There are a lot of fun shows to see and hear in the Bay Area this weekend and beyond. Here’s a partial rundown.
Is it ‘Poetic Justice’?
It’s one thing to draw artistic inspiration from your own life, but when you co-opt someone else’s experiences … .
Nora Ephron’s famous adage — “Everything is copy” — might be worth considering as you enjoy the pair of one-act plays that make up “Poetic Justice,” a show at the Marsh San Francisco this month. Both plays by Lynne Kaufman look at what happens when famous writers use revealing, private moments and interactions with others to create transcendent literature.
In the first one-act, “You Must Change Your Life,” the Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke begins a correspondence with a young military school cadet, Franz Kappus, who’s struggling with whether to pursue a career in the army or dedicate his life to poetry. Those letters formed the basis of one of Rilke’s most acclaimed works, “Letters to a Young Poet,” offering inspiring advice on how a poet should feel, love and engage in art.
The literary world’s reaction wasn’t so glowing when Robert Lowell incorporated private letters from his ex-wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, into poems for his Pulitizer Prize-winning 1973 book, “The Dolphin.” Adrienne Rich publicly blasted Lowell for cruelty – he had left Hardwick for another woman – while his other poet pal, Elizabeth Bishop, privately wrote him, “One can use one’s life as material — one does anyway — but these letters — aren’t you violating a trust?” Kaufman’s “Divine Madness” dramatizes Lowell’s attempts to reconcile with Hardwick following this betrayal, as he also struggles with bipolar disorder.
Details: Jan. 7-29; The Marsh San Francisco, 1062 Valencia St.; $25-$35; themarsh.org.
— Martha Ross, Staff
Art vs. free expression
It must be a cruel irony for an artist: Your career takes off as your work gains increasing notice and acclaim, but all of the attention and success seems to only take you further away from those you wanted to reach in the first place. That is kind of the predicament faced by painter and activist Titus Kaphar, who earned his BFA from San Jose State University in 2001. Kaphar, who is Black, is also a civil rights activist who often weaves racial issues into his works. His paintings are also known to have portions covered with strokes of white paint or have the canvass slashed or altered in some way. One of his best-known works, “Behind the Myth of Benevolence,” re-creates a famous 19th-century portrait of Thomas Jefferson, with the work peeled back to reveal Sally Hemings, a slave owned by Jefferson with whom he had several children.
In a new 24-minute documentary, “Shut Up and Paint,” Kaphar and filmmaker Alex Mallis explore Kaphar’s rise as a painter despite the fact that some in the arts world are uncomfortable with his outspoken views. The title of the film, comes from a phone message in which the caller, a European gallery owner, advises Kaphar to let up on the politicizing and “shut up and paint.” At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, “Shut Up and Paint,” which has been nominated for an Oscar, will be screened at the Museum of the African Diaspora, in San Francisco. Kaphar and Mallis will be on hand and engage in a Q&A with art historian Bridget R. Cooks after the screening.
Details: 6:30 p.m. Jan. 5; Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission St., San Francisco; free; www.moadsf.org.
— Bay Area News Foundation
Feminist folk icon returns to Berkeley
Cris Williamson is a legend in the popular music world whose lasting impact extends to, well, pretty much any female artist who records her own music and runs her own career. She was a founding member, in the early 1970s, of Olivia Records, considered the first label that was owned and operated by women and which represented women artists. It was on that label that Williamson in 1975 released the now-legendary album “The Changer and the Changed,” which remains one of the best-selling independent releases of all time and, with its focus on political, feminist and LGBTQ themes, helped usher in the “Women’s Music” genre. She later formed her own label, Wolf Moon Records. In all, she has released some 40 albums, including 2022’s “Harbor Street.” Williamson is considered an icon of the second-wave feminist movement and has been credited as an inspiration by artists ranging from Meliisa Etheridge to k.d. lang to bands in the Riot Grrrls movement. Bonnie Raitt calls her a hero and has said of her music, “The first time I heard Cris’s music, it was like honey dropped on a cello.” Williamson, who has sold out Carnegie Hall (for three shows in a row) and headlined folk festivals across the country, returns to Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage for concerts on Friday and Saturday, with a packed roster of guest artists that includes Barbara Higbie, Julie Wolf, Katie Cash, Kofy Brown, Shelley Doty, Vicki Randle and many more. Performances are 7 p.m. each night and masks must be worn in the venue.
Details: 7 p.m. Jan. 6-7; Freight & Salvage, Berkeley; $45-$65; thefreight.org.
— Bay Area News Foundation
Curated with loving care
Berkeley-based pianist Sarah Cahill, also a faculty member of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the host of the weekly classical music radio show “Revolutions Per Minute,” is a well-known champion both of new music and especially, through her “The Future Is Female” project, music by women composers from around the globe and down through the ages.
She brings both those passions to bear on her upcoming recital for Old First Concerts Jan. 6 in San Francisco. On her program are four world premieres, including “Humanitas,” which she commissioned from her frequent collaborator, the late Frederic Rzewski, before he died in 2021. The piece was composed in honor of his friend and fellow composer Terry Riley’s 85th birthday. The other world premieres are Carolyn Yarnell’s “Nocturne,” Arlene Sierra’s “Birds and Insects” Book 3 and excerpts from Robert Pollock’s “Enneagram.” Cahill will also perform Rebecca Saunders’ “Shadow” and Peter Garland’s “Walk in Beauty.”
Details: 8 p.m. Jan. 6; Old First Church, 1751 Sacramento St., San Francisco; $5-$25, $20 (suggested donation) for live-streamed version; oldfirstconcerts.org.
— Bay Area News Foundation
Celebrating Aretha Franklin
The legendary singer Aretha Franklin, who passed away 4½ years ago, was one of those artists whose transcendent voice pops clearly in your head at the mention of her name. An amalgam of raw power, emotion, spirituality, vulnerability and savvy, Franklin’s singing remains a treasure that will never be duplicated or even approximated. But that doesn’t mean people can’t celebrate her in concert. That’s the idea behind the new touring show “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.: A Celebration of the Music of Aretha Franklin,” which lands at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre, on Taylor and Market streets, for a short, two-show run.
Shouldering the Aretha Franklin role is young Brooklyn-based singer Trejah Bostic, who’ll be backed by vocalists Meghan Dawson, Nattalyee Randall and Ashton Weeks. The backing band features keyboardists Darnell White (also the music director) and Rocco Dellaneve, drummer TJ Griffin, guitarist Kenneth “Gypsy” Simpson and bassist Owen Williams. Stage direction is handled by Christina Sajous, best known as a talented actor who’s performed in such musicals as “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark,” and “American Idiot.” Performances are Jan. 6-7. The multimedia show will touch on Franklin’s epic life but most importantly will serve up spirited renditions of such classic tunes as “Natural Woman,” “Think,” “I Knew You Were Waiting for Me,” “Chain of Fools,” “Respect,” and many more.
Details: 8 p.m. Jan. 6, 2 p.m. Jan. 7; Golden gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St.; $46-$96; www.broadwaysf.com.
— Bay Area News Foundation