Autumn in the Bay Area is a vibrant time for the performing arts, the only real limit being the number of days in a week to fit it all in. During a time when theater companies are either ending seasons or beginning new ones, the overlap creates a truly staggering array of options. World premieres, revisited triumphs, anniversary celebrations, and international visitors fill this season’s arts calendar. Here are but a few of its offerings worth seeing.
Crowded Fire Theatre Company, Portrero Stage, San Francisco
Sept. 13–Oct 6, 2018
Written over 10 years ago, Young Jean Lee’s faith-finding mission Church consistently resonates with those who struggle with the losing-my-religion syndrome of the pragmatic empiricist. Raised in a Korean-American evangelical family, Lee knows all too well the feeling of comfort and familiarity a well-timed church service can offer even a skeptic. In Church, directed for Crowded Fire by Mina Morita, she explores the various manifestations of faith-based thinking for believers and non-believers alike.
The Midway, San Francisco
Sept. 14–15, 2018
An ambitious collaboration with Mill Valley-based indie rockers YASSOU and a coterie of high-level Bay Area ballet dancers, FURY brings the core narrative of Mad Max: Fury Road to the club. Combining live music, projections, and dance, the show contains themes of hope, heroism, and homecoming for adventurous audiences. Installed at the Midway, a multi-use space in the Dogpatch perhaps best known for late-night electronic music events, FURYseeks to challenge the norms of ballet performance by integrating it with pop culture touchstones to create a vibrant, immersive experience.
California Shakespeare Theater, Bruns Amphitheater, Orinda
Sept. 25–Oct. 7, 2018
This revival of Marcus Gardley’s Homeric epic updates the pain and poetry of a man in exile, as one Ulysses Jackson struggles to return home to Oakland after being shipwrecked in another time and place. His journey to find himself, physically and metaphorically, includes the squabbling gods and patient wife of the Greek original, mixed with modern references to Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, and the cold-blooded assassinations of black men throughout history. Gardley has a longtime connection to the East Bay, and closes out the Cal Shakes 2018 season with a heroic flourish.
ACT Geary Theater, San Francisco
Sept. 26–Oct. 21, 2018
The first play under the tenure of ACT’s new artistic director Pam MacKinnon, Sweat is set in a Pennsylvania factory town, where union strife, racial tension, and recession woes are tearing longtime relationships apart. Playwright Lynn Nottage famously spent over two years interviewing the citizens of Reading, Pennsylvania in order to distill their hopes and fears in this very timely and Pulitzer-winning play, hailed by the New Yorker as “the first theatrical landmark of the Trump era.” Directed by Magic Theatre’s Loretta Greco.
Schaubühne Theater’s 'An Enemy of the People'
Cal Performances, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley
Oct. 12–13, 2018
One of Europe’s top-rated theater companies, Berlin-based Schaubühne Theater first staged its controversial take on Ibsen’s ode to a whistleblower, An Enemy of the People, in 2012. Rather than lose any of the urgency with which Ibsen imbued it in 1882, this touring production has stirred impassioned audience responses from Avignon to London to New York. Adapted and updated by Floriam Borchmeyer, featuring Christoph Gawenda as a scruffy, hipster Stockmann, who nonetheless takes his responsibility to the public good seriously, the play is performed in the cast’s native German, with English supertitles.
Weekend at CounterPulse: 'The Homophobes, a Clown Show' and 'Traumboy'
CounterPulse, San Francisco
Oct. 17–19 and Oct. 21, 2018
CounterPulse has long championed genre-defying work from both hyperlocal performers and touring ones, and in October the venue co-hosts two edgy out-of-town performances: The Homophobes, a Clown Show, brought by longtime queer artmaker and director Dino Dinco, and Traumboy starring Daniel Hellman, a Swiss-born male prostitute and performance artist, in conjunction with the Zürich Meets San Francisco Festival. The Homophobes, a genderqueered divine comedy by Argentinean playwright Susana Cook, features a pregnant reverend whose congregation is taken aback by the implications of tangible immaculate conception. Traumboy, meanwhile, explores the realities and fantasies of male sex work from Hellman’s perspective. Both shows should prove to be fascinating forays, whether on their own or in tandem.
'An American Ma(u)l'
Brava Theatre, San Francisco
Oct. 18–Nov. 11, 2018
The satirical genius of playwright Robert O’Hara has found a solid home with Black Artists Contemporary Cultural Experience, who presented his subversive Bootycandy in 2017. This fall, they produce his American Ma(u)l, an irreverent script that brings the cotton gin and all its attendant social and political implications to a futurist America (an improbable scenario which nonetheless seems more and more believable as the current administration progresses). Directed by Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe at Brava Theater.
San Francisco Trolley Dances 15-year Anniversary
Mission Creek Park, N-Judah Muni Line, San Francisco
Oct. 20–21, 2018
For lovers of the Muni Diaries, SF’s robust, homegrown dance scene, and the hybrid performance/tour model, there's nothing like this year’s 15-year anniversary for Epiphany Dance Theater’s charming Trolley Dances, a site-integrated, transit-minded showcase. For the price of a MUNI ticket, riders join the trolley dancers as they meet up at Mission Creek Park, then jump on the N-Judah line to head over to SFMOMA—stopping along the way to experience mini dance performances. A diverse array of companies is involved, including SF stalwarts such as ODC/Dance and Robert Moses’ Kin, traveling guests from San Diego Dance Theater, and festival newcomers such as Aisan Hoss and Dancers and the Hālau Makana Polynesian Cultural Arts company.
'When Did Your Hands Become a Weapon?'
Brava Theatre, San Francisco
Oct. 25–Nov. 4, 2018
Within Bay Area arts organization Cultural Odyssey are nested several long-term performance projects, including the Medea Project, Theater for Incarcerated Women and HIV Circle. Helmed by Cultural Odyssey’s Rhodessa Jones, the almost-30-year-old Medea Project collaborates with and performs works by incarcerated women and women living with HIV, combining urgent storytelling with physical movement, music, and ritual. When Did Your Hands Become a Weapon? tackles themes of domestic violence and sexual abuse, as well as the mechanisms we use to survive and heal from it, part of Cultural Odyssey’s 40-year anniversary season.