I love Autumn.
I love Autumn because of theater.
Actually, I love it for many reasons, from the first fall of leaves in late September, on into the arrival of pumpkins on doorsteps in October, to the sound of rain falling on trees, sidewalks and parked cars in November. That’s when streets begin to become adorned with Christmas decorations (except in department stores, where it begins before Halloween). I have always entered the autumn with the sense of it as a kind of bridge between seasons, ripe with loss as the summer dies, and nervous with the shivering anticipation of the coming parade of celebrations: Halloween blending into Thanksgiving blending into Christmas.
That said, there is one part of Autumn that feels a lot like Christmas to me.
The start of the new theatrical season.
September (late August in some cases) is when theater companies launch their new spates of shows, and I always look forward to it, perhaps carrying with me the echoes of what it was like to start school again, hoping for a good year, while dreading the possibility that I could be turned upside down in a trashcan and doused with milk on my first day back.
Yep. That happened to me. I was that kind of kid, and though the metaphor may not be perfect, it is true that the theater scene in the North Bay carries its own kind of pleasures and pitfalls . . . and one never knows what waits around the corner.
Here, then—in my first entry on this site I hope will be a slightly weird all-around hub of North Bay theater and film information (with lots of things to click on)—is a basic round-up of several coming shows that I personally anticipate with hope, excitement, and in some cases, a bit of good old fashioned Autumnal dread.
‘Stories for Children’ – The Imaginists
September 24-October 11
Easily one of the North Bay’s most hard-to-describe companies, The Imaginists present original work (or classics done in an original way), and have built a reputation for being willing to make the comfortable uncomfortable. Frankly, I have no idea what ‘Stories for Children’ is. The Imaginist’s newest bit of cooperatively created theater appears to be some sort of spoof of a children’s show, presented (tongue in cheekishly) by “The Association of Writers for Children.” During this “Story-time for Adults,” the press release promises “You will be cared for like a child, protected from yourself, gently shown the absurdities of the world through stories even a child would understand.” Evidently, puppets are involved, which makes this a must-see in my book anyway you slice the sandwich bread. The stories are inspired by the life and work of Danill Kharms, a Russian writer with a decidedly absurdist sense of style. And no, whatever else it turns out to be, this is NOT a show for children.
CLICK HERE to read a New York Times reflection on the work of Danill Kharms.
‘Leading Ladies’ – North Bay Stage Company
Ken Ludwig is the playwright to beat right now. His adaptation of ‘Treasure Island’ is just finishing up at Spreckels, the Raven Players just concluded his popular ‘Lend Me a Tenor,’ and now North Bay Stage is opening his cross-dressing farce ‘Leading Ladies.’ Directed by Jon Vissman, the show features two scheming actors who impersonate young women in order to collect an inheritance. Love, as it often does, screws things up, when the guys-pretending-to-be-women fall for one of the soon-to-be-deceased’s family members. I’ve seen hilarious versions of this, and not-so-hilarious. Vissman knows his way around farce though, so I’m guessing this one is going to be good.
CLICK HERE to go to playwright Ken Ludwig’s website
‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ – Marin Actor’s Workshop
Edward Albee’s modern comedy of despair, alcoholism and marriage rumbles back for another prizefight-worthy clash of wills and wits. Directed by Terry McGovern, with co-production with Ken Bacon Productions will play at Belrose Theater, in San Rafael. The bar will be open, appropriately enough.
CLICK HERE to watch a video interview with Edward Albee
‘The Light in the Piazza’ – Spreckels Theater Company
Spreckels has been on a real roll of late, with back-to-back hits (‘Mary Poppins,’ twice! Then ‘Treasure Island’), and now director Gene Abravaya brings one of Broadway’s most gorgeous modern musicals to Sonoma County for the first time. Based on the 1960 novella by Elizabeth Spencer, the story—about a sheltered southern woman named Clara who falls for an Italian man while traveling with her mother in Florence—was developed for the stage by playwright Craig Lucas (‘Prelude to a Kiss,’ ‘Amélie: the Musical’), with a lush and lovely score and lyrics by Adam Guettel. The original cast recording is one of my favorites of the last decade, and though the music is challenging for even the most accomplished of musical ensembles, I look forward seeing how Abravaya tackles this one—and what he does with the iconic moment when Clara’s hat flies through the wind across the Piazza. Will he put a sort of puppet-hat on a string? Will it be an animated projection? Will he conjure an actual breeze to blow a real hat across the stage? We shall soon see.
CLICK HERE to see the Tony Awards showcase of a scene from ‘Piazza’
The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) – Raven Players
One of the funniest of the “reduced” plays created by the guys who brought you “The Complete History of America (abridged),’ ‘All the Great Books (abridged),’ and ‘The History of Comedy (abridged),’ not to mention a show or two about William Shakespeare, this affectionately wacky look at the Bible is at times coarse, cuddly, intellectually curious and always very clever. Directed by Skylar Evans, the rousing romp from Adam and Eve to the End of the World is usually a great big bang of comedic fun. The success of this kind of ‘Airplane’-like show depends on sharp comic timing and engaging performers. Like Noah said when God told him about the flood, “Okay, Dude! Bring it on!”
CLICK HERE to see a trailer from the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s own production of this show (the Raven version will NOT have the same cast; this is just to give you and idea).
