Nine Plays You Shouldn’t Miss this Summer

Michael Gene Sullivan (Malcolm Haywood), George P. Scott (Tyler Haywood), Lisa Hori-Garcia (Cop), Hugo E Carbajal (Cop) in the San Francisco Mime Troupe's Freedomland. (Photo: DavidAllenStudio.com)

There’s a ton of hot plays going on this summer, so grab a Slurpee and head down to your nearest performing arts space to catch the heat from one of the nine theater events in our summer theater guide.

Playwright Caryl Churchill. (Photo: Courtesy of American Conservatory Theater)
Playwright Caryl Churchill. (Photo by Courtesy of American Conservatory Theater)

Love and Information

June 3–August 9
American Conservatory Theater (Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street, San Francisco)
Tickets and information

After three years of anticipation, ACT has reopened the former grungy movie theater known as the Strand as an elegant, live-performance arts space. The company is breaking in its new venue with the West Coast premiere of another challenging work by one of the greatest living playwrights, Caryl Churchill. Love and Information is a fast-paced series of 57 vignettes ranging from five seconds to five minutes apiece. They feature 140 characters in conversations touching on the tension between privacy and easy access to information in our technological age.

Bahni Tupin stars in California: The Tempest. (Photo: Megan Wanlass)
Bahni Tupin stars in California: The Tempest. (Photo by Megan Wanlass)

California: The Tempest

June 4–6
Cornerstone Theater Company (Z Space, 450 Florida Street, San Francisco)
Tickets and information

Los Angeles’ Cornerstone Theater Company specializes in community-based theater in which the artists embed themselves in a particular population and talk to locals about their challenges and concerns. They then use this information to create new plays representing people whose voices aren’t often heard on stage. California: The Tempest is an epic project that’s spanned the last decade. Each summer during that period, the creators spent a month in a different California region. Playwright Alison Carey wove the experiences of those ten communities together with a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest to create a theatrical event that embeds contemporary Californian themes into a timeless play.

Forest Van Dyke, Jelani Alladin, Jaysen Wright, Rotimi Agbabiaka and Dimitri Woods star in the Bay Area premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney's Choir Boy at Marin Theatre Company. (Photo: Ed Smith)
Forest Van Dyke, Jelani Alladin, Jaysen Wright, Rotimi Agbabiaka and Dimitri Woods star in the Bay Area premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy at Marin Theatre Company. (Photo by Ed Smith)

Choir Boy

June 4–28
Marin Theatre Company (397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley)
Tickets and information

In 2010, playwright and MacArthur “Genius” grant award winner Tarell Alvin McCraney made his Bay Area debut with an unprecedented three-theater presentation of his lyrical, folklore-steeped trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays. McCraney returned to the Bay Area this April with his take on the Book of Job, Head of Passes, at Berkeley Rep. And now he’s back at Marin with an intimate gospel-infused drama about power struggles, nepotism and homophobia in an elite prep school choir.

Ariel (Tim Green) and Tupolski (Aaron Murphy) interrogate Katurian (Justin Gillman) in The Pillowman. (Photo: Alandra Hileman)
Ariel (Tim Green) and Tupolski (Aaron Murphy) interrogate Katurian (Justin Gillman) in The Pillowman. (Photo by Alandra Hileman)

The Pillowman

June 12–27
The Breadbox (EXIT Theatre, 156 Eddy Street, San Francisco)
Tickets and information

All of Martin McDonagh’s early work is set in Ireland. The first time the Anglo-Irish dramatist turned his attention elsewhere was in 2003 with The Pillowman, which takes place in a non-specific totalitarian regime. In this eerie and darkly funny thriller, an author of children’s books is interrogated about alleged ties between his fairy tales and a series of gruesome murders. Berkeley Rep gave the play a stunning production in 2007, and now an ambitious new company, the Breadbox, takes on the pitch-black comedy in the intimate confines of the EXIT Stage Left.

Mary (Amy Resnick) and Ben (Jeff Garrett) throw a backyard barbecue in Aurora Theatre Company's Bay Area premiere of Detroit. (Photo: David Allen)
Mary (Amy Resnick) and Ben (Jeff Garrett) throw a backyard barbecue in Aurora Theatre Company’s Bay Area premiere of Detroit. (Photo by David Allen)

Detroit

June 19 – July 19
Aurora Theatre Company (2081 Addison Street, Berkeley)
Tickets and information

A 2011 Pulitzer finalist and 2013 Obie Award winner for best new American play, Detroit may or may not be set in Detroit. What matters is that Lisa D’Amour’s sharp satire explores the sense of neighborly disconnection in a “first-ring” suburb right outside a midsize American city. New next-door neighbors strike up an awkward friendship that quickly uncovers how barely they’re all hanging on to their sense of normalcy and the surreal unease lying just beneath the surface of suburban life.

