(L to R) Katherine “KC” de la Cruz (Ensemble), Jesús E. Martínez (Captain Soldier/Ensemble), and Desiree Rodriguez (Pilar/Ensemble) in the world premiere of 'Kiss My Aztec!' at Berkeley Rep, directed by Tony Taccone. (Cheshire Isaacs/Berkeley Repertory Theatre)
But what of all the other great theater in the shadow of the blockbusters? This summer, the Bay Area is home to an array of the stellar productions, from big musicals to small dramas. Below, we round up the best summertime theater to see on opera stages, black boxes and even on the sidewalk—which, in the Bay Area, is often a stage unto itself.
Eugène Ionesco's absurdist masterpiece involves the inhabitants of a small French town transforming, one by one, into rhinos. But the play's allegories to fascism—and the characterization of those who oppose it as paranoid—could not be any more relevant to the United States in 2019. Staged by ACT, which last year put giant lizards on the stage in Edward Albee's Seascape, Rhinocerous is not only a marvelous study in conformity, but a consistently fun stampede through the possibilities of set and wardrobe.
The retelling of La bohème that swept the world in the 1990s gets the 20th anniversary tour it deserves, including this very quick stop in San Francisco. Rent is particularly resonant in the expensive Bay Area, where living in warehouses and off-the-grid spaces is a necessity for many, and the turmoil of HIV/AIDS hits close to home. If you still get chills at the opening chords of "Seasons of Love," don't sleep on this one-week-only run.
You already know more songs from Carmen than you think you know (thanks, Saturday morning cartoons), and if you're daunted by the marathon of longer operas, Bizet's eternal tale of a woman who dares to live freely clocks in at under three hours. Add to it Francesca Zambello's modern production, James Gaffigan conducting the orchestra and basketball player-turned-opera star J'Nai Bridges (pictured above) in the title role, and you've got a summertime opera that even those who think they hate opera can enjoy.
Written by John Leguizamo and Tony Taccone, this world-premiere musical has more than a whiff of Hamilton for Latin America: a history lesson of resistance in Spanish-occupied Mesoamerica told through salsa, hip-hop, merengue and funk, with a blend of 16th-century dialect and modern slang. Taccone and Leguizamo previously worked together on Latin History for Morons, but this one's special: it's Taccone's final production as artistic director after 33 years at Berkeley Rep.
Cal Shakes, the region's premier purveyors of the Bard, bring this Shakespeare favorite to life this summer with all the sprites, dukes, queens and faeries you've come to know and love. It's easy to forget just how damn fun the action is in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and with costume by Ásta Bennie Hostetter and set by Nina Ball, the visuals are sure to be dazzling. Tyne Rafaeli directs in the picturesque outdoor Bruns Amphitheater.
Pushing the limits of theatrical possibility, ShortLived is a marathon American Idol-esque race to a $5,000 check and eternal Bay Area glory. This year's audience-judged competition features 48 short plays running over the course of 8 weeks, and then a winner-take-all finals on Sept. 6 and 7. If you want to take a dip into the rampant creativity of Bay Area theater—and see some fun, charming competition along the way—you can't do much better than this.
These days, burlesque is everywhere, thanks to an ongoing vaudeville-circus-steampunk revival especially resonant here on the Barbary Coast. And while body positivity has long been a staple of modern burlesque, the ladies of DIVA Or Die Burlesque take that introspection further in Dollhouse Monsters, a half-theater, half-burlesque show that examines our inner behaviors and secrets, why we have them, and why we keep them.
OUT of Site has already brought history to life in North Beach, and now, the theatrical walking tour series alights South of Market for a reevaluation of the neighborhood's LGBTQ contributions. The Castro gets most of the attention, but as OUT of Site points out, SOMA is home to hidden stories, "from Native American Two-Spirit culture to the Folsom Street Fair, Lesbian auto-mechanics to labor activists and dock workers to drag queens." Marga Gomez heads up a cast that should be illuminating and entertaining.
People who work at movie theaters are a specific kind of nerd: exceedingly knowledgable about the minutiae of fictional film, but open to letting real life take over with gale force when it wants to. The winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, The Flick is about three employees of a suburban movie theater in Massachusetts who still know how to run 35mm film projectors, with a script that follows their personal struggles which overlap in unexpected, humorous and heartbreaking fashion.
A joint effort by Dragon Productions Theatre Company and Fuse Theatre, this festival of three one-act plays centers on issues of gender: Because I Went There, Never Swim Alone and Legal-Tender Loving Care. Held in the heart of Redwood City's downtown (time it right, and you could fit in the town's surreal light show a block away in Courthouse Square), the plays should bring a good dose of social justice to the Peninsula.
For arts stories you won't read anywhere else, come to KQED's Arts and Culture desk.