The Creature – Cinnabar Theater
October 16-November 1
Trevor Allen’s visceral and literary adaptation of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ allows the novel’s central three characters—Captain Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and the Creature—to alternate telling their own side of a story that gave birth to a new kind of romantic horror. Directed by Jon Tracy, and featuring Tim Kniffin as Frankenstein, Rick Pallaziol as Walton, and Robert Parsons as The Creature. Tracy has a reputation for taking wild chances with classic tales (he once set The Pirates of Penzance in a post-apocalyptic world) so the matchup with a well-known story like Frankenstein could be, in all the right ways, electrifying.
CLICK HERE for a review of the 2009 San Francisco production
Blithe Spirit – 6th Street Playhouse Studio
October 16-November 8
Noel Coward’s cleverly comedic life-after-death love story has been haunting audiences for decades. When the ghost of a man’s dead first wife is conjured up by a wacky medium, the scene is set for a triangle that pushes the definition of “till death do us part.” Directed by Meghan Hawkes-Booth (from Houston), the play features David Yen, Petra Nordquist, and Gina Alvarado as the primary triangle, and Lennie Dean as Madam Arcati. Looking forward to this one.
CLICK HERE for the original 1945 movie trailer of ‘Blithe Spirit’
Dracula – Raven Players
October 16 -November 1
Cinnabar has Frankenstein. The Raven Players have Dracula. The world sexiest immortal sociopath returns to life in what is being touted as a powerful adaptation full of drama, passion and a big dose of sexual chemistry. Directed by Steven David Martin, and featuring a creepy cast of Bay Area character actors (including Tice Allison as the bug eating Reinfeld) just chomping to sink their teeth into one of the world’s scariest stories.
CLICK HERE to see the original ‘Dracula’ movie trailer
Gruesome Playground Injuries – Lucky Penny Theater Co.
October 16 -25
Two misfit school kids meet on the playground (a somewhat gruesome injury has occurred) and the bond they form takes them through their lives. In this deliciously off-the-wall sounding show (I saw a scene from it last year, at Lucky Penny’s season announcement event, and it was delightfully twisted, and strangely sweet and moving), playwright Rajiv Joseph reportedly uses scars, wounds, scabs, and burns as a metaphor for the way people use their pain to gain love and comfort. Starring husband-and-wife team of Katie Kelly-Stowe and Ben Stowe, this is one of the shows I’m looking forward to the most.
I hope it’s actually good.
CLICK HERE to see a video from the original New York production
Rocky Horror Picture Show – 6th Street Playhouse Studio
October 23-November 8
With a hit on their hands two years in a row, 6th Street does the time warp again, staging Richard O’Brian’s twisted rock ‘n roll sex farce for the third time. At 6th Street, in a unique evolution of the time-honored ‘call out” tradition established by the movie, director Craig Miller encourages audience members to join official “call out prompters” in yelling “slut” and “asshole” at the appropriate moments. This year, Abbey Lee takes over the role of Janet (“Slut!”) and Mark Bradbury returns as Brad (“Asshole!”), with Serena Flores taking over Magenta from Lee, and with Rob Broadhurst still rocking the stilettos as everybody’s favorite sweet transvestite, Dr. Frankenfurter. And following the last couple of year’s successful example, there will be an additional show at 11:30 p.m. on Halloween night! Watch those pelvic thrusts, people.
That one will be a crazy show.
CLICK HERE for my 2014 review of 6th Street’s production
The Other Place – Main Stage West Theater
October 22-November 15
A lyrical, somewhat uneven drama about an expert in dementia discovering she may have the very same illness she lectures about, ‘The Other Place,’ by Sharr White (right), was presented in September at 6th Street Playhouse in a run that saw smaller audiences than it deserved. Due to a last minute change at Main Stage West, where a production of ‘Circle Mirror Transformation’ was scuttled at the last minute, director David Lear will be restating the show on the much smaller MSW stage. Jacqueline Wells takes over the lead, though most of the rest of the cast will return. I’m looking froward to seeing how the transition affects this intimate, emotional, philosophically twisty-turny show.
CLICK HERE for a video interview with the actors who did the show off-Broadway
War of the Worlds – Pegasus Theater
October 30-November 15
Orson Welles sacred the crap out of people when he staged a radio play adaptation of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion novel on October 31, 1933. This Halloween, director Brandon Wilson revisits the same radio play, presenting it in what sounds like a decidedly visual departure. There will, for one thing, be dancers involved.
CLICK HERE to hear Orson Welles himself in the original 1933 broadcast
Zombies from Hell – Napa Valley Conservatory Theater
Okay, this one technically starts in November, but it feels like something that would happen in October.
Reed Martin, of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, presents a show about which little is known, aside from its eye-opening title. Reportedly created through a series of improv session, with actors taking suggestions from a chosen audience, Martin has crafted something he describes as a cross between ‘The Walking Dead‘ and ‘Whose Line Is It, Anyway?‘ Good, bad, or somewhere in between, this one looks like it is seriously worth checking out.
IN THE NORTH BAY
• The Oldest Boy by Sarah Ruhl – through Oct. 11 at Marin Theatre Company
• Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party
by Aaron Loeb – Oct. 15-24 at Sonoma State University
• Glorious! by Peter Quilter – through Oct. 18 at Ross Valley Players
• Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim – Oct. 23-Nov. 22 at Novato Theater Co.