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.
The Bay Area isn’t a big place, geographically speaking. Yet Santa Rosa might as well be Santa Fe or Sao Paulo when it comes to seeing shows around here. In addition to the inevitable gridlock on the freeway and the ever-increasing bridge tolls, there’s the psychological barrier to contend with: many Bay Area theatergoers simply think the performing arts landscape ends at Mill Valley. Go any further, and you’ll fall off into a nightmarish theatrical oblivion. There be dragons? Most certainly -- in the shape of endless productions of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Grease.
But making the pilgrimage up the 101 to experience a show by The Imaginists might be one of the most worthwhile things a theater goer could do. The scrappy company produces an astonishingly smart and visceral body of work from its storefront venue in downtown Santa Rosa. Including original pieces like SitCalm!, a surreal spoof on the American sitcom tradition, outlandish adaptations of well-known works like The Wizard of Oz and creative productions of standard plays like Waiting for Lefty, The Imaginists’ output is more akin to the sort of theater produced by experimental performance art ensembles in places like Berlin, London, Paris and Moscow than most American companies around today.
If Santa Rosa still feels like a very long way away, then you’re in luck: The Imaginists will be making a rare San Francisco appearance later this week at A.C.T.’s The Costume Shop. WarCircus, the company’s brilliant reinvention of Euripides’ drama The Trojan Women, imagines the devastated women of Troy as performers in a threadbare traveling circus. Commerce and tragedy collide as Helen, Cassandra, Hecuba and comrades reenact their story night after night after night in a perverse understanding of the old adage, “the show must go on.”
Thursday, Jan. 28 - Saturday, Jan. 30: The Imaginists present WarCircus at A.C.T.’s The Costume Shop, San Francisco.
A few more shows of note for this week:
Thursday, Jan. 21 - Sunday, Feb. 21: Tigers Be Still at City Lights Theater Company, San Jose
Kim Rosenstock’s prescient comedy about depression follows the fortunes of a down-in-the-mouth young woman who finishes college and then moves back in with her parents. With today’s job market being so tight, it’s a situation to which many a young graduate can relate. Rosenstock, who served as a writer and editor on the Fox TV series New Girl, has a flair for finding levity in dark situations. The comedy’s original off-Broadway run in 2010 was a “Critic’s Pick” in The New York Times and went on to impress Bay Area audiences when SF Playhouse produced the show in 2011. For the South Bay premiere, San Jose’s City Lights Theater Company has assembled a lively local cast under the direction of Virginia Drake.
Now through Sunday, Jan. 31: Theatre Rhinoceros presents A Song at Twilight at Z Below, San Francisco
Noel Coward is much better known for bombastic comedies like Hay Fever and Private Lives than he is for this bittersweet little drama, penned late in the flamboyant entertainer's career. But Theatre Rhino's sensitive-piquant production of A Song at Twilight makes a convincing case for measuring the play alongside his most well-known works. Set in a Swiss hotel in the mid 1960s, the drama outs the closeted homosexual feelings of a revered, aristocratic author, Sir Hugo Latymer, in the autumn of his life. Theatre Rhino artistic director John Fisher brings gusto and sadness to his intimately-detailed portrayal of the central character, a stand-in for Coward himself, who never fully confronted his own sexuality during his life. Fisher's fellow actors, especially Sylvia Kratins as Latymer's canny old flame Carlotta Gray, imbue this well-cast production with humor and pathos.
Saturday, Jan. 23 - Sunday, Feb. 7: D.I.R.T. Festival at Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco
Dance Brigade's Dance Mission Theater launched its activist-centric D.I.R.T. Festival, or Dance In Revolt(ing) Times, with a provocative question: What happens when artists revolt? The answer is provided in the shape of 18 choreographers presenting radically diverse work across three weekends about some of the most pressing local and global socio-political challenges of our time. Now in its second year, the event features pieces by local luminaries including Amara Tabor Smith, Yayoi Kambara and Laura Larry Arrington, as well as free talks and storytelling events around the theme of social responsibility. Oh, and check out April Dembosky’s terrific radio and web story about a collaboration between turf and ballet dancers that’s part of the festival.
Saturday, Jan. 23 - Saturday, Mar. 26: Bay Area Children’s Theatre presents Bad Kitty on Stage at various venues in Berkeley, San Ramon and San Francisco
If you’re a cat person like me, you might find this new stage adaptation of The New York Times best-selling children’s picture book series by Nick Bruel about a naughty cat who likes nothing better than to cause an uproar in its owner’s home, rather compelling. Bay Area Children’s Theatre says this hour-long family-friendly production is suitable for kids aged four and up. It’s directed by Benjamin Hanna and features a book and music by Min Kahng. Bay Area audiences can catch the mischievous moggy and its friends in a variety of locations between now and the end of March -- first at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley (through Feb. 21), then at the Dougherty Performing Arts Center (through Feb. 28) and finally at the Children’s Creativity Museum Theater in San Francisco (through Mar. 26.)
Tuesday, Jan. 26: Jermaine Fowler’s Give Em Hell, Kid Tour at The Independent, San Francisco
I came across Jermaine Fowler when someone send me a series of YouTube segments featuring the smart, young African-American comedian. In one mad monologue from The Late Late Show with James Corden, Fowler cracked me up with his jokes about what it’s like to get mistaken for his no-good twin brother and how a defensive aunt in Maryland (who is spelling-challenged) takes his part against people who express negative comments about him on social media. Fowler, who has been criss-crossing the country performing standup with Comedy Central, MTV and Funny or Die, brings his latest humor to San Francisco to celebrate the launch of his comedy special, Give Em Hell, Kid.
And a couple more shows worth checking out: