David Bowie's gone. The world weeps. Like many kids growing up in the UK in the 1970s and 80s, the British rock icon's music -- yes, even the slightly questionable stuff from his New Wave and pop era -- spoke to me in a way that no other music possibly could. I owned a pair of red shoes. I learned, for a bit, to dance the blues. I once painted lightning flashes on my face for a costume party.
As much as to say that Bowie's impact hasn't just been left on the music world. Performing artists of all stripes owe the great man a great debt, including, in the Bay Area, gender-pushers like Fauxnique (Monique Jenkinson) and the cabaret/tribute act First Church of the Sacred Silversexual.
Bowie himself was no stranger to the theater. It's no surprise that the rest of the run of the Bowie musical Lazarus, currently playing in New York is, barring a single pair of tickets at $1242 apiece, entirely sold out. (Bowie co-wrote the piece; it takes its inspiration from the 1963 novel The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis, and features many classic Bowie songs.) But like all inimitable artists, it won't be too long, I expect, before we start to see more theatrical and film tributes to Bowie coming down the pike.
Speaking of which, Bay Area performing arts organizations are currently resurrecting two other great cultural figures from the dead. American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma's concurrent shows -- about music greats Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson respectively -- take stock of the lives of these monumental artists in a way that's both celebratory and unflinching. Perhaps seeing these biographical productions will inspire fans to dream up their own theatrical interpretations of Bowie's life .
Now through Wednesday, Jan. 13: Anton’s Well Theater Company presents Dying City at the Berkeley City Club, Berkeley.
In East Coast dramatist Christopher Shinn’s 2006 drama, Kelly, a therapist, tries to get over the untimely death of her husband, Craig, a soldier who was killed while on active duty in Iraq, by watching endless episodes of Law and Order. When the deceased’s twin brother, Peter, shows up to reminisce and console her, Kelly’s depression worsens and Peter struggles with his own feelings of loss. The taut, provocative play -- staged by newcomer theater company Anton’s Well and appreciatively reviewed by KQED’s Jeffrey Edalatpour -- was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2008.
Saturday, Jan. 16 - Monday, Jan. 18: Fictionville Studio, Banu Productions and ShadowLight Productions present Feathers of Fire at The Cowell Theater, San Francisco.
Romeo and Juliet, Rapunzel and The Jungle Book collide in this mythical tale about a pair of star-crossed lovers based on Shahnama (The Book of Kings), an ancient Persian text. Composed at the end of the 10th Century by the poet Ferdowsi, it's the world's longest piece of epic poetry written by a single -- and obviously very single-minded -- scribe and tells a tale that begins with the creation of the world and ends with the Islamic invasion of Persia in the 7th century. The august Bay Area puppet company, ShadowLight Productions, is teaming up with Guggenheim fellow, visual artist and filmmaker, Hamid Rahmanian to create a colorful performance that includes more than 160 hand-made shadow puppets, live animation and music from the Iranian band Niyaz. These local preview performances precede the show's official world premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York in February.
Now through Sunday, Jan, 17: punkkiCo Dance Company presents Salve Regina at NOHSpace, San Francisco.
Representations of the female body as mystical, beautiful and utterly terrifying are as old as human civilization. It’s not for nothing that the legend of the vagina dentata isn’t unique to western culture -- saber-toothed lady-parts pop up in Hindu, Shinto and Maori mythologies too. And now the Finnish-born, Bay Area-based choreographer is celebrating the many facets of the female form in a new six-part dance work. The piece delves into politically strident topics like religion’s obsession with virginity and what happens when women’s bodies are covered vs. uncovered. Oh, and the show also includes a pregnant woman performing a duet with her gestating fetus.
Now through Sunday, Jan. 24: Mahalia Jackson: Just As I Am at Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma.
Mahalia Jackson, America’s undisputed “Queen of Gospel,” was heralded internationally for her lusty contralto voice and her fierce activism. The famous vocalist’s brilliant and challenging life gets an appropriately musical retelling in actor and singer Sharon E. Scott’s show. Cinnabar Theater presents the west coast premiere of Scott’s show, for which the New York-born performer has won praise -- both for her gobsmacking stage presence and for the holy rollin’ power of her voice.
Wednesday, Jan. 13 - Sunday, Feb. 7: Satchmo at the Waldorf at the American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco
Theater-critic-turned-dramatist Terry Teachout’s solo show about Louis Armstrong (whose nickname was “Satchmo,” short for “satchel-mouth”) explores the last days of the great American jazz trumpeter’s life. The play takes place in 1971 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City after the last performance the by-then-physically-frail musician ever gave and captures Armstrong’s conflicted relationships with his mobster agent Joe Glaser and jazz great Miles Davis. Powerhouse Canadian-American actor John Douglas Thompson -- over whom The New York Times gushed: "There may be no better classical actor working in the New York theater right now” -- portrays all three roles.
Other upcoming events you should endeavor not to miss:
Thursday, Jan 14 - Saturday, Jan. 16: Company Wayne McGregor presents Atomos at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
Monday, Jan. 18: Youth Speaks presents 19th Annual Bringing the Noise for Dr. Martin Luther King at the Nourse Theatre, San Francisco
Thursday, Jan. 7 - Sunday, Jan. 24: SF Sketchfest at various venues around San Francisco