Arts Listings

A Roundup of East Bay Theater Companies

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Thursday August 21, 2008 - 11:23:00 AM

The end of summer ushers in the busiest theater season after Labor Day—and this year, summer was unusually busy, so the first fall openings will overlap with the last performances of the summer season. 

Berkeley Rep holds the palm for the fall opening with the highest local profile—if a word like “profile” is in order—with Berkeley High alumnus Itamar Moses’ Yellowjackets, set at the school and based on events there in the ’90s, about race, privilege and the news. Directed by Rep artistic director Tony Taccone, Yellowjackets plays Aug. 29-Oct. 12 on the Thrust Stage (see separate story on its making). From Oct. 31-Dec. 14, The Rep stages August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone in association with San Francisco’s Lorraine Hansberry Theatre at the Roda, directed by noted actor (Master Harold & the Boys on Broadway, Malcolm X in film) Delroy Lindo, back after his success with Blue Door last year. 

The Aurora gets a leg up on the election with Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, directed by artistic director Tom Ross, Aug. 22-Sept. 28. Aurora founder Barbara Oliver will helm Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple, from his Three Plays for Puritans, running from Halloween to Pearl Harbor Day (Oct. 31-Dec. 7), an oblique look at an original, if apocryphal American hero and nay-sayer. 

CalShakes continues its run of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, directed by San Jose Rep artistic director Timothy Near, in the Bruns Amphitheatre in Orinda through Aug. 31. From Sept. 10-Oct. 5, CalShakes will stage what many consider The Bard’s finest comedy, Twelfth Night, directed by Mark Rucker. 

Shotgun Players carry on with their outdoor Ubu for President, cut by Josh Costello (who founded Impact) from the cloth of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (though it plays more like a sketch comedy Duck Soup), directed by Shotgun founder Patrick Dooley through Sept. 14 in John Hinkel Park. Vanguard director (and founder of Temescal Labs, nee Ten Red Hen) Maya Gurantz will direct Chris Jeffries’ play, Vera Wilde, based around Oscar Wilde’s first theater piece about Vera Zasulich, “Mother of Terrorism,” from Sept. 17-Oct. 19. 

Central Works, in the Berkeley City Club, will finish its run of Gary Graves’ updated take on Shakespeare, Midsummer/4, directed by Jan Zvaifler, this weekend (Aug. 24), and from Oct. 25-Nov. 23 perform Graves’ adaptation of Paul Hawkens’ book on the environmental movement, Blessed Unrest. 

Impact Theater, which is announcing its Bar Mitzvah season for its 13th year, coming off a spirited ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, will play Lauren Yee’s Ching Chong Chinaman, Sept. 5-Oct. 11, and from Nov. 14-Dec. 20, the Bay Area debut of an emerging playwright with Melanie Marnich’s transposition of Middleton’s The Changeling to the Great Plains, Tallgrass Gothic. 

Ragged Wing Ensemble, Berkeley’s movement theater troupe, will perform Clive Barker’s The History of the Devil, Oct. 5-Nov. 8, at Central Stage, Richmond near El Cerrito. 

Rough and Tumble, a Berkeley troupe of 14 years’ vintage, will present Len Jenkin’s adaptation of Candide at the Berkeley City Club, Aug. 29-Sept. 21, directed by founder Cliff Mayotte. 

Black Repertory Theater, over a half century old, on Adeline, continues their monthly Apollo BRG Style cash competition for both amateurs and pros, as well as Night Owl Comedy with host Miracle Malone, both on the third Sat. of every month. 

Woman’s Will, Oakland’s all-female Shakespeare Co., will be staging founder Erin Merritt’s adaptation of Macbeth, to bring the Weird Sisters to the fore, Oct. 16-26, across from Yoshi’s in Jack London Square. 

TheatreFIRST, until a year ago Oakland’s only resident theater company, will hold a playreading Oct. 18 for their 15th anniversary, as well as introduce their new leadership, with cofounder Clive Chafer stepping down as artistic director. The troupe continues to negotiate for a new home near the Psaramount Theatre. 

A new performing arts venue that’s presenting shows while their complex is being finished in West Oakland, is the Noodle Factory Theater, managed by Maya Gurantz and Norman Gee, which will open with Gee’s direction of his Oakland Public Theater production, Before the Dream: The Mysterious Death & Life of Richard Wright, by Richard Talavera, previews to commence on the great black author’s centennial, Sept. 4, through the 21st, when it moves to San Francisco. Also at the Noodle Factory, the Milk Bar’s international film festival (Sept. 11-14) with site-specific and interactive performances, and later in the Fall, Colored Ink (Oakland’s hip-hop theaer), San Francisco Recovery Theater and jazz artist-storyteller Cooper Moore. 

The community theaters of the East Bay all have distinct personalities. Berkeley’s own, half-century old Actors Ensemble will produce Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus this fall at the Live Oak Theater. Masquers Playhouse in Pt. Richmond, also “50ish,” is set this weekend to open Robert Sherwood’s The Petrified Forest, Aug. 22-Sept. 27 (with a special showing of the film of the play that made Humphrey Bogart’s career at the Speakeasy Theater on Central in El Cerrito tonight only, $9). Altarena Playhouse in Alameda (an oldtimer at 70) will play Bat Boy, The Musical, in time for Hallowe’en, Sept. 26-Nov. 1. And Contra Costa Community Theatre (CCCT, founded in 1960, the youngster of the group), will feature Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution and Greater Tuna this fall and for the holidays. 

Woodminster stages musicals outdoors in Joaquin Miller Park every summer, ending this year with Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, Sept. 5-14. 

UC’s Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies opens Oct. 10-19 with Measure for Measure (Peter Glazer directing) and continuing with Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, Nov. 14-23 (directed by Christine Nicholson). There are also workshop productions, like Gunter Grass’ The Plebians Rehearse the Uprising (concerning Bertolt Brecht and the 1953 East Berlin workers uprising, Oct. 23-25). CalPerformances will present Dublin’s Druid Theatre Co. in Playboy of the Western Word at the Roda Theatre, Oct. 8-12. 

Not to forget those companies that produce a show or two a year, like Subterranean Shakespeare at the Berkeley Art Center in Live Oak Park, George Charbak’s TheatreInSearch (whose Gilgamesh last year at Ashby Stage was unique), Darvag (producing for over 20 years, in both Farsi and English), or those based in the East Bay who play mostly in San Francisco: The Eastenders (opening Frozen at the Eureka next week), Golden Thread (plays about the Middle East and their annual Re:Orient fest), Liebe Wetzel and her Lunatique Fantastique puppets ... 

Other companies bring shows regularly to the East Bay, like San Francisco’s Crowded Fire (performing Liz Duffy Adams’ The Listener at Ashby Stage through Aug. 31), The SF Mime Troupe, playing their election year spoof Red State for free at 1:30 this weekend in Live Oak Park, before taking it to Denver); and Traveling Jewish Theatre, to name a few.