Show Me Yours: Taylor Mac's Epic American Songbook Journey, ACT New Strands Fest and more

Taylor Mac (Photo: Kevin Yatarola)

January can be a little slow on the performing arts front around here, with artists typically sleeping off the hectic holiday performance season and returning groggily to the stage. That's patently not the case this year though. The drag queens have already straightened out their wigs, the thespians have learned their lines in record time and the dancers are warmed up and raring to go.

This is, of course, a good thing, though it's hard to keep up with all the tantalizing shows happening on our stages right now. But we'll do our best. Here are some suggestions to get you in training for what's likely to be a busy year ahead.

Now through Sunday, Jan. 31: Palo Alto Players presents Death of a Salesman at Lucie Stern Theater, Palo Alto
At a time in history where it’s not so much what you do that counts but how you market what you do, the figure of the salesman is king. It’s why the swaggering protagonists in hit TV shows like Mad Men and movies like The Wolf of Wall Street resonate so strongly with audiences. Salesman weren’t always this sexy though, as Arthur Miller’s celebrated 1949 drama, Death of a Salesman, reminds us. The play centers on the misfortunes of pop culture’s original salesman, Willy Loman, as the drooping has-been attempts to make sense of his once-promising but now tattered life. Palo Alto Players’ community-minded production, directed by Kristen Lo, features staff and ex-students from Gunn High School, a public high school in Palo Alto.

Miwa Matreyek performs a scene from 'Myth and Infrastructure' at ACT's New Strands Festival
Miwa Matreyek performs a scene from 'Myth and Infrastructure' at ACT's New Strands Festival (Photo: Gayle Laird)

Thursday, Jan. 21 through Sunday, Jan. 24: New Strands Festival at American Conservatory Theater’s Strand Theater, San Francisco
If the American Conservatory Theater has been accused in the past of failing to focus enough energy on new theater and Bay Area talent, this four-day festival from the Bay Area flagship theater refutes the naysayers. Highlights of this free, “open house”-style event include Myth and Infrastructure, a show about the history of the world told through projected animations and shadow silhouettes of performer Miwa Matreyek, an open rehearsal of a new work-in-progress, Fatherville, involving master puppeteer Basil Twist, Zaccho Dance Theatre’s latest performance installation inspired by the history of the Strand Theater and an array of musical performances, participatory workshops and talks.

Ric Salinas of Culture Clash performs the title role in PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo by Paul Flores.
Ric Salinas of Culture Clash performs the title role in PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo by Paul Flores. (Photo: Courtesy of San Francisco International Arts Festival)

Thursday, Jan. 21 through Sunday, Jan. 24: Placas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo at East Bay Center for Performing Arts, Richmond
To prep for his lyrical, bilingual drama aimed at humanizing people from immigrant communities in California who fall prey to gang violence, playwright and spoken word artist Paul Flores spoke with more than a hundred gang members, their families and social workers in the U.S. and El Salvador. The play stars Ric Salinas, co-founder of the lauded theater ensemble Culture Clash, as a Salvadoran deportee living in the shadow of his violent past. Salinas’ character is based on the real-life story of Alex Sanchez, a former gang member who went on to launch the gang violence intervention non-profit, Homies Unidos, in Los Angeles . The play lands in Richmond before embarking on a tour that will take it to Stockton, Santa Ana and L.A.

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Thursday, Jan. 21 through Saturday, Jan. 30: Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music at Curran Theatre, San Francisco
When it comes to sheer endurance and chutzpah, Taylor Mac has to be the David Blaine of the theater world. The brilliant, louche cabaret artist from Stockton is in the process of creating no less than a 24-hour musical extravaganza which takes audience members on a decade-by-decade journey through the dense history of the American songbook from tunes composed during the American Revolution to the pop songs of the present day. In San Francisco, Mac presents the first two parts of his musical mega-saga covering the period from 1776 to 1836. Expect plenty of glitter, heels and audience participation. The artist plans to give a one-off performance of his magnum opus in its 24-hour-long entirety later this year in New York, where he will be accompanied by a 24-piece band, a chorus line, and special guests. In preparation for this feat of theatrical derring-do, Mac’s website advises audiences to “bring bedding and toiletries.”

Compagnie Hervé Koubi in 'What the Day Owes to the Night'
Compagnie Hervé Koubi in 'What the Day Owes to the Night' (Photo: Nelson Romero Valarezo)

Friday, Jan. 22 through Sunday, Jan 24: Compagnie Hervé Koubi presents What the Day Owes to the Night at ODC, San Francisco
Hervé Koubi was born in France and belatedly discovered his Algerian roots. With this west coast debut, the acclaimed choreographer explores his African origins with a dance work based on urban forms like capoeira and hip-hop and performed by a cast of 12 male dancers from Algeria and Burkino Faso. The highly personal, hour-long piece takes inspiration from Islamic architecture and Orientalist paintings to tell a physically gripping story of tangled roots and cultures.

Other cool stuff to check out in the coming days:

Wednesday, Jan. 20 through Sunday, Jan. 31: Theatre Rhinoceros presents A Song at Twilight at Z Below, San Francisco

Friday, Jan. 22 through Saturday, Jan. 23: The Edwardian Ball at The Regency Ballroom, San Francisco

Friday, Jan. 22 through Saturday, Jan. 23: The Odyssey - From Vietnam to America at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Friday, Jan. 22 through Sunday, Jan. 31: Cal Performances presents Berkeley RADICAL: The Natural World at Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley