By Karen D’Souza, July 5, 2017, Bay Area News Group
Gone is the long, rainy winter of our discontent. Summer is finally here and with it, the glorious tradition of outdoor theater.
Shakespeare has long been the official bard of summer but here in the Bay Area there are other hallowed theat-uh traditions in the hot months, from the wild and woolly political lampoons of the rabble-rousing San Francisco Mime Troupe to sharp-eyed revivals of American classics. Whatever your pleasure, now is the time to pack a picnic, grab a blanket and head into the great outdoors for some of the most memorable theatrical experiences the Bay Area has to offer.
There’s nothing quite like the magic of outdoor theater because of the beauty and majesty of Mother Nature. From the shifting winds to the twinkling constellations, when you go to one of these shows, you feel immersed in the environment as well as the artistic aesthetic. From the golden hills that frame Cal Shakes to the sea mist that tickles your face at Santa Cruz Shakespeare, these outdoor venues plunge you into the heart of the moment. It’s hard to beat outdoor theater for sheer sensory immersion, the swoon-worthy romance of theater under the stars. Here are 5 of the best summer theaters in the Bay Area.
San Francisco Mime Troupe
Who needs “Walls?” This Tony-winning band of muckrakers explores the reasons a nation of immigrants would build walls to bar other immigrants in a musical expose of fear and greed in the age of Trump. As ever, the left-wing troupe remains committed to its goal of fomenting revolution through free theater in parks throughout the Bay Area. There is never any charge but you are always welcome to put a donation in the hat if you believe in the cause.
Tip: remember to bring nibbles with you.
Details: Through Sept. 10 at parks and venues throughout Northern California; free; www.sfmt.org.
Immerse yourself in the pleasures of Shakespeare and other master writers at Cal Shakes. Newish artistic director Eric Ting continues to mix things up with deconstructions of the classics such as a bold reinvention of Tennessee Williams’ magnificent memory play “The Glass Menagerie” starring the estimable Sean San Jose as Tom; the West Coast premiere of Marcus Gardley’s Homeric adventure “black odyssey” and the Bard’s “Measure for Measure.” The stunning scenery is part of the drama here, from the sun-drenched hillside to the eco-chic architecture and living roof of the Cal Shakes venue.
Tip: Cal Shakes offers an extensive food and beverage menu, including some very tasty pie for dessert, and the themed cocktails are always delish. Don’t forget to dress in layers because the dramas are hot but the weather is often chilly. Blankets are available. Veteran festivalgoers often pack their own gourmet eats and sips and a parka (just in case!).
Details: Through Oct. 8 at Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda; $20-$79; 510-548-9666, www.calshakes.org.
Santa Cruz Shakespeare
Stroll through a grand sun-dappled eucalyptus grove to find the new home of Shakespeare Santa Cruz in DeLaveaga Park. The newly reinvented company is staging the thorny drama “Measure for Measure,” the spunky comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” the Hitchcockian farce “The 39 Steps” as well as a world premiere adaptation of Voltaire’s ever witty “Candide.”
Tip: Cookies, tea, soda and other snacks are available at the theater but you have to pre-order dinner entries, Japanese delicacies from BUZEN, online before the show. Or bring along your own feast.
Details: Through Sept. 2 at Audrey Stanley Grove in DeLaveaga Park, 501 Upper Park Road, Santa Cruz; $25-$55; 831-460-6399, www.santacruzshakespeare.org
Livermore Shakespeare Festival
Bask in the beauty of the vines while you enjoy the Livermore Shakespeare Festival, which is now tucked amid the grapes at Wente Vineyards. This year’s season includes the fairy romp “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the romantic classic “Cyrano de Bergerac” (in repertory).
Tip: Hearty food options such a wood-fired pizza and a nicely curated wine and beer list.
Details: Through July 30 at Wente Vineyards, 5565 Tesla Road, Livermore; $25-$50; 925-443-2273, www.livermoreshakes.org.
San Francisco Shakespeare Festival
To be or not to be… for free. There is never any cost to experience the majesty of Shakespeare in the park with this traveling troupe, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary. This summer, you can experience the immortal tragedy of “Hamlet” at various Bay Area parks and theaters. Bring a blanket, pack a picnic and let the poetry sink into your soul. This is a super fun and informal setting that’s a great way to introduce children and other newbies to the magic of the theater.