, Dec. 20: Counterpulse and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art present Three Works from Eisa Jocson at Galleria de la Raza and ODC in San Francisco. To prep for Macho Dancer, her piece about the male dancers who work Manila’s gay bar scene, Filipino choreographer and dancer Eisa Jocson took dance lessons from the pros at Adonis, a club in her neighborhood. She also went to the gym. “I learned a whole new body language—posture, stance, walk, gestures, gaze, ways of gyration and undulation—all through the physical quality of my body and my muscles,” Jocson says in a 2014 interview. On Friday and Saturday at Galeria de la Raza in the Mission, the versatile performer pairs this piece along with her Death of a Pole Dancer, a sort of feminine counterpart to the more masculine work. Then, on Sunday, Jocson stops in at ODC to present a newer piece also focused on dancers in the service industry, Host. The moody work looks at the women and transgender hostesses who make a living entertaining Japanese businessmen in Tokyo clubs.
Friday, Dec. 18 - Sunday, Dec. 20: Solo Opera presents Hansel and Gretel at Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek. Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera is a delightful, family-friendly confection that’s been entertaining both serious opera-goers and families for well over a hundred years with its story about a brother and sister who outwit an evil witch who lives in a tantalizing gingerbread house and rescue many other children in the process. Solo Opera’s production uses the fairy-tale parable in a couple of gratifying ways beyond providing holiday entertainment: Besides the pro singers, it features performances from local groups like the Contra Costa Children’s Chorus and young dancers from The Next Step Dance Studio in Danville, so it’s a true community effort. And, in collaboration with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, the producers are encouraging audience members to donate food items, which makes particular sense as two of the opera’s major themes are poverty and hunger.
Friday, Dec. 18 - Sunday, Dec. 20: Speak at Z Space, San Francisco. With the Bay Area being the melting pot that it is, it’s no surprise to see the many cultural collaborations that enable styles and genres that normally don’t get to speak to each other to have a bombastic conversation. This dance show combining American tap with Indian Kathak is a case in point. Brought to life by performers Rina Mehta, Rachna Nivas, Michelle Dorrance, and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, Speak celebrates the legacy of some of the biggest names associated with the two disparate genres like Pandit Chitresh Das and Jimmy Slyde, and looks to the future of the artforms. The aim is to find points of contrast and intersection -- just like any good debate.
Now through Sunday, Dec. 20: Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes at Victoria Theatre, San Francisco
Now through Saturday, Dec. 19: Bats Improv presents Improvised Downton Abbey at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco