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.
There are times when you wish the people behind a long-running or oft-reprised theatrical production would just cash in their chips and call it quits. The thought crosses my mind every time I see Phantom of the Opera returning for yet another San Francisco run, or when I consider the fact that Catherine Russell, the lead actress in the astonishingly long-running off-Broadway theatrical thriller Perfect Crime, has acted in more than 11,000 performances of the show since it debuted in 1987.
Every now and again, though, a show deserves to have a long shelf-life. That’s how I feel about Club Inferno, a feisty glam-rock musical based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. San Francisco’s resplendently louche Thrillpeddlers theater company, which created the show, is bringing it back to the stage for the third time since it first appeared in 2000.
Club Inferno had an outing last summer, which I adored for the singability of the songs, the intelligent-kitsch sense of humor, and the bonkers energy of the performances. The musical depicts Italy’s most famous Medieval poet as a pop diva. When Dante wakes up at the Gates of Hell following a terrible accident in the middle of her high-octane club act, she winds up taking a circuitous route back to the land of the living accompanied by Virgil. On the way, they run into a host of eclectic characters including Cleopatra, Karen Carpenter and — when the duo finally reaches the final circle of hell — Judy Garland. Created by Kelly Kittell and Peter Fogel and directed by Russell Blackwood, the production features many of the original cast members and heaps of Thrillpeddlers’ characteristic hedonism. Club Inferno runs Thursday, Feb. 4 through Saturday, Mar. 5; Thrillpeddlers at The Hypnodrome, San Francisco.
And here are some other lively stage goings-on to give you something to talk about this week:
Now through Sunday, Feb. 28: Sagittarius Ponderosa at New Conservatory Theatre Center, San Francisco
A young trans man is at the heart of playwright M. J. Kaufman’s world premiere play. The drama follows the story of Archer who travels back home to eastern Oregon after he finds out that his father is dying. Between dealing with his family -- the members of which still insist on calling him by his former name, Angela -- and having a chance meeting with a mysterious, erudite stranger, Archer learns more about his identity and roots as well as about the evolving nature of the world around him. What sets this play apart from other trans narratives is that the theme of transition is more metaphorical than literal. "I had been feeling frustrated that most queer narratives are coming-out stories and most transgender narratives are transition stories,” Kaufman is quoted as saying on the theater website Broadway World. “I wanted to create art that would acknowledge constant change as an intrinsic part of being a person."
Now through Sunday, Feb. 28: Little Erik at Aurora Theatre, Berkeley
Henrik Ibsen wrote his play Little Eyolf in 1894. At the time, the plotline, about a wife who supports the family while the husband stays home to write a novel and look after their kid, must have seemed crazily far-fetched. But today, the gender role-reversal feels more normal, which is in part why San Francisco dramatist, actor and director Mark Jackson became intrigued by the quirky, domestic drama. Jackson’s adaptation fully transports the action into our own times for this Aurora Theatre world premiere: Marilee Talkington plays the role of a Silicon Valley executive and Joseph Estlack takes on the part of her husband who has just returned home following a sabbatical abroad. Jackson directs. “Ibsen is really great at writing psychologically messy characters, and these characters are particularly messy,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in a recent interview about the new show.
Thursday, Feb. 4: Kid Koala’s Nufonia Must Fall at the Bing Concert Hall, Stanford
Kid Koala (aka Eric San) has made a career of entertaining audiences around the globe with his turntables. He’s toured with the Beastie Boys and Radiohead. But there’s a lot more to the Canadian scratch DJ’s art practice than spinning records. His enchanting 2003 graphic novel Nufonia Must Fall about an inept robot’s attempt to woo a busy girl with his love songs has been turned into a live show featuring puppets, live music and silent film. What’s more, the audience gets to see the production crew pulling the show together in real-time before their very eyes: puppeteers animate miniature puppets, the Afiara Quartet provides the musical accompaniment on strings and piano, and Kid Koala does his stuff on the decks. Spike Jonze collaborator and Her Oscar nominee K. K. Barrett keeps things thrumming along in his role as director. The action, skilfully edited in the moment, comes alive on a big screen above the stage with the aid of GoPro cameras that film the scenes. The show has already gotten great reviews in cities like New York and Toronto and is attracting a big crowd to Stanford.
Friday, Feb. 5 and Saturday, Feb. 6: Diablo Ballet presents Precision and Balance at Del Valle Theatre, Walnut Creek
One of the things I love about the Bay Area is that even small cities are able to sustain rarefied things like professional dance companies. Such is the case with Walnut Creek’s Diablo Ballet, which has been performing for and educating audiences in the East Bay since 1993. This week, the company is presenting the George Balanchine masterpiece Apollo, which the iconic American choreographer described as his artistic coming of age. The program also includes Tina Kay Bohnstedt’s My Way, a charismatic piece set to an arrangement of Frank Sinatra songs, as well as Milieu by Robert Dekkers, which includes a live performance of a commissioned score by Daniel Berkman. And if you miss Diablo Ballet performing this weekend, the company will be showing select pieces from its repertoire on Feb. 19 and 20 at San Jose State University.
Also worth checking out:
Friday, Jan. 29 - Thursday, Feb. 4: Broadway San Jose presents The Wizard of Oz at San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, San Jose