Maybe it’s the longer daylight hours, or a trace memory of childhood summers "off," but whatever the reason, there’s no denying that summertime in the Bay Area is the time to play. And fortunately for those of us whose idea of a good time is a riveting monologue or imaginative mise-en-scène, we can spend both the warmer days outdoors and chillier evenings inside watching some of the best performers the Bay Area has to offer. Here are our top picks for summertime theater.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
ACT’s Geary Theater, San Francisco
If you missed Carey Perloff and Ursula Rani Sarma’s smash 2017 adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, fret not. You can make up for it with this resurrection of the show, Perloff’s last hurrah at American Conservatory Theater, where she’s recently stepped down as artistic director after 26 years. Set in Afghanistan, this female-led work offers a look inside a Taliban-run Kabul through the intimate lens of a single household. It's riveting, essential, transcendent drama, and an appropriate send-off for the woman who first ushered it onto the stage.
Z Below, NOHspace, and Joe Goode Annex (San Francisco) and The Flight Deck (Oakland)
Every other year, experimental theater company fools FURY invites like-minded ensembles from all around the country for a festival of devised and collaborative ensemble work, which they’ve dubbed FURY Factory. Not only does FURY Factory provided opportunities for Bay Area audiences to connect with the work of such nationally-recognized companies as Pig Iron and Teatro Luna, but it ably showcases the wild diversity of Bay Area-based performance ensembles, from dance companies to clowns to the purely uncategorizable. And this year, to ensure that audiences on both sides of the Bay will get a shot at FURY, they’re expanding their programming to include Oakland’s Flight Deck as one of their venues.
The Lab, San Francisco
Looking for something out of the box? At The Lab, in the Mission District, San Francisco queer performance artist Keith Hennessy dusts off his Bessie award-winning Crotch for its 10-year anniversary. A powerful and playful work that uses the German Fluxus artist/activist Joseph Beuys as a muse, and combines raw physicality, installation art, a lecture in art history and community ritual, this rare revival will inspire.
PianoFight's Shortlived VII
June 14–Aug. 25
PianoFight’s Main Stage, San Francisco
Can theater-going be as thrilling as a high-stakes sporting match? The fine folks at PianoFight think so, and they’re willing to put up $5,000 to prove it. Attendees at the seventh annual ShortLived competition Thursday-Saturday, from mid-June to the end of August, will cheer 48 competitors into the final round, where the winning play of the year walks away with a $5,000 cash prize and bragging rights for life.
King of Cuba
July 21–Aug. 19
Berkeley City Club, Berkeley
Ushering its 60th world premiere production into the public eye, 27 year-old Central Works presents an adaptation of Cristina García’s (2003) novel King of Cuba, as adapted by García herself as part of Central Works’ Writer’s Workshop. A comedic speculation of the fate of an aging Cuban dictator, “El Comandante,” and his nemesis Goyo, who plots against him from Miami, this brash imagining stars Bay Area comedy legend Marga Gomez—and Steve Ortiz as her would-be assassin, with live percussion from Havana-born “bongocero” Carlos Caro.
Angels in America
Through July 22
Berkeley Rep, Berkeley
It may have opened in May, but Berkeley Rep’s superlative production of Tony Kushner’s barrier-breaking Angels in America runs through July 22, making it the summer’s hottest theater pick. Consisting of two epic plays running in repertory, each around three-and-a-half hours long, Angels is definitely a commitment, but once you start watching, you may never want it to end. In fact, it's recommended to clear the calendar and see a marathon day of both shows back-to-back (presented mostly on Saturdays). Consider it a mini-vacation to an exotic realm.
Seeing Red: A Time-Traveling Musical
Through Sept. 9
This summer, declare independence from specious “Independence Day” traditions that glorify war toys and frighten your pets. Then spend a leisurely afternoon with the San Francisco Mime Troupe in Dolores Park, where they open their 59th Season with company member Rotimi Agbabiaka’s Seeing Red: A Time-Traveling Musical. Like Easter Sunday with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, July 4 with the SFMT is an inclusive, surprisingly family-friendly reminder that the Bay Area is not Kansas, and if we wanna celebrate that most bellicose of American holidays with a comic musical about American socialism, then who’s to say we shouldn’t? (Perhaps the NEA, who pulled the Mime Troupe’s funding this season?) This year, it’s up to us to support them.
Shotgun Players' White
July 6–Aug. 5
Ashby Stage, Berkeley
With this West Coast premiere of Pennsylvania-based playwright James Ijames’ provocative comedy about racial identity, cultural appropriation, fine art, and what it means to challenge the gatekeepers, Shotgun Players remains committed to new works with fresh takes on hot topics. In a farce reminiscent of the Joe Scanlan/Donelle Woolford controversy at the Whitney Biennial in 2014, White imagines a scenario in which rising artist Gus (Adam Donovan), a white man, hires Vanessa (Santoya Fields), a black woman, to pretend to be the artist behind his work so he can get into a museum exhibition. What happens next surprises even them, and certainly the audience.