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Top Tickets: March 5-11

Diablo’s can’t-miss events of the coming week: Percussion Discussion, Pleasanton Art League exhibit, Steel Magnolias live in Walnut Creek, Livermore Valley Opera presents Tosca, a film fest, and a Q&A with Oakland playwright Susan Sobeloff.

Percussion Discussion

Hello!  Well, this week started with a bang!  I joined a couple other Diablo staffers at the sold-out East Bay Women's Conference on Monday at the San Ramon Marriott.  The keynote speakers were legendary feminist activist Gloria Steinem and Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters—and adding comic relief (and Hollywood gossip) as emcee was hat-loving TV personality Jan Wahl.  Plus, the two breakout sessions I attended were packed with good ideas and information: social media savvy with Patrick Schwerdtfeger and tools for adapting to change with MJ Ryan.  Lunch was killer (chicken over lemony quinoa salad) and so many East Bay businesses were represented at vendor booths, from John Muir Health to Chevron to Nothing Bundt Cakes.  I even picked up two books at the mini bookstore.  What a great, inspiring day!  Thanks to the Walnut Creek Chamber!

And now for some scoop on this week's hot events, plus a Q&A with up-and-coming Oakland playwright Susan Sobeloff...

March 6–10: Percussion Discussion
Every toddler understands the joy of making music with pots and pans. Take your little one to Ken Bergmann’s Percussion Discussion, where banging, smashing, and whacking is an art. The show incorporates drums, cowbells, chairs, and instruments from around the globe, plus a humorous take on the sound effects of Hollywood. Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek, times vary, $13, (925) 943-7469, tickets: lesherartscenter.org, more info: percussiondiscussion.com.

March 7–April 29: Imagination Expressed
View new work by Tri-Valley artists in a variety of media at this annual Pleasanton Art League exhibition. Much of the artwork will be available for sale, and artists will be on hand througout the run of the show to talk about their craft (check with the museum for schedule). Museum on Main, 603 Main St., Pleasanton, free admission (donations suggested), (925) 462-2766, pal-art.com.

March 9–24: Steel Magnolias
Truvy and Ouiser come to life onstage in Diablo Actors' Ensemble's production of this beloved play (and hit movie) about Southern women chatting at the beauty parlor about life, love, and tragedy. Diablo Actors' Ensemble Theater, 1345 Locust St., Walnut Creek, times vary, $10-$25, (925) 826-5216 (no phone sales, only information), diabloactors.com.

March 1018: Tosca
Livermore Valley Opera presents Puccini's masterpiece about about love and corruption amid Napoleon's invasion of Italy. Plan to arrive early: Opera scholar Dr. John Prescott will host an informative opera discussion one hour prior to curtain. Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., Livermore, times vary, $29-$74, (925) 373-6800, tickets: livermoreperformingarts.org, more info: livermorevalleyopera.org.

March 10-18: East Bay Jewish International Film Festival
This film fest's motto is "See a Film, See the World," and that is certainly true of the line-up, which includes features, documentaries, and shorts from South Africa, France, England, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Israel—as well as the East Bay. Various venues including CineArts in Pleasant Hill, the Orinda Theatre in Orinda, and Vine Cinema in Livermore; $180 for all-access pass, individual screenings $7-$10; (510) 318-6456; eastbayjewishfilm.org.


5 Questions with Susan Sobeloff

By Shannon Sullivan

Maura Halloran and Ariane Owens in "Merchants"She received her MFA in Ceramics from the California College of the Arts in 2002, and now, Maryland native turned Oakland resident Susan Sobeloff, 42, is a bona fide playwright. Inspired by William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Sobeloff’s Merchants, now playing at San Francisco’s Exit Theatre, addresses the current economic crisis through the eyes of two sisters. She talks with Diablo about her new play, living in the East Bay, and the importance of a good cup of coffee.

How long have you been involved with the theater?
I started writing seriously about six or seven years ago. A friend had suggested that I see the play The Secret in the Wings by [Tony Award winner] Mary Zimmerman at Berkeley Rep. It was a re-invention of these classic fairy tales, and it was told in such a visually stunning way that I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I should be writing plays!’ I love how it brings visual excitement, which I love, to storytelling. I guess I had my epiphany in the theater.

Can you tell us a little bit about how long you’ve been working on the play and where the spark for the story originated?
I have been working on this story off and on for four years. I have done shorter plays, which were produced in the meantime, but I kept coming back to this project.

I started thinking about it after seeing Butterfield 8 [the Concord company that produces a lot of Shakespeare plays] and their version of Merchant of Venice. I’m in this tiny theater, and I thought that this play requires a contemporary response. I realized I really wanted to write a play where people are dealing with issues of money; they’re real people and not stereotypes. The spark came from Shakespeare, but you don’t need to know The Merchant of Venice in order to see my play.

People might think that there are plenty of villains responsible for our economic condition. Why did you choose to write a play without a Bernie Madoff- or R. Allen Stanford-like character, and what has the general response to Merchants been?
I wanted each of my characters to be complex, without one person where you can say, ‘If they behaved better, then none of these problems would be there.’  It’s the unraveling of the American Dream and the new downward mobility. People still want to make good, ethical choices, which is a far more compelling story than one with a villain. A friend told me that she saw the play, and then she and her friends were asking one another, ‘Which character am I?’ You can’t have that conversation with a villain.

I think my hope is that people realize that it takes creative solutions to get through hard situations, that there’s a sense of people being responsible for each other. There have been such different responses, but it makes me happy that, even though there are many sad parts in the play, people have told me that they see it as an optimistic story.

Do you have some favorite places in the East Bay to help you unwind or even to give you inspiration?
I love the farmers markets, because they’re always really fun. I like that you can get out to Redwood Park or someplace green really quickly. But I really love that there are so many places to have a good cup of coffee in the East Bay! Especially as a writer, you need a place where you can bring your laptop along with you. It’s always fun to see people you know at Remedy on Telegraph or Rooz on Piedmont—my little neighborhood café. It’s like a big extension of your living room!

I run the undergraduate exhibitions program at CCA now, so I am always inspired by the work there. I’ve also been lucky to be a part of Central Works in Berkeley. Everyone’s working on a play and there’s so much inspiration, excitement, and energy. There are all kinds of amazing theater in the Bay Area, like Cal Shakes or Shotgun.

Will you write in the future?
I have been honored to work with so many wonderful people as I put on this play. I feel that the producer/director Stuart Bousel, the actors, the technical team, the set designers… they all just worked on this project with such care and attention, and I think it really comes through in the play. For a writer/playwright, it’s a gift to have someone take a chance on you, and I am just so filled with gratitude for everyone who’s worked on this play.

I hope to continue to write plays, because I love the collaborative part and the sense that it’s a living thing that changes every night. It wouldn’t be the same without the audience, and I love seeing how actors and audiences interact with one another.

Now playing, through March 24, at Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy St., San Francisco, all shows 8 p.m., $5-$25, (800) 838-3006, theexit.org.


For even more events happening this week, or to submit an event for consideration, visit Diablo’s Community Calendar. Follow Diablo on Twitter or Facebook (links below), and you'll be notified as soon as Top Tickets posts each Monday.