This week the Bay Area gets its first glimpse of two plays that originally debuted in London’s West End starring The X Files‘ Gillian Anderson. On Saturday, San Francisco’s Magic Theater presents the American premiere of Rebecca Gilman’s The Sweetest Swing in Baseball, and this Friday in Walnut Creek, Playhouse West presents the Northern California premiere of Michael Weller’s What the Night Is For. Now entering her tenth year as artistic director (and founder) of Playhouse West and director of nearly all the company’s productions, Lois Grandi is yielding the directorial reins to Ray Reinhardt, a founding member and thirty-year veteran of American Conservatory Theater, to star in What the Night Is For. Grandi last trod the boards in 2000’s Light Sensitive, which won her a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award. Here she plays alongside Marvin Greene, an acting instructor at the Berkeley Rep, ACT, Cal, and the Academy of Art College.
The night appears to be for booty calls — if soulful ones — in this play about two ex-lovers who had an affair a decade before and have met again in a hotel room to seek an escape from their respective middle-aged, middle-class marriages with children, and who now try to relive those heady days when he was an up-and-coming architect and she an emerging poet and to see if the pilot light on that old spark can be found.
Weller’s play is an interesting choice for Grandi’s return to the stage. This two-actor piece by the ’70s author of the plays Loose Ends and Moonchildren and the screen adaptations of Ragtime and Hair debuted in London in 2002 only to close two weeks early after savage reviews. The Observer called it “a play which could and should send people screaming from the theatre.” Gilman’s play didn’t fare much better with the London press last April — the same month Weller’s play had its US premiere at the Laguna Playhouse — though Anderson herself received much more positive notices for Sweetest Swing.
We dumped a lot of perfectly good tea in the harbor so as not to have to be overly concerned with what the British think, so you can see for yourself what this Night brings at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts through February 19. 915-943-7469 or Playhouse West.org — Sam Hurwitt
Ragged Wing takes flight
Snakes. Masks. Puppetry. These are just three of the blessings the new theater troupe Ragged Wing Ensemble will bring down upon the East Bay with its inaugural show, Jean-Claude Van Itallie’s The Serpent. Created in collaboration with the Open Theater in 1967, The Serpent is an exploration of knowledge, responsibility, and humanity’s fall from grace, let loose in the mythical wilds of the Garden of Eden. Get heavy at Eighth Street Studios, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through February 19. 2525 Eighth St., Berkeley. $10-$20 sliding scale. For more information: RaggedWing.org or 510-527-8119. — Stefanie Kalem
One Christmas Eve in Ireland, alcoholic undertaker John Plunkett has an epiphany of sorts. That’s the setup for Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s stage play, Dublin Carol, a whiskey-and-regrets follow-up to his The Weir. Dublin Carol opens its West Coast premiere engagement at Aurora Theatre on February 3, with previews beginning Friday. The production, starring Gary Armagnac and Holly Hornlien under the direction of the veteran Joy Carlin, runs Wednesdays through Sundays through March 6 at Aurora, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Info and tix ($36-$45; previews $28) at 510-843-4822 or Aurora Theatre.org — Kelly Vance
In the Band’s “Yazoo Street Scandal,” a mystical widow casts a rain spell, and in the process, rocks drummer Levon Helm “kinda slow and easy.” You have to wonder if Bob Dylan’s Woodstock buddies swiped the tale from Richard Nash’s play The Rainmaker, made into a Katherine Hepburn film in 1956 and centering on a spinster who falls in love with a purported rainmaker who has come to relieve her Western farm community of its debilitating drought. The spinster’s name is Lizzie; Helm’s protagonist has a girlfriend named Eliza. Think about it. Then go see The Rainmaker when the California Conservatory Theatre mounts it at 999 E. 14th St., San Leandro. $16-$18. 510-632-8850. — Stefanie Kalem