August is normally a fairly quiet month for theater, mainly punctuated by annual al fresco Shakespeare festivals around the Bay. However, this summer, August openings include two world premieres, plus TheatreWorks’ New Works Festival.
Still, it’s disappointing that Cal Shakes’ annual presentation of three plays per summer at Orinda’s Bruns Amphitheater has been missing in action since the departure of brilliant artistic director Eric Ting combined with the ravages of the pandemic. Executive director Clive Worsley says, “We’re not producing theater of our own this year because of the bumpy transition of leadership.
“It’s a tough time for American theater,” he continues. “The way forward for theater is partnerships, coalitions, dispelling the idea we are in competition with each other—that’s a capitalist lie!” he adds, only half-jokingly.
Accordingly, check out the live music performances this month at the Bruns, plus We Players’ founder-artistic director Ava Roy’s one-woman show, “The Keeper,” written with Britt Lauer, about a woman lighthouse keeper. “Joy and absurdity abound,” according to Roy. The 90-minute play, set in a “lighthouse in limbo,” runs for four performances only, Aug. 18-27. For details, visit calshakes.org. Worsley promises that Cal Shakes will produce a 50th anniversary marquee theater production, not yet chosen, in early summer 2024.
Meanwhile, two other longtime Shakespeare companies are up and running this month.
San Francisco Shakespeare Festival—a venerable company that’s been performing free in local parks since 1983—has been touring “Cymbeline” in the Bay Area, lighting down in Cupertino this weekend and next; in Redwood City in August, in San Francisco’s McLaren Park (Sept. 2-4, Sept. 9-10) and then the Bruns (Sept. 16-17, Sept. 23-24). The play is a mix of romance and comedy in which King Cymbeline of Britain (Ron Chapman) is horrified to discover that his daughter Imogen (Shakoria Davis) has secretly married her lover Posthumus (Deanalís Arocho Resto), who’s not of fully royal blood. Posthumus is banished. Much drama ensues, including attempts at murder. (Spoiler alert: There’s a happy ending.) Director Maryssa Wanlass has described it as “Ancient Britain meets the Holy Roman Empire meets David Bowie.” The play is 90 minutes and suitable for kids.
All August performances are at 6 p.m.; Aug. 4-6 shows are in Cupertino’s Memorial Park; Aug. 12-13, Aug. 19-29 and Aug. 26-27 shows are in Red Morton Park, in Redwood City. Visit sfshakes.org.
Meanwhile, across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Rafael, at its woodsy amphitheater, Marin Shakespeare Company follows its early summer “Hamlet” with one of the Bard’s most irresistible comedies, “Twelfth Night.” How can you go wrong with twins separated in a shipwreck, unrequited love, gender confusion, nasty practical jokes, general drunkeness and mayhem? Bridgette Loriaux directs a cast that includes Nancy Carlin (as the saucy Mariah), Johnny Moreno, Steve Price and Michael Gene Sullivan of San Francisco Mime Troupe fame as poor, beleaguered (and utterly ridiculous) Malvolio.
Shows run Aug. 4-Sept. 3 in Forest Meadows Amphitheatre at Dominican University of California in San Rafael; tickets are $15-$40 at www.marinshakespeare.org/tickets/.
San Francisco Fringe Festival
Exit Theatre’s annual Fringe Festival is on this month, but not at the usual central hub on Eddy Street—that venue, and the company itself as a producing organization under artistic director/founder Christina Augello, closed during the pandemic. But Augello, who has since moved out of San Francisco, has kept the festival going at Exit’s nearby venue on Taylor Street. This year’s Fringe offers 45 performances by 15 theater companies (two or three performances each, companies mostly but not entirely local). The festival is not curated; performers are chosen by lottery. Check the schedule first to see what sounds tempting, then order tickets through Eventbrite.com. Topics cover everything from eating disorders to being Filipino to “unpacking asexuality” to several clown shows, including Genie Cartier’s “The Curve,” about her 30 years as an acrobat. “The show is very much about the fleeting nature of physical skill, but is itself difficult to execute as a performance,” notes Cartier in an email.
Performances are Aug. 12-26 at Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., San Francisco; tickets are $5-$15. Find the schedule at https://www.theexit.org/fringe-schedule-by-date/.
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley New Works Festival
This is the 20th anniversary of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s New Works Festival of play readings, following the startling announcement that artistic director Tim Bond, at the helm since 2020, is leaving by September to take on artistic directorship of the financially struggling Oregon Shakespeare Festival (where he was associate artistic director from 1996 to 2007). Taking his place at TheatreWorks as interim artistic director is Giovanna Sardelli, artistic associate and director of new works. Big changes indeed, but the festival continues, with four plays in the lineup, a few readings apiece: A murder mystery musical by Min Kahng; a dark comedy, with food involved, by Minita Gandhi; Bess Welden’s 2022 National Jewish Playwriting Contest winner about a struggling food writer; and Michael Gaston’s play with music, based on his own family. Plenty of other festivities comprise the festival as well.
Shows are Aug. 11-20 at Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto; tickets are $20 ($60 for a pass) at Theatreworks.org.
Heading away from the festival circuit: In this new play by Star Finch — the Magic Theatre’s playwright-in-residence/member of the Magic’s partner theater, Campo Santo — a Black matriarch (played by the inimitable Margo Hall) and her family confront big life changes. The comedy-drama is directed by longtime local theater artist Ellen Sebastian Chang, with a six-member cast that includes Britney Frazier and Donald E. Lacy. The nationally renowned Magic Theatre has continued its commitment to new plays throughout almost 60 years.
Shows are Aug. 2-20 at the Magic Theatre, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D, Fort Mason, San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$60 at magictheatre.org.
Hippest Trip—The Soul Train Musical
It’s not often that American Conservatory Theater premieres a bound-for-Broadway musical, but here it is, ta-da, based on the TV music-and-dance show (R&B, soul, hip hop) that ran from 1971 to 2006, created and hosted by Black DJ Don Cornelius (played here by Quentin Earl Darrington). Written by the brilliant playwright Dominique Morisseau (“Ain’t Too Proud” and much more, such as “Paradise Blue” and “Skeleton Crew”), choreographed by Camille A. Brown (who choreographed “Toni Stone”) and directed by Kamilah Forbes (Apollo Theater’s executive producer), it ought to draw plenty of attention to the city’s flagship theater.
Shows are Aug. 25-Oct. 1 at ACT’s Toni Rembe Theater in San Francisco; tickets are $25-$130 at act-sf.org.
“Sylvester, the Mighty Real,” a unique walkaround in San Francisco’s Haight that explores the life and times of queer 1970s performance icon Sylvester, opens Aug. 11; visit eyezen.org for details.
“Mahābhārata,” playwright Geetha Reddy’s solo show, performed by J Jha, a retelling of the ancient tale from India, originally premiered at Oakland Theater Project. Now see it at San Francisco’s Z Space, Aug. 10-20; visit zspace.org/mahabharata.
“… Between Worlds,” longtime local actor-writer Naomi Newman’s three-woman show based on the life and poetry of Holocaust survivor/activist Irena Klepfisz, runs Aug. 16-20 at Berkeley’s Live Oak Theatre; visit klezcalifornia.org/yiddish-theatre-ensemble/between-worlds.