The days may be getting cooler, but the East Bay's fall theater scene is just warming up. From Shotgun Players' wildly ambitious five-play repertory season to Cal Shakes' bold contemporary interpretation of Othello, autumn is bursting with promising, serious-minded productions that are sure to satisfy theatergoers until the end of 2016.
California Shakespeare Theater's new artistic director Eric Ting will make his directorial debut with a daring close to Cal Shakes' 2016 season: an interpretation of Othello in which the titular is a Muslim who has converted to Christianity in order to better assimilate into Venetian society. Othello has always retained particular contemporary urgency because of its representations of racism, othering, and the mechanisms of social exclusion, but Ting's choice to represent Othello as a Christian convert of Muslim background opens up Shakespeare's tragedy to a more targeted interrogation of the ways that Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism interact in contemporary society.
California Shakespeare Theater (100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda). September 14–October 9. $39 and up. CalShakes.org.
Started as the Alameda Little Theatre in the Thirties, today's Altarena Playhouse occupies what was once an abandoned grocery store on Alameda's High Street. The company is now celebrating the end of its 78th season with Our Town, Thornton Wilder's American theater classic written in 1938 — coincidentally, the same year that Altarena got its start. Over the course of three acts, Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama traces 13 years of life in the fictional community of Grover's Corners. An exemplar of the metatheatrical style, Our Town sets the play in the theater where it is performed, which leaves the Stage Manager (our narrator) free to address the audience directly. Staged with minimal props and scenery, the narrative unfolds simply and sweetly, no distractions necessary.
Altarena Playhouse (1409 High St., Alameda). October 7–November 13, with an ASL-interpreted performance on November 11. $23-$26. Altarena.org.
The Last Tiger in Haiti
Growing up, playwright Jeff Augustin was immersed in the storytelling tradition that his family carried with them from Haiti to the United States. Today, Augustin's work carries the power of that oral tradition forward while drawing upon the mythological, religious, and supernatural themes of traditional folklore. In The Last Tiger in Haiti, which will have its world premiere at Berkeley Rep on October 14, Augustin tells the story of five young friends who live together in a shared tent in Port-au-Prince, telling folktales and competing for the title of best storyteller. Two of the friends reunite 15 years later in Miami, but the reunion reveals truths about the past that are darker and more ominous than the stories they once told.
Berkeley Repertory Theatre (2025 Addison St., Berkeley). October 14–November 17. $29-97. BerkeleyRep.org.
Into the Beautiful North
Central Works calls itself the "new play theater," and with good reason. The Berkeley-based company focuses exclusively on developing and producing new works, the most recent of which, Into the Beautiful North, will premiere on October 15. Based on Luis Alberto Urrea's 2009 novel of the same name, Latina playwright Karen Zacarías' adaptation follows the adventures of Nayeli, a young woman who, inspired by the Hollywood Western The Magnificent Seven, leaves her home in Sinaloa, Mexico in search of seven Mexican men to help fight drug trafficking and police corruption in her hometown. Into the Beautiful North was developed collaboratively as one of the National New Play Network's Rolling World Premieres and was first performed at Milagro Theatre in Portland this past spring.
Central Works (2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley). October 15–November 13. $30 in advance, $15-$30 at the door. CentralWorks.org.
Safe House is the story of a free-born Black family living in Kentucky in 1843. Brothers Addison and Frank Pedigrew are at odds with one another: one is a cobbler who wants to open a business; the other helps fugitive slaves escape on the Underground Railroad. Safe House is the second in Aurora Theatre Company's 25th anniversary season, and is based on the real-life experiences of playwright Keith Josef Adkins' ancestors. Adkins sets the play's familial tensions against a backdrop of historical ones, including race relations in the 19th century south and the resentments between freed slaves and those who were born free.
Aurora Theatre Company (2081 Addison St., Berkeley). November 4–December 4. $32-$56. AuroraTheatre.org.
Shotgun Players' Repertory Season
Shotgun Players' 25th anniversary season is in repertory, which means that, starting in November, all five of the season's plays (Hamlet, The Village Bike, Grand Concourse, Caught, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) will be playing simultaneously. During the repertory block, which will last until the end of January 2017, audiences can marvel at Shotgun's ensemble of talented repertory actors as they move deftly between different roles, or hone their powers of observation as they watch one play's evolution over time (Mark Jackson's Hamlet, in which the actors randomly select their roles before each performance, is a perfect contender for repeat viewing). Of the five plays, two have yet to debut: Caught will have an initial run from September 1–25, followed by Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? from October 12 through November 13. After that, the magic — and madness — of repertory performances begins.
Shotgun Players (1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley). November 25–January 22, 2017. $23-$30. ShotgunPlayers.org.