Bonnie and Clyde
Through Sept. 29, by Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage, shotgunplayers.org
Adam Peck's play takes a fresh look at the infamous Depression-era hoodlum couple.
Highbrow: Director Mark Jackson and actors Megan Trout and Joe Estlack rank among top Bay Area theater artists by any critical metric, high or low, for their talent, vision, and commitment.
Lowbrow: Trout and Estlack, electrifying collaborators in last year's A Lie of the Mind at the Boxcar, move onstage as if linked by ESP, making their outlaw characters here refreshingly earthy and sensual.
Tourettes Without Regrets
Sept. 5-ongoing, Oakland Metro, touretteswithoutregrets.com
This genre-defying monthly variety show, now in action for well over a decade, is part poetry slam, part meat-throwing.
Highbrow: Performers have the writerly, improvisatory, and comedic chops of the best slammers.
Lowbrow: Performers also eschew the poetry world's self-righteous angst, preferring dirty haikus, but seizing the stage with a passion that will melt away your liberal pieties. There are no sacred cows here, only an equal-opportunity slaughterhouse.
The Shakespeare Bug
Sept. 6-29, by Killing my Lobster at Stage Werx Theatre, killingmylobster.com
Playwright Ken Slattery's world premiere adapts Hamlet to present-day San Francisco and adds an illness that afflicts victims with the urge to speak and act as if they're in one of Shakespeare's plays.
Highbrow: Slattery pays homage to Shakespeare as much as he parodies him, interpolating some of the Bard's greatest linguistic hits across multiple plays.
Lowbrow: Embodied by the always antic clowns of Killing My Lobster, characters include an Earl of the Outer Sunset, a Lady Marina, and, lowest of all, a tech start-up dude.
Christine Marie and Ensemble: Signaling Arcana/4 TRAINS
Sept. 12-15, Zspace, zspace.org
A shadow theater spectacle set in the early 19th century, Signaling Arcana/4 TRAINS explores the deep cultural and environmental changes caused by rapid industrialization. The show zeroes in on the image of trains as metaphor, and is conducted on three 20-foot screens.
Highbrow: Lead artist Christine Marie is a TED fellow who taught shadow puppetry to the folks at Pixar and Dreamworks. And the show has a live score, written by Emmy-winning composer Dan Cantrell, who's been known to collaborate with the San Francisco Symphony.
Lowbrow: Shadow theater is essentially puppets and lights. Which makes this a puppet show with themes of environmental degradation and working-class struggle. A Progressive's wet dream.
After the Tone
Sept. 14, 15, and 20, Exit Theater, theexit.org
Cara Rose DeFabio's After the Tone takes a critical look at how digital technology is changing society, but avoids becoming another rant from a neo-Luddite. The play incorporates the same tools it critiques into the show, which is conducted entirely through cellphones and Snapchats.
Highbrow: This is definitely theater for the Millennial generation. It should appeal to the well-heeled Twitterati, or anyone who absolutely must have the latest Android/iPhone-in-gold techno toy.
Lowbrow: DeFabio isn't afraid to break barriers. The play involves coarse language and nudity, and participants will be encouraged to download and use Snapchat during the show — not your typical theater etiquette.
The 2013 Bay One-Acts Festival
Sept. 18-Oct. 5, Tides Theatre, bayoneacts.org
This sampler of the Bay Area's indie theater scene, now in its 12th year, offers 13 short plays produced by 13 different theater companies.
Highbrow: Some shows have ripped-from-the-headlines urgency, tackling LGBT themes in the wake of Prop. 8 and mass shootings.
Lowbrow: Others feature zombies, "like all good theater of the last three years," says artistic director Sara Staley, as well as a sex hotline staffed by Melville, Tennyson, and Plath, and patronized by Hester Prynne and Captain Ahab.
Shocktoberfest 14: Jack the Ripper
Sept. 26-Nov. 23, by the Thrillpeddlers at the Hypnodrome, thrillpeddlers.com
The 22-year-old company's annual Halloween variety show features a tawdry musical number, a one-act horror, and its patented glow-in-the-dark spook show.
Highbrow: Director Russell Blackwood takes his lowbrow seriously, making thematic connections between a Grand Guignol Jack-the-Ripper play and an 1895 San Francisco murder that became the basis for The Wrong Ripper, Rob Keefe's world premiere one-act.
Lowbrow: One of the scenes is a Victorian spanking drama.
Peter and the Starcatcher
Nov. 5-Dec. 1, by SHN at the Curran Theatre, shnsf.com
Winner of five Tony Awards, this show chronicles the origin story of the boy who never grew up, preferring to fly in Neverland.
Highbrow: This musical, like so many others, includes flying, yet here it's not gimmicky but refreshingly low-tech, making evocative use of simple tools, and sometimes no tools at all.
Lowbrow: The bathroom humor is sophomoric enough for any Lost Boy.
San Francisco Olympians Festival
Nov. 6-23, Exit Theatre, sfolympians.com
Now in its fourth year, this festival of Greek mythology-themed one-acts involves more than 100 local artists; this year's focus is the Trojan Requiem.
Highbrow: If Greek mythology gave the West stories to tell about itself, Olympians artists use it to tell stories about us today, with pieces like Dan Hirsch's Patroclus drama, about contemporary male sexual and gender identities.
Lowbrow: As the gods are just as prurient as they are awe-inspiring, Olympians plays also include Kirk Shimano's Paris play, which is set in a gay bar, and a Golden Apple play by Allison Page that's staged as a game show.
The Book of Mormon
Nov. 27-Jan. 19, 2014, Orpheum Theater, shnsf.com
The audience favorite and recipient of nine Tony awards returns to San Francisco in time for the holidays. The Book of Mormon was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, of South Park fame, and Robert Lopez of Avenue Q. The story follows a pair of Mormon missionaries sent to a remote village in Uganda. It's hilarious, over-the-top, and was called "the best musical of this century" by The New York Times.
Highbrow: All those accolades and Tony awards don't come cheap. When the show first came to San Francisco last year, tickets sold out so fast that a lottery was introduced. This time around, SHN season members got first dibs.
Lowbrow: The show pulls no punches in its portrayal of Mormon missionaries or African villagers — one character is named "General Butt-Fucking-Naked." No surprise considering the South Park connection. Parker and Stone were killing Kenny, pissing off Scientologists, and cracking jokes about Saddam Hussein getting it on with Satan long before their Broadway run.