Silicon Valley residents can count themselves lucky to be surrounded by leading theater companies. Here’s a roundup of the fall’s most promising theatrical productions.
Palo Alto’s TheatreWorks provides a transition into the fall season with The Light in the Piazza (Aug. 25–Sept. 19), a musical romance set in Italy. The play is notable for Adam Gretel’s adventurous, Tony Award–winning score, which has more in common with classical music and opera than with traditional show tunes.
This production will feature a five-piece chamber orchestra and a cast singing in both English and Italian. A show of this level of sophistication will be in good hands with artistic director Robert Kelley. “He’s particularly good at taking those large, grand-scale musicals and making sure they still have a really intimate, emotional appeal,” says casting director Leslie Martinson.Next up at TheatreWorks will be Superior Donuts (Oct. 6–31), a warm and humorous play from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author Tracy Letts. The play focuses on a run-down Chicago donut shop, an aging manager and an ambitious young employee who wants to reinvigorate the business. “It’s very much a play about what happens when a hopeless guy meets a guy with nothing but hope,” says Martinson.
San Jose Repertory Theatre will launch its season on Sept. 2 with the West Coast premiere of Black Pearl Sings!. Set in the 1930s, this drama tells the story of Susannah, a researcher who sets out to record genuine African American songs. She finds what she is looking for in Pearl Johnson, a prisoner and treasure trove of authentic music, but the two women are suspicious of one another.
“They have to learn to communicate with each other,” says director Rick Lombardo. “They have to learn how to trust each other. … It’s about trying to figure out how you begin to understand someone who is so distinctly different from yourself.”
Pearl is soon singing, and Susannah joins in. “Over the course of the show they sing about 11 or 12 amazing folk songs, all a cappella,” says Lombardo. “So it’s also about the incredible power of the unaccompanied human voice. It’s a really wonderful night of theater.”
The Rep’s other shows include a visit from the Flying Karamazov Brothers, a medical thriller called Secret Order, and Backwards in High Heels, a musical about Ginger Rogers.
For those interested in another musical centered on the African American experience, catch The Color Purple (Nov. 23–28) at Broadway San Jose. Based on Alice Walker’s novel, this play won nearly a dozen Tony awards after its initial run on Broadway. If it sounds a bit too heavy, consider First Day of School (Sept. 23–Oct. 24) at the City Lights Theater. This sex comedy, which makes a satirical jab at suburban parents, was penned by Billy Aronson, creator of the concept of Rent and a contributor to Courage the Cowardly Dogand Beavis & Butthead.
The oddly titled Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party, by Aaron Loeb, also uses humor to worry some significant issues. Both plays are South Bay premieres.
San Jose Stage Company stars the season with Reasons to Be Pretty(Sept. 29–Oct. 24), the final entry in Neil LaBute’s trilogy focusing on the modern preoccupation with physical beauty. When a boyfriend tells his girlfriend that she looks “regular,” this flippant comment could end up destroying their relationship. The company’s holiday show is a reprise of the very popular compacting machine known as Every Christmas Story Ever Told, which earned a rave from Metro the last time it was in town.
One of the area’s smaller companies, Mountain View’s Pear Avenue Theater, muscles up to a very ambitious pairing of Part One of Angels in America with Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (Sept. 17–Oct. 16 and Sept. 24–Oct. 17, respectively)—two deeply American dramas—in tandem, with the same cast.
Also promising is quirky Renegade Theatre Experiment, which is presenting Killer Joe, (Sept. 10–Oct. 2), a dark comedy about murder and double-dealing that sounds something like a Jim Thompson novel. It is the first play by Tracy Letts, who went on to write Bug.