Cy and David's Picks: A Play About Roe v. Wade, Reimagining Laura Nyro, and Loving a Big Thief

at 10:20 PM
The cast of 'Roe' at Berkeley Repertory Theater (L–R): Sara Bruner (Norma McCorvey), Sarah Jane Agnew (Sarah Weddington), and Susan Lynskey (Linda Coffee). (Photo: Jenny Graham/Berkeley Rep)

KQED's Cy Musiker and David Wiegand share their picks for great show around the Bay Area this week.

Our quick shoutouts on the Do List this week are both free, so they're CHEAP THRILLS, and we love that. David crowed about a show that pairs movie posters with the abstract paintings that might have inspired them at the Anderson Collection at Stanford; KQED's own Sarah Hotchkiss wrote about it here. I'm excited about the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s annual Hot Air Music Festival, featuring students and alumni ensembles (The Ignition Duo, Friction Quartet, and The Living Earth Show among them) performing music you just won't hear anywhere else. Details for the all-day show, Sunday, March 5, at the SFCM are here.

March 4: Laura Nyro wrote and performed some of the biggest hits of the late '60s and early 70's, including "Save the Country" and "Stoned Soul Picnic," during a too, too short career -- she died in 1997 of ovarian cancer. Now pianist Billy Childs has recorded a celebration of Nyro’s music with an all-star band (Shawn Colvin, Rickie Lee Jones, Becca Stevens, Renée Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, Lisa Fischer, Alison Krauss, Susan Tedeschi, Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, and Dianne Reeves -- wow), and he’s bringing the tribute show to San Francisco. Nyro, born Laura Nigro in the Bronx, combined gospel, pop, rock and jazz, with lyrics that were political, poetic, and sometimes whimsical. And for the local connection: her first major professional gig was at the age of 18 at San Francisco's Hungry I coffeehouse. Details for Childs' SF Performances concert Saturday night at SFJAZZ are here.


March 3–April 2: Here's another tribute to a late singer-songwriter; this time it's blueswoman Alberta Hunter (1895-1984). San Francisco's Jewelle Gomez (Waiting for Giovanni) has written Leaving the Blues, a play about Hunter, her music, and her life as a lesbian artist, with a big focus on Hunter's relationship with her partner Lottie Tyler. Hunter quit music for years to work as a nurse, then came out of retirement at the age of 82 and became more popular than ever. Gomez wrote the play with actress Desiree Rogers in mind for the lead, who often works with the LGBT-focused New Conservatory Theatre Center. That's where this show gets its world premiere. Details here.

March 5: We're featuring still another singer-songwriter now. Do you detect a theme?  Gabriel Kahane writes and plays tunes that are a blend of art song, pop, and cabaret, and he's set Craigslist ads to music in a song cycle he’s calling Craigslistlieder, including ditties like “Half a Box of Condoms.” Kahane comes by his love of this classic genre naturally: His dad is pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane (formerly music director for the Santa Rosa Symphony), and son Gabriel is writing songs that somehow both celebrate and mock the old lieder tradition. At this week's concert, Kahane also sings Schumann’s song cycle, “Dichterliebe,” which is just gorgeous, and selections from recent recordings. Details for Kahane's Sunday concert at SFJAZZ are here.

March 3–April 2: Here’s a play about Roe v. Wade that is not a courtroom drama. It’s a modern history play about the very complicated life of Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who successfully fought to make abortion legal; and the equally complicated life of her client Norma McCorvey, who died a few weeks ago, and who famously campaigned against abortion later in her life. Playwright Lisa Loomer says when she wrote the piece for its premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, she and her collaborators all assumed Hillary Clinton would now be president, and she says the show is all the more timely now that we've elected a president who’s pledged to appoint justices who will overturn Roe. In a recent interview, Loomer talked about how her own thinking about abortion changed as she wrote the play. “The awful thing about being a human being," she said, "is that we have to make terrible choices. And the play made me very wary of people who would seek to make my choices seemingly easier than they are, or to tell me, you don’t need to choose, just do what I tell you to do.” There will be pre- and post-show discussions at many of the performances with people working on the issues of women’s health and reproductive rights. Details for Roe at the Berkeley Repertory Theater are here.

March 7: Big Thief’s new album is called Masterpiece, a title which takes a lot of guts when it's also your first album as a band. But it's darn good, with all the songs by vocalist and guitarist Adrianne Lenker (who spent time at the Berklee School of Music). She and Buck Meek are the core of the band, with Max Oleartchik on bass, and James Krivchenia on drums. The title track is pretty rocking, but other songs stray down indie folk and country roads in surprising ways. Catch them in a small club while you still can. Details for Big Thief's gig at the Rickshaw Stop on Tuesday are here.