Fall Arts: The Best Upcoming Theater This Fall

Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Crowded Fire Theater
Aug. 24-27 & Sept. 7-17 at BoxcarPlayhouse, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), S.F.$15-$35; 255-7846 or www.crowdedfire.org

Crowded Fire delivers a feminist comedy about domestic violence in its rolling premiere of Lauren Gunderson's play. Inspired to free herself from her abusive husband by the words of Shakespeare and Jimmy Carter, an exploited wife ricochets between victim and culprit as she awaits the arrival of a bear. She's backed by her best friends, a stripper and a male cheerleader, in this hilarious, raw, and occasionally poignant farce.

Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup
Berkeley Rep
Sept. 2-Oct. 30 at the Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. $26-$69; 510-647-2949 or www.berkeleyrep.org.

What more could the winner of two Emmys, a Grammy, a Tony, and an Academy Award ask for? She might be content to bask in the golden glow from her trophy cabinet, but Rita Moreno isn't ready to relax. Instead, she rounds out her eighth decade of vivacious living by telling her story of struggle and success on stage and off. Since it's perhaps the only piece of outright feel-good theater on the fall roster, Moreno's show has little competition in the warm-your-heart category. Don't be surprised when she pulls it off.

San Francisco Fringe Festival
Sept. 7-18, various locations, S.F.$6-$13; 931-1094 or www.sffringe.org

This year, Fringe Fest presents a whopping 44 plays over 12 days. The unjuried selection means they range from diamonds in the rough to just plain rough, but most have one thing in common — they're not appropriate for children. Spend a few hours at Fringe Fest and sample musicals, autobiographical one-man shows, period pieces, and satirical self-help lectures. Promisingly, several former Fringe awardees are returning with new work, including Afield by last year's Best of Fringe winner Linda Ayres-Frederick and You Can't Play Guitar When You're Dead by 2008 winner Carrie Baum Love.

Phaedra
Shotgun Players
Sept. 21-Oct. 23 at The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at Martin Luther King Jr.), Berkeley. $17-$26; 510-841-6500 ext. 303 or www.shotgunplayers.org

An unsatisfied housewife lusts for her stepson and disastrously pursues her obsession. The visceral tale originates in Greek mythology and has captured audiences since its first stage production in 1677. Shotgun Players indulge our inner voyeur with their 21st-century adaptation by Adam Bock, who sets the scene in suburban Connecticut. Bock probes the whimsy at the heart of clandestine fantasy, with eccentric contributions from company members Nina Ball (set) and Valera Coble (costumes).

Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief
Boxcar Theatre
Sept. 23-Nov. 5 at Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma (at Sixth St.), S.F. $15-$35; 776-1747 or www.boxcartheatre.org

Acclaimed playwright Paula Vogel retells Shakespeare's Othello from the perspective of the female characters. Vogel reinvents the virtuous Desdemona as a vixen guilty of more than her husband ever suspected, modeling herself on Bianca, likely a courtesan in the original but here portrayed as the owner of a brothel. It's a thrilling inversion: Desdemona charges toward her demise with gusto.

Race
American Conservatory Theater
Oct. 21-Nov. 13 at A.C.T., 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. $9.50-$85; 749-2228 or www.act-sf.org

In its Bay Area premiere, David Mamet's new comedy portrays attorneys prepping their defense of a white man accused of assaulting a black woman. Although Mamet couldn't have foreseen the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, this timely, provocative work addresses the intricacies of contemporary racial politics in the tones of the tabloid.

Pelleas & Melisande
The Cutting Ball Theater
Oct. 21-Nov. 27 at EXIT on Taylor,277 Taylor (at Ellis), S.F. $15-30;419-3584 or www.cuttingball.com

Cutting Ball's artistic director, Rob Melrose, delivers a new translation of the ancient, catastrophic love story that maintains the original, haunting narrative of a bride who falls for her brother-in-law instead of her groom. The update includes video installations by Wesley Cabral that will fill the theater, an original score by Cliff Caruthers, and choreography by Laura Arrington.

 
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