Readers Choice 2014: Culture

Local Theater

With a thriving local theater scene, plus the seasonal best from Broadway, Bay Area theatergoers can choose from rollicking musicals, award-winning drama or avant-garde productions. The following theaters are perennial winners.

 Founded in 1965, San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, a Tony Award–winning nonprofit, is recognized worldwide for its provocative new works as well as adaptations of the classics. Recent productions have included “Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard, who has called ACT “his American home,” George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara” and “Stuck Elevator,” a gripping drama based on the true story of a Chinese deliveryman stranded for 81 hours in a Bronx elevator. In addition to its main theater on Geary Street, ACT has recently purchased the Strand, across from UN Plaza, which will provide an opportunity to expand its offerings. ACT’s Conservatory offers an MFA program and provides training to new generations of theater people.

With two stages, a school and a Tony Award for outstanding regional theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre has grown from a storefront stage, launched in 1968, to a nationally renowned arts organization. In the last seven years, it has sent seven shows to Broadway, 11 to off-Broadway theaters, two to London, two to film and others to theaters around the country. Recent shows have featured actor-pianist-writer Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein in “Maestro” and as “Monsieur Chopin,” both one-man shows with music and monologues. Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” with comic twists on Chekhov, played in the fall. Berkeley Rep’s School of Theatre offers classes to kids, teens and adults, while the Ground Floor is an incubator for the creation and development of new works.

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, which presents plays in Palo Alto and Mountain View, was launched by Robert Kelley in 1970 as a theater arts workshop for teens and college students. Now in its 44th season, it is one of the state’s largest theaters, with more than 8,000 subscribers, a permanent staff of 40, an $8 million budget and an eight-play season as well as a summer New Works Festival. The coming season features Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” Noel Coward’s “Fallen Angels” and “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a musical riff on Peter Pan. TheatreWorks, which is committed to diversity and innovation, also offers classes to kids, including summer and vacation camps, workshops for adults and programs in area schools.

 The 48-year-old Marin Theatre Company, based in Mill Valley, produces a six-show season of provocative plays by passionate playwrights from the 20th century. The midsize theater is also committed to nurturing new works and producing world premieres. The fall production of “I and You” received the Steinberg Award for best new play produced outside of New York. “Bringing brand new plays to our audience here in Marin and having those plays go on to robust continued lives is at the heart of MTC’s mission,” says Sasha Hnatkovich, communications director. MTC also presents a five-play series for young audiences in partnership with Bay Area Children’s Theatre and offers classes and programs for more than 8,500 students, ages 6 to 86.

San Francisco

American Conservatory Theater

(415) 749-2228 •


East Bay

Berkeley Repertory Theatre


(510) 647-2900 •


South Bay/Peninsula

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

Palo Alto

(650) 463-1950 •


North Bay

Marin Theatre Company

Mill Valley

(415) 388-5200 •


Local Museum

Here in the Bay Area, a number of first-rate museums display art and sculpture, while others are dedicated to specific interests, including science and technology, Judaica, kids’ activities, California culture, and science and technology. Readers’ choices reflect that variety.

“The Contemporary Jewish Museum makes the diversity of the Jewish experience relevant for a 21st-century audience,” says Daryl Carr, director of marketing and communications. “We accomplish this through innovative exhibitions and programs that educate, challenge and inspire.” In 2008 the museum moved to its present location in a building that was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, who adapted a power station on the Mission Street site. As a noncollecting institution, the CJM partners with other museums to present ever-changing exhibitions. Among them: “Arthur Szyk and the Art of the Haggadah,” stunningly illuminated, calligraphic manuscripts drawing parallels between the Exodus and the developments in Nazi Germany. On a lighter note, “Frog and Toad and the World of Arnold Lobel” featured an exhibition of Lobel’s work as well as activities for children. Current exhibits include “Project Mah Jongg,” offering opportunities to play, and “Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism,” showing the contributions of Jewish architects and designers.

Founded in 1895 in Golden Gate Park and reopened in 2005 in a new facility, San Francisco’s M.H. de Young Museum displays permanent collections of American art, works of European masters and the art of Asia, Africa and Oceania. It also displays the contemporary craft collection of Jewish community leaders Dorothy and the late George Saxe, which features such West Coast artists as Robert Arneson, Dale Chihuly and Viola Frey. The museum is currently displaying modern works from the Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, including works by Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella, and earlier this season the museum exhibited the work of David Hockney and Georgia O’Keefe. The de Young and the Palace of the Legion of Honor, with a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge, comprise the city’s Fine Arts Museums.

More than an art museum, more than a natural history museum, the Oakland Museum of California reflects multicultural California in art, history and natural sciences. Its mission is to “inspire all Californians to create a more vibrant future for themselves and their communities.” The 300,000-square-foot property, with 125,000 feet of exhibition space, provides interactive exhibits that entice children, dioramas and displays of early California life. Currently on view is “Sunshine and Superheroes: San Diego Comic-Con,” highlighting the impact of the largest comics convention, and “Judy Chicago: A Butterfly for Oakland,” showing digitized images of the artist’s light display on the shores of Lake Merritt.

Situated on the Stanford campus overlooking one of the largest collections of Rodin bronzes outside of Paris, the Cantor Arts Center is a free, small museum with changing exhibitions both from the permanent collection and on tour. Founded in 1891, the museum was expanded and renamed in 1999 for lead donors Gerald and Iris Cantor. The permanent collection — 40,000 works spanning 5,000 years — incorporates art from Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as classical and contemporary works by noted American and European artists. Recent exhibitions have included “Inside Rodin’s Hands: Art, Technology, and Surgery,” “American Photographs: A Cultural History” and “Mapping Edo: The Social and Political Geography of Early Modern Japan.” Docent tours, family Sundays, art-making opportunities and gallery talks round out the offerings. Most programs are free, keeping in mind the philosophy of benefactor Jane Stanford, 1884: “Art has the power to educate and inform, and should be made accessible to all.”

