Fall Arts 2016: Theater

Dear Master
Sept. 8 – Oct. 2
Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, auroratheatre.org

Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre is celebrating its 25th anniversary by reviving the play that started it all: Dear Master by Dorothy Bryant, who still lives in Berkeley. Aurora’s founding artistic director Barbara Oliver starred in this play, which is based on the letters between French novelists George Sand and Gustave Flaubert about writing and their very different lives. (Sand had a large family and was much more social than Flaubert, who apparently liked to keep to his writing schedule.) The critics went nuts about Dear Master when it ran in 1991 at the Berkeley City Club, with the San Francisco Bay Guardian writing, “What might have been merely a bookish exercise shimmers with relevant and touching insights into politics, art, and life.” Acclaimed Bay Area actor and director Joy Carlin directs.

August: Osage County
Sept. 13 – Oct. 2
Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, marintheatre.org

Twenty-five years may seem like a long time for a theater, but Mill Valley’s Marin Theater Company has been around for twice that. Kicking off its 50th season is the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County, Tracy Letts’ seriously dark comedy about kids coming back to their Oklahoma home when their alcoholic father goes missing. Their mother is there, taking pills — some for her mouth cancer and some just because. Family! Lots of secrets get spilled, grievances are aired, and nasty remarks are made in this play directed by MTC’s artistic director, Jasson Minadakis.

Oct. 1 – Nov. 14
San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., sfplayhouse.org

San Francisco Playhouse puts on this story about the battle between creativity and the bottom line at an eight-table restaurant that has become a New York favorite in Seared. The Playhouse commissioned Theresa Rebeck, a prolific playwright who has also written and produced TV shows (Smash, NYPD Blue), movies (Harriet the Spy, Gossip), and — oh, why not, a couple of novels — to write the play where the restaurant’s investors would like to case in on its success. But the chef isn’t ready to sell out.

Avant GardARAMA!
Oct. 5-23
Cutting Ball at the EXIT Theatre, 277 Taylor St., cuttingball.com

San Francisco’s Cutting Ball is nothing if not experimental. The Tenderloin theater that brought us a documentary-style play about the neighborhood, a production of Ubu Roi set in the kitchen, and a play imagining a relationship between Donald Rumsfeld and Frederick Douglas starts the season with Avant GardARAMA!, a performance festival of seven experimental shorts showcasing the work of Bay Area directors. One of those plays was written by a 16-year-old student at the School of the Arts and directed by one of his teachers. That play is just four minutes long, but in that time you’ll get a story involving an antagonistic narrator and a crocodile. Other pieces include a meeting of two different sides of Virginia Woolf’s personality, one based on a Federico Garcia Lorca play, and a dance-theater fusion piece about the electoral process.

Oct. 12-30
Magic Theater, Building D, Fort Mason Center, magictheatre.org

Campo Santo, the ensemble group that produces new plays by local artists, loves taking risks and has no interest in playing it safe. For example, the last piece they did was Star Finch’s H.O.M. E. (Hookers on Mars Eventually), a futuristic story featuring a post-gentrified Oakland and a Google colony on Mars. This fall, the company, founded by theater superstars Sean San José, Margo Hall, Michael Torres and the late Luis Saguar, is collaborating with Tuscon, Ariz.’s Borderlands Theater on Nogales, a play written by Richard Montaya, who co-founded the satirical group Culture Clash. With immigration a hot topic in this election season, the play, inspired by the Border Patrol’s shooting of a teenage Mexican boy in 2013, deals with the conflicts and personalities in the border town of Nogales. It’s directed by San José.

The Hard Problem
Oct. 19 – Nov. 23
American Conservatory Theater, 405 Geary St., act-sf.org

Tom Stoppard’s newest work — and his first full-length original play in almost a decade — brings him back into the arms of his frequent collaborator, A.C.T.’s artistic director Carey Perloff. The Hard Problem refers to the “hard problem of consciousness,” the epistemological quandary over how experiences acquire sensations like color or odor, and at barely 100 minutes, this examination of what’s at stake in the fight inside the human brain between God and science is Stoppard at his pithiest. Having debuted in London early last year, The Hard Problem makes its West Coast premiere at A.C.T.

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