Fall Arts 2017: Theater

A relative dearth of powerhouse musicals about the Founding Fathers this season means that Bay Area theater has room to breathe again.

San Francisco Fringe Festival
Sept. 8 – 23, at EXIT Theatre, sffringe.org

The SF Fringe continues to grow like a hothouse flower, 26 years on. During the month of September, approximately 120 performances vie for our attention, among them Reclaiming Vietnam, Kim Chinh’s story of growing up with a white mother and a Vietnamese father; Jeremy Julian Greco recounts a road trip to Disneyland with his father in Keeping Up with the Jorgensons; and Sherri Rose’s How Not to Die, which, as of late, sounds like it might be extremely useful to check out.

A Tale of Autumn
Sep. 14 – Oct. 7, a Crowded Fire Theater production at the Potrero Stage, potrerostage.org

Christopher Chen’s plays are springing up all over Bay Area stages. After recent productions of Caught at Shotgun Players and You Mean to Do Me Harm at A.C.T.’s Strand, Chen returns to the Potrero Stage with a world premiere. This tale of individual greed and corporate domination is said to be inspired by Game of Thrones as well as by Macbeth. This production should confirm that the word “benign” is about to become extinct.

They, Themself and Schmerm
Sept. 18, at Z Space, zspace.org

“I want you to rethink feminine bodies. Like, I am Martha and I am George. Deal with that.” That’s Becca Blackwell, a trans actor, performer, and writer. In this solo work, Blackwell (who prefers the pronoun they) tells the story of growing up in a religious family while assigned the gender identity of a girl. From the outside, they present their autobiography the way a stand-up comedian does. But the content is as troubling and deeply moving as Mary Karr’s memoir The Liars’ Club.

Sept. 21 – Oct. 22, at Shotgun Players, shotgunplayers.org

Some scholars argue that Ariel, Sylvia Plath’s book of poems, exerts its power because we know she died by taking her own life. This sensation of listening in to an artist’s psychic distress might also apply to the plays of Sarah Kane, who also committed suicide. In Blasted, Kane wrote, “Punish me or rescue me / It makes no difference.” In other words, there is no such thing as salvation from love. The play comes with a list of trigger warnings including: blood-and-gore, disturbing imagery, and sexual violence. Keep the Zoloft handy.

This Bitter Earth
Sept. 22 – Oct. 22, at New Conservatory Theatre Center, nctcsf.org

What better place to start a romance in 2017 than at a protest? That’s where Neil and Jesse meet in Harrison David RiversThis Bitter Earth. Neil, a white activist, supports Black Lives Matter. Jesse’s a black playwright who expresses himself in writing rather than out loud in public. Negotiating love in a time of political volatility tests the limits of their relationship.

Sept. 26 – Nov. 11, at San Francisco Playhouse, sfplayhouse.org

The O’Mallery clan is gathering together for a family picnic. At least, that’s what Barbara’s sister Lillie Anne told her they were doing. In fact, Lillie Anne wants to stage an intervention for her drug-addicted sister. But first, she has to convince her brother, James T, and their other sisters, Marie and Adlean, that that’s a good idea. Robert O’Hara’s genius is to obliterate any assumptions we might have about these characters by deploying a Black cast — and, in the same roles, a white one.

Thomas and Sally
Sept. 28 – Oct. 22, at Marin Theatre Company, marintheatre.org

Playwrights everywhere must be thinking, “If it worked for Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’ll work for me.” In his new play, Thomas Bradshaw joins Miranda there in 18th-century America — but probably without the rapping or hip-hop tracks. Identifying one of the playwright’s dramatic strategies, the critic Hilton Als notes that “he dismantles the standard stage narrative of Blackness.” Here, Bradshaw picks apart the relationship between the enslaved Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, her legal owner and the father of their six children.   

The Mineola Twins
Sept. 28 – Oct. 29, at Cutting Ball Theater, cuttingball.com

At Shotgun Players last year, the actress Elissa Beth Stebbins wowed as a randy adulteress in Penelope Skinner’s The Village Bike. Right this minute, she’s probably poring over Paula Vogel’s script, practicing the lines of her dual role as Myrna and Myra: twin sisters who are virulently opposed to each other’s points of view. The challenge lies in making what they symbolize — the split personality of a divided nation — into real women.  

Obama & Me
Oct. 12, at Museum of the African Diaspora, moadsf.org

Any chance you’re feeling nostalgic for Barack Obama’s presidency? Sylvia Arthur’s one-woman show compares her own experiences as a Black Brit to those of the first Black president of the United States. The writer and performer says of her travels in Europe, “I often noticed the parallels between what Obama was going through and what I was going through, from being birthered and blocked to bullied and emboldened.” In this solo performance, Arthur continues to find inspiration in his, and Barack and Michelle Obama’s innate sense of decency.  


Check out more from our Fall Arts 2017 Guide:

From the LED artist who lit up the Salesforce Tower to the collision of Rodin and Klimt, it’s going to be a busy fall.

We’re waiting to see what Hillary Clinton reveals in “What Happened,” but Jennifer Egan, Jeffrey Eugenides and Matt Taibbi are high on our list, too.

Trevor Noah is coming to town! And Peaches Christ takes on the 1993 Halloween comedy Hocus Pocus with queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Film and Film Festivals
A Salinger biopic, an adaptation of Stephen King’s creepiest clown, and the return of “Art House Theater Day.” Time to huddle in a darkened cinema!

No Treasure Island Music festival this year, sadly, but there’s a ton of excellent acts swinging through town this fall.

24-Decade Party People: Taylor Mac Hit S.F.
Performed in four six-hour segments, Mac’s drag-splosion, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, will be the defining event of the fall.


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