Returning to theater regularly after the heights of the pandemic is all about getting comfortable with new normals. Showing your vax card, slapping a little sticker on your shirt as proof of checking in and masking up while taking in a staged story are all small sacrifices—ones well worth making in order to support theater companies in the Bay.
This fall lineup of shows has something for everyone, from intimate, narrative-driven gatherings to mammoth regional and world premieres—as well as a prodigal child triumphantly returning to the Bay Area.
Here are 11 shows you don’t want to miss this fall.
Playwright and poet Marcus Gardley has achieved an impressive national profile, and is now lending his talents to constructing a modern-day verse translation of William Shakespeare’s King Lear. The West Oakland native is part of an incredible East Bay crew crafting the show, including fellow Oaklander Dawn Monique Williams, who’s co-directing the piece with outgoing artistic director Eric Ting, departing Cal Shakes after seven years at the helm.
The company partnered with Oakland Theater Project to tell the story of Lear, a man whose loyalties to two of his three daughters lead to his self-destruction. San Francisco-based jazz icon Marcus Shelby lends original, live compositions to the production.
This long-anticipated world premiere was developed at Berkeley Rep’s Center for the Creation and Development of New Work, named the Ground Floor. The show, written by Tony nominee Christina Anderson and co-produced with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, follows Janice as she wrestles with her childhood and her parents’ activism; themes include political inheritance, racial justice and family forgiveness.
The 7 Fingers Creative Collective has made a strong footprint in the Bay Area, bringing back the legendary venue Club Fugazi with their love-letter production of Dear San Francisco, focusing on mind-blowing circus acts and live music. Now, founding co-artistic director Shana Carroll has written, directed and choreographed the new production Passengers, telling a story about transit in all its forms through circus arts, dance, song, acrobatics and theater.
The Bay Area premiere of highly decorated and Pulitzer-winning playwright Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive) explores the story of Sholem Asch and his debut of The God of Vengeance, in 1922, which polarized Broadway, ultimately leading to the arrests of cast members and an obscenity trial. The score is loaded with traditional Eastern European Jewish music, or klezmer, and is co-produced with the Bay Area’s Yiddish Theatre Ensemble.
Like so many performing arts groups in March of 2020, Golden Thread was forced to rethink and ultimately postpone their upcoming production—The Language of Wild Berries is a long time in the making. Written by Iranian playwright Naghmeh Samini and translated by Torange Yeghiazarian, the play's plot revolves around the 10th wedding anniversary of Donya and Davood, who return to their honeymoon spot on the Caspian Sea to celebrate. But there is an eerie factor, as they are now followed by a mysterious stranger who forces the couple to deeply examine their marriage both present and past. The company’s answer two years ago was to release the show as a radio play, but Golden Thread is now ready for the in-person production in its U.S. premiere, which provides a glimpse into the lives of contemporary Iranians.
The world premiere of The Red Shades takes the thrill of musical theater and fuses it with a rock concert. The story follows transgender teen girl Ida, who escapes from her small town to a gang of trans superheroes in the Tenderloin. Leading the show are two incredible forces—the fantastic Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe co-directs with phenomenal multi-hyphenate Rotimi Agbabiaka, who is coming off performing multiple roles in a glitzy production of Midsummer Night’s Dream in Washington, D.C.
Oct. 28-Nov. 20
The Oakland Theater at Flax Art & Design
A mysterious book, an unknown language, and an infinite number of pages are the backbone of the narrative, inspired by Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges’ short story from 1975. The piece of magical realism is the basis for the company’s wonderful associate artistic director Lisa Ramirez and her script to ask many profound questions about beginnings, endings and the journey to achieve peace.
The River Bride is a highly produced work by Texas native Marisela Treviño Orta, who spent many years honing her craft in the Bay Area and received her MFA at the University of San Francisco; the piece was developed in San Rafael at Alter Theater’s AlterLab in 2013 before making its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2016. Its story takes place over three days before a wedding, when a handsome man is fished from the Amazon River, forcing two sisters into potentially dangerous choices. Amazon folklore and magical realism inform this powerful tale of love and transformation.
The daring artists at Shotgun Players take on the highly acclaimed musical, which got its start in 2012 at the phenomenal Ars Nova in Lower Manhattan. A snippet of Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace is the basis for composer Dave Malloy’s adaptation focusing on Natasha, a young woman in search of her fiancé in 19th-century Russia, and middle-aged soul Pierre, a man awash in regrets. A standard setup in the Ashby is out the window, and in its place are cabaret tables topped with Russian vodka, and a scintillating set from designer Nina Ball.
A touring show might be an odd choice for a region’s top fall theatre picks, but Ain’t Too Proud has a rich history in the Bay Area. It made its world premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2017 and became the Rep’s highest grossing production before transferring to multiple cities and then Broadway. The show was nominated for 12 Tonys, but only snagged one, which honored Sergio Trujillo’s scintillating choreography. It went strong for a year in New York until COVID-19 wreaked havoc everywhere; the musical then struggled to find its footing after re-opening in October of 2021, closing for good in January. Still, a plethora of feel-good hits and some delightful insight into the story of the iconic Motown group make for a fun evening of nostalgia—and a second chance to score tickets after the Rep’s multiple sold-out extensions.
Nov. 17-Dec. 18
City Lights Theater Company, San Jose
The venerable 40-year-old South Bay company takes on MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient Larissa Fasthorse’s satirical send-up. The play focuses on a group of white teaching artists tasked with creating a Thanksgiving pageant. Their mission: honor both the holiday and Native American Heritage Month while displaying cultural sensitivity towards everyone and everything. The searing one-act play is slated for Broadway in the spring of 2023, produced by non-profit theater Second Stage, who stated that Fasthorse will be the first female Native American playwright to land on the Great White Way.
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