As summer winds down and the evenings get cooler here in Union Square, our theatre district heats up with a full line-up of fabulous shows. They make for a great night out on the town whether you’re a visitor looking for some world-class entertainment or a local bringing a date or a good friend out to enjoy a little culture. We suggest you make a night of it and enjoy a nice meal at one of our intimate restaurants, perhaps a prix fixe pre-theatre dinner or a late-night after theatre supper. San Francisco may not be known for its theater scene the way that New York and Los Angeles are, but you can still catch some stellar shows here whether you want the experience of an intimate experimental theater like SF Playhouse or you’re looking to see a touring Broadway show through SHN.
American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) is perhaps the best known theater in San Francisco with its excellent conservatory program and seasons filled with brilliantly acted plays of all types. Their themes run the gamut from provocative dramas to light-hearted romps that dazzle audiences. This fall’s lineup is no exception with a revival of the 1930 comedy Once in a Lifetime (9/22 – 10/16) by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. Set in that luscious era of Hollywood when silent films transitioned into “talkies” in the 1920s, the play follows a group of vaudevillians planning to make a living by posing as voice coaches. A.C.T. has given its own twist to the piece by incorporating period film clips and other digital backdrops and emphasizing the relationship between film and theater. A.C.T. will follow this fun family-friendly comedy with a play of a totally different sort – Race (10/21-11/13) by renowned playwright David Mamet. Race takes an uncomfortable courtroom situation – a white man accused of assaulting a black woman – and explores all of the ways in which race and sex affect our legal and political systems. Adding to the controversy, the play follows three attorneys (two black and one white) who have to decide whether to represent the defendant. Mamet’s play is filled with his signature quick, witty dialogue and incendiary topics that will both entertain and stimulate audiences.
If you’re looking for something a little bit edgier, you’ll want to consider SF Playhouse – a theater company that isn’t afraid to put on experimental, challenging and controversial plays. Last year’s season included a futuristic play about brain implants that make you smarter (Wirehead), a Neil Gaimen children’s story made into play form (Coraline) and a dark comedy about a young woman who crafts very lifelike dolls (Reborning). Each new season, SF Playhouse has an overarching theme. This year it’s “fear and hope” and the ways in which they drive us. Their first play of the fall is Honey Brown Eyes (9/20-11/5) – a story of two young Bosnian men who were once friends and chose different paths during the Bosnian War. One - a Serbian paramilitary - tries to come to terms with his brutality while the other – a resistance fighter – must face the limits that are born of his own cowardice. The play is inspired by true events and takes place in the intimate setting of two kitchens. Their following play is a very different take on the consequences of war on personal relationships. Period of Adjustment (11/15-1/14) by Tennessee Williams is a comedy with heavy themes centered on two Korean War vets dealing with the after effects of the war on their social and love lives.
The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre just recently joined the community here in Union Square, and they’re kicking off the 2011-2012 season with two unique one-act plays. The theatre showcases works primarily by African American and multicultural playwrights, and this September they’ll be juxtaposing an unnerving and suspenseful story by Brazilian writer Marcos Barbosa and a humorous satire by respected African American playwright Douglas Turner Ward (10/11-11/20). Barbosa’s Almost Nothing shows how an evening unravels after a frightening attack goes awry and promises to invoke chills in theatergoers. Ward’s piece, Day of Absence, was written in 1965 and exposes what Ward thought might happen if every black person in a southern town disappeared all at once. Of course, chaos and panic ensue as the play unfolds.
If you’re looking to catch a big Broadway show on tour SHN is the place to go. They bring big name plays from New York and other major cities right here to San Francisco to the Curran Theater in Union Square as well as the Golden Gate Theater and the Orpheum just outside of the neighborhood. This fall they’re starting out with what promises to be an absolutely stellar version of Shakespeare’s Richard III starring Kevin Spacey. This production received rave reviews in London, and San Francisco is the only other U.S. city besides New York to host its tour. Running for just 12 performances from October 19th through 29th, this innovative production of the timeless tragedy about politics and corruption is sure to be a hot ticket this fall.
In the Bay Area a trip to the theater can be anything from fun and entertaining to provocative and intriguing or thrilling and exhilarating. We have a talented and unique community of theatres and actors that put on wonderful performances. If you want to add a little culture to your fall, we hope you’ll check out one of these plays that suits your fancy. And, if ticket prices seem a little steep for your budget, we recommend stopping by the discount Tix Bay Area ticket booth conveniently located in Union Square Park, or you can look into Goldstar, which offers tickets to many Union Square shows at a discounted rate. A full calendar of shows happening in Union Square and beyond is available at SF Weekly.