San Francisco

Contemporary Jewish Museum

(415) 655-7800

M.H. de Young Memorial Museum

(415) 750-3600


East Bay

Oakland Museum

(510) 318-8400


South Bay/Peninsula

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

Palo Alto

(650) 723-4177


Art Gallery

For many art lovers, gallery hopping is a favorite pastime, offering an opportunity not only to view contemporary work close up but to purchase a favorite piece. Here are our readers’ choices.

After recently closing his longtime Union Square gallery, George Krevsky moved his business from San Francisco to his home in Oakland, where he sees clients by appointment. As a fine art advisory service, Krevsky specializes in 20th century American art and says he has a special interest in visual Judaica. For the past 16 years, he has produced an annual “Art of Baseball” exhibition, plus more than 100 individual and group shows, exhibiting at international art fairs, representing artists’ estates, placing art in museum collections and serving as board member and co-chair of the San Francisco Art Dealers Association. “The art gallery world has been dramatically impacted by the Internet and technological innovations,” Krevsky says. “We are adapting our business to meet those changes in society.”

Fraenkel Gallery was one of the earliest galleries to present photography as an art form,  equal in importance to painting and sculpture, according to Frish Brandt, executive director and partner. Since 1979, the San Francisco gallery has presented almost 300 exhibitions exploring photography and its relationship to other arts. The exhibitions have spanned the history of photography, from its early masters, including documentary photography pioneer Eugène Atget, to Irving Penn, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and recently, Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose work is in museums around the world. “There has been particular interest in work by artists who incorporate photography into their practice and yet are not known as “photographers,” says director Darius Himes. “This engagement with art outside the traditional boundaries of the photographic medium is what distinguishes the gallery.”

In 1995, Berkeley potter Sandy Simon started Trax Ceramic Gallery in a warehouse on the West Berkeley railroad tracks. Since then, Simon and her husband, sculptor Robert Brady, built a new gallery, studio and home near Berkeley’s Fourth Street shopping area. The majority of works are sold online. Trax hosts about six exhibits a year, focusing on the work of potters. Upcoming exhibits are “Porcelains,” featuring the work of Adam Field with his wife, Heesoo Lee, and “Local Clay Heavies” with ceramics by Bay Area artists. Simon says her “ultimate goal is to grow the audience of appreciation so that Trax could actually support the life and work of many potters.”

The Peninsula JCC in Foster City is committed to exhibiting the works of talented Jewish artists as well as exhibits that explore Jewish values, themes and ideas. Earlier this year, the gallery held a successful exhibition of collages by Ronni Jolles, a Northern Virginia based artist who “paints” with paper, shaping her memories of Jewish experiences. “We had two-back-to back shows with artists who employed paper as their primary material,” said cultural arts director Kimberly Gordon. “Both the show by Jolles and by local artist Rachel Leibman were continually mentioned as member and guest favorites.” Up at the gallery now is its third juried community art show, displaying photography, wall-mounted mixed media and handcrafted jewelry. The PJCC gallery, which rotates exhibitions quarterly, is committed to featuring at least one Israeli artist and one local artist each year. This fall, it will feature the world premiere of “Rootedness,” prints by photographer Ofer Nov and oil paintings by Moshe Kassirer showing the Israeli olive orchards and olive oil industry.

Bay Area

Krevsky Fine Art

(510) 817-4944


San Francisco

Fraenkel Gallery

(415) 981-2661


East Bay

Trax Ceramic Gallery


(510) 540-8729


South Bay/Peninsula

Peninsula JCC Gallery

Foster City

(650) 212-7522


Movie Theater

Whether your tastes run to vintage films from the silent era, Hollywood musicals, the avant-garde or the latest blockbusters, a night at the movies is the essence of popular, affordable entertainment. Popcorn, anyone? Our readers selected these theaters as their favorites.

At Sundance Kabuki, reportedly the first multiplex theater in San Francisco, patrons can dine and enjoy a cocktail or visit the art gallery. If the film is designated “+ 21,” moviegoers can tote their cocktails and food into the theater. All seats are reserved. The theater also has two private screening rooms with rocking-chair loveseats. Sundance Cinemas, headed by Robert Redford, features art, independent, foreign and documentary films, as well as film festivals.

Oakland’s historic Grand Lake Theater opened in 1926 featuring vaudeville and silent films. In 1980, Allen Michaan, owner of Renaissance Rialto, purchased the ground lease and began a process of restoration. The balcony was transformed into a second theater and neighboring storefronts were transformed into Egyptian-themed and Moorish-style theaters. The main auditorium, where the Wurlitzer organ is played before Friday and Saturday night performances, retains its golden age opulence.

CinéArts specializes in “the artistic side of film,” according to its Facebook page. The theaters, part of the Cinemark chain, feature art and independent films, festivals and award winners. Our readers’ favorite in the South Bay/Peninsula region is CinéArts at Palo Alto Square, which also was the Peninsula venue for the recent San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Located in a business park, the theater has two screens and plenty of parking. One Yelp reviewer writes: “Great theater to see that independent film you can’t find anywhere else. It may seem hard to get to at first, but once you’re in the know, you’ll appreciate how tucked away this place is. For me, it really adds to the appeal of seeing a movie — a place not obnoxiously loud or crowded with teenagers looking to see the next ‘Transformers’ film.”

San Francisco

Sundance Kabuki

(415) 346-3243


East Bay

Grand Lake Theatre


(510) 452-3556


South Bay/Peninsula

CinéArts at Palo Alto Square

(650) 493-0128


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