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.
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.
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.