Fall arts 2023: Must-see stage shows abound in challenging times

Fall arts 2023: Must-see stage shows abound in challenging times

These are tough times for live theater. Drained by the pandemic and countless other financial challenges, many theater companies here and across the country are shutting down, while others such as TheatreWorks Silicon Valley are launching emergency fundraising campaigns to avoid doing the same.

Despite all the unrest and uncertainty, theaters continue to produce a staggering variety of excellent work all over the Bay Area. Looking at the wealth of offerings scheduled for the months ahead serves as a timely reminder of how fortunate we are to live in such a culturally rich region, and also how much we could lose if this sobering trend continues.

The Bay Area theater community is one of the most diverse and innovative in the nation, generating bold new work and bringing the best the country has to offer to local stages.

What follows is the merest sampling of plays and musicals that we can’t wait to see. But there’s so much more must-see theater coming up that there wasn’t room here to list. Take a look at what theater companies near you have coming up, and check out what you can. You’re far more likely to be sorry you didn’t than sorry you did.

‘Born with Teeth’

A Liz Duffy Adams play is always a marvelously intricate feast of dazzling wordplay, and the Bay Area has been blessed with more than its share of them: her Glickman Award-winning postapocalyptic “Dog Act” with Shotgun Players; “Or,” her magnificent comedy about Aphra Behn at the Magic; and collaborations with Crowded Fire Theater such as “The Listener,” “The Train Play” and “One Big Lie.” Now Adams returns with “Born with Teeth,” her acclaimed new comedy about Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare replete with danger and seduction. Aurora artistic director Josh Costello helms its Bay Area premiere.

Details: Sept. 1-Oct. 1; Aurora Theatre, Berkeley; $20-$65; www.auroratheatre.org

‘Nollywood Dreams’

Ghanaian-American playwright Jocelyn Bioh has been making a splash with her hit comedy “School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play” and the musical “Goddess” that premiered at Berkeley Repertory Theatre last year. Now SF Playhouse brings us Bioh’s romantic comedy set in the burgeoning Nigerian film industry of the 1990s, featuring an up-and-coming ingenue, a hotshot director, an established diva and a talk show host dubbed “the Nigerian Oprah.” It should be a treat to get more Bioh in the Bay so soon.

Details: Sept. 28-Nov. 4; San Francisco Playhouse, San Francisco; $15-$100; www.sfplayhouse.org

‘Mrs. Christie’

The ever-popular murder mystery writer Agatha Christie’s unexplained 10-day disappearance in 1926 has been the subject of numerous fictional portrayals in movies and novels and even a “Doctor Who” episode, so it seems only natural that somebody wrote a play about it. Even so, Heidi Armbruster’s “Mrs. Christie” promises to be full of surprises, with parallel stories following Christie, an obsessed present-day fan trying to solve the mystery a near-century, and Christie’s eccentric fictional detective Hercule Poirot. TheatreWorks’ new artistic director, Giovanna Sardelli, premiered the play at Vermont’s Dorset Theatre Festival in 2019 and now directs its West Coast premiere in Mountain View.

Details: Oct. 4-20; Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Mountain View; $30-$90; www.theatreworks.org


A luminously poetic Pulitzer-nominated play by Berkeley native Eisa Davis, “Bulrusher” follows a clairvoyant multiracial foundling discovered in a basket on a river and how her world changes after meeting a Black girl from Alabama. Set in the predominantly white community of 1950s Boonville in Mendocino County, the play is suffused with the area’s signature Boontling dialect. As an actor, Davis previously performed at Berkeley Rep in the world premiere of “Passing Strange” and stayed with it as it became a Broadway hit and a Spike Lee film. Shotgun Players did “Bulrusher” back in 2007, and now Berkeley Rep brings the play back to Berkeley in a larger scale coproduction with New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre Center.

Details: Oct. 27-Dec. 2; Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Berkeley; $45-$134; www.berkeleyrep.org

‘Harry Clarke’

Last seen at Berkeley Rep opposite Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in “No Man’s Land,” Billy Crudup (“Almost Famous,” “Watchmen”) returns in a comedic thriller about a Midwestern barista who worms his way into New York high society posing as a posh and charismatic gent from London. Crudup plays 19 different characters in this tour-de-force solo performance focused on two very different people who happen to be the same guy.

Details: Nov. 15-Dec. 23; Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Berkeley; $45-$134; www.berkeleyrep.org

On the Horizon

“MJ”: The late superstar Michael Jackson is the latest subject of a biographic jukebox musical, still running on Broadway after opening early last year. With a book by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage (“Sweat,” “Ruined,” “Clyde’s”), “MJ” gets behind the scenes of the making of Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous World Tour, and of course it’s jam-packed with his greatest hits.

Details: Jan. 30-Feb. 25; Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco; ticket prices TBA; www.broadwaysf.com

“Hangmen”: Martin McDonagh wrote his first seven plays in a creative burst in 1994, full of dazzling dialogue and startling bursts of physical and psychological violence. Moving on to making movies like “In Bruges” and “The Banshees of Inisherin,” McDonagh took a long time to return to theater with more bold new work like this Olivier Award-winning 2015 play now making its West Coast premiere, about the second-best hangman in England brooding in his pub over the abolition of hanging.

Details: April 3-24; San Jose Stage Company, San Jose; $34-$74; www.thestage.org.

“A Strange Loop”: Playwright-composer-lyricist Michael R. Jackson’s metafictional musical debuted in 2019 to great acclaim, winning a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Awards for best musical and best book of a musical. “A Strange Loop” follows a fat, gay Black usher-turned-playwright writing a musical about a fat, gay Black writer writing a musical, when all anybody wants from him is a Tyler Perry-style gospel play.

Details: April 18-May 12; Toni Rembe Theater, San Francisco; $25-$130; www.act-sf.org.