Michael Gene Sullivan (Malcolm Haywood), George P. Scott (Tyler Haywood), Lisa Hori-Garcia (Cop), Hugo E Carbajal (Cop) in Freedomland. (Photo: DavidAllenStudio.com)
Michael Gene Sullivan (Malcolm Haywood), George P. Scott (Tyler Haywood), Lisa Hori-Garcia (Cop), Hugo E Carbajal (Cop) in Freedomland.(Photo by DavidAllenStudio.com)

Freedomland

July 4 – Sept. 7
San Francisco Mime Troupe (various Bay Area parks)
Tickets and information

Every Fourth of July, the Mime Troupe unveils a new musical political satire in Dolores Park that they later tour all over the Bay Area, and it’s practically a duty of citizenship to check it out. The 56-year-old theatrical collective picks a different hot-button issue each year to try to get people off their butts and do something. This year, it’s police culture and the growing problem of “innocent until proven guilty,” especially where people of color are concerned, combined with the timeworn issue of the War on Drugs. This is dark and disturbing territory to explore, but writer Michael Gene Sullivan and the troupe do it with broad musical comedy. Just to give you a taste, the name of the fictional drug du jour is “snorf.”

Sean San Jose plays the imprisoned prince Segismundo in Life Is a Dream. (Photo: Courtesy of California Shakespeare Theater)
Sean San Jose plays the imprisoned prince Segismundo in Life Is a Dream. (Photo: Courtesy of California Shakespeare Theater)

Life Is a Dream

July 8 – Aug. 2
California Shakespeare Theater (Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda)
Tickets and information

For the last 15 years, California Shakespeare Theater has increased its output of modern classics and even the occasional new play to compliment the expected fare of William Shakespeare’s greatest hits. Life Is a Dream fits into none of these categories; it’s a Spanish classic that’s roughly contemporary with Shakespeare’s own time. Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s 1635 drama is about a prince of Poland who was imprisoned by his father because of a bad omen that predicts the prince will destroy the kingdom. And of course there’s a woman dressed as a man on a quest for vengeance against the guy who dumped her, because every 17th-century play needs that sort of thing. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz (Anna in the Tropics) has adapted the play, which features an unusually and refreshingly diverse cast of great local actors.

Triangle kicks off TheatreWorks' 2015-16 season. (Photo: Courtesy of TheatreWorks)
Triangle kicks off TheatreWorks’ 2015-16 season. (Photo: Courtesy of TheatreWorks)

Triangle

July 8 – Aug. 2
TheatreWorks (Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto)
Tickets and information

A musical about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed 146 garment workers in 1911? Not the most intuitive choice. But a workshop version of Thomas Mizer, Curtis Moore and Joshua Scher’s musical was a hit at TheatreWorks’ 2012 New Works Festival, and now its world premiere kicks off the company’s 2015-16 season. A high-tech scientist in the present finds out that his lab in New York City was the site of the infamous industrial accident and unearths his own connection to some of its Jewish immigrant casualties as parallel stories unfold in the past and present. Oh, and it’s a love story, too!

Flyer art for Shotgun Players' Eurydice. (Illustration: R. Black)
Flyer art for Shotgun Players’ Eurydice. (Illustration: R. Black)

Eurydice

Aug. 20 – Sept. 20
Shotgun Players (Ashby Stage, 1920 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley)
Tickets and information

Part of Shotgun Players’ season of works by women playwrights, Eurydice has been done by a number of local theaters since the Berkeley Repertory Theatre introduced the Bay Area to playwright Sarah Ruhl’s work with a luminous 2004 production. But given the strong theatrical vision of director Erika Chong Shuch, it’ll be exciting to see what Shotgun does with the tale of Orpheus’s wife, reunited with her amnesiac father in the land of the dead. Expect talking stones and an elevator full of rain. But most of all, expect the unexpected.

Nine Plays You Shouldn’t Miss this Summer 28 July,2015Sam Hurwitt

  • Rob Packenham

    A fantastic guide to wonderful sounding theater, thank you Sam Hurwitt and KQED!

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Sam Hurwitt

Sam Hurwitt is a freelance theater critic for KQED Arts, the Marin Independent Journal and the San Jose Mercury News in addition to his own theater and culture blog, The Idiolect.  You can find him on Twitter cleverly camouflaged as shurwitt.

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