Bay Area Theater

Bay Area Theatre in 2023: Best of the Year

KPFA theatre critic Richard Wolinsky discusses the year in theatre in the Bay Area in 2023, plus a top ten list and two honorable mentions.


Text of the podcast.

In the Bay Area, Live theatre companies continued in 2023 to adapt to the post-Covid world. While movie audience sizes seems to be returning to pre-pandemic numbers. live theater remains mostly on life support across the board, mainly because season subscriptions are down by at least a third or maybe more, which means theatergoers are buying tickets on a show by show basis. That makes planning difficult, and it also means artistic directors are less likely to produce shows that are more challenging in favor of audiences pleasers such as musicals, comedies, and most importantly, the warhorses that folks are willing to see over and over again.

The great multi-theatre venue, Piano Fight, in the Tenderloin closed its doors in March, leaving a host of younger theatregoers bereft. Bay Area Musicals didn’t survive the pandemic, and its successor Landmark Musicals did not get past 2023. Marin Theatre Company, ACT, and the Magic have had truncated seasons, and Cal Shakes chose not to have a season at all. Custom Made is on life support and may never return.

But there was still quite a bit of quality theatergoing to be had in the plastic year, and here are ten examples fin no particular order. Clyde’s, a former Tony nominee by Lynn Nottage had a sensational production at Berkeley Rep’s Peets theatre. As did the creepy and scary Let the Right One in at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre. Margo Hall was phenomenal in Josephine’s Feast over at the Magic, and it doesn’t get any better than J. Jha in Gertha Reddy’s adaptation of the Mahabharata at Z Space, co-produced by the Oakland Theatre Project.

Poor Yella Rednecks, Vietgone II at ACT’s Strand Theatre looked at a Vietnamese refugee family in America, and Cambodian Rock Band at ACT focused on the generational aftermath of the Killing Fields and the Cambodian Genocide. Then there was Nollywood Dreams, a screamingly funny look at the Nigerian film industry, and Billy Crudup’s brilliant performance in Harry Clarke at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre.

Rounding out the top ten are San Francisco Playhouse’s brilliant production of A Chorus Line, and the very weird, funny and horrifying Locusts Have No King at New Conservatory Theatre.

A couple of honorary mentions go to Kander and Ebb’s brilliant The Scottsboro Boys at 42nd Street Moon, and William Finn’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at TheatreWorks.