Best Bets: Brian Copeland, New Works fest plays, ‘Carmen’

Alt-country band Mustangs of the West perform Saturday night at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore. (Courtesy Mustangs of the West)

Freebie of the week: Brian Copeland, who has recounted numerous facets of his life in solo stage shows at The Marsh and other Bay Area venues, is a sharp, funny, and engaging actor and storyteller.

Brian Copeland is performing his show about depression, “The Waiting Period,” for free on four dates in August and September. (Courtesy Carla Befera)

He’s so good, you could be excused for thinking he’s just one of those people to whom things come easily and naturally. That is, unless you’ve seen his show “The Waiting Period.” The piece, which debuted in 2012, recounts his extended bout with depression and suicidal thoughts; the title comes from the mandatory 10-day waiting period he encountered before taking possession of the gun he had purchased with the intention of ending his life. T

The show is compelling and often quite funny, but is also intended as a message to others fighting depression that they are not alone. Copeland has said that based on responses and anecdotes he’s received over the years that he has no doubt “The Waiting Period” has helped more than a few people who have grappled with depression as he has. “This show saves lives,” he says.

Now Copeland is bringing “The Waiting Period” back to the Marsh for four performances and all general admission seats are free. Those willing and able can pay $50-$100 for reserved seats, with the funds going toward future free shows. Performances are noon Sunday and Aug. 27 and Sept. 10 and 17 at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco.

Tickets and more information are at You can also donate to Copeland’s gofundme page to raise funds for future free performances:

First looks at new plays: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley may be fighting for its life, but that isn’t stopping the Tony Award-winning Palo Alto stage company from doing one of the things for which it is most acclaimed – ushering new plays into the world. The 52-year-old company announced last week that its financial condition is so dire it will have to shut down if it doesn’t raise $3 million by November.

Actor-writer Minita Gandhi’s new family-themed play “Nerve” will receive a reading in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s 20th Anniversary New Works Festival. (Bjoern Kommerel/Courtesy of Minita Gandhi)

This would be a large and tragic loss for several reasons, one of which continues through this weekend, as the company presents its 20th annual New Works Festival. TheatreWorks’ commitment to staging new plays is well-known in the Bay Area and beyond. It has performed more than 70 new shows and premieres over its history, including the musical “Memphis,” which went on to win a best musical Tony Award. And its New Works Festival is one of the best you’ll find.

Theater fans this weekend can take in readings of new plays, including Min Kahng’s “Happy Pleasant Valley: A Senior Citizen Sex Scandal Murder Mystery Musical” (7 p.m. Wednesday and 8 p.m. Saturday); “Nerve,” by Minita Gandhi, a dark comedy about the power of family and good cooking (3 p.m. Saturday); Bess Welden’s “Madeleines,” another food- and family-centric play, which won the National Jewish Playwriting Contest last year (7 p.m. Thursday and 3 p.m. Sunday); and Michael Gaston’s “Low Expectations,” an epic family history inspired by a true story (noon Saturday).

The festival also includes a performance by transgender activist and actor Shakina (NBC’s “Quantum Leap,” Hulu’s “Difficult People”) at 7 p.m. Friday, and a Meet the Artists event at noon Sunday. Performances and events are at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

Festival passes are $55-$60; single events are $20. The full schedule, tickets and more information are at 

Alt-country band Mustangs of the West perform Saturday night at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore. (Courtesy Mustangs of the West)

The Mustangs ride again: Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, the all-female band the Mustangs emerged from the SoCal cowpunk/alt-country music scene and became a West Coast club and festival staple with sharp three-part harmonies, nimble fretwork and a sound described as a blend of Stevie Nicks, Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams. The group jammed and toured relentlessly until breaking up in 1997, as members decided to pursue other musical interests.

Ten years later, three of the original Mustangs – Sherry Rayn Barnett (electric guitar, vocals), Suzanna Spring (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), and Holly Montgomery (bass, vocals) – decided to reunite and added new members Suzanne Morissette (drums, vocals), and Aubrey Richmond (fiddle, vocals).

The band has renamed itself Mustangs of the West to avoid legal complications, but the tight musicianship, tighter harmonies and fresh take on Americana music remain intact. You can hear for yourself as the road-happy band performs at the Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., Livermore, at 8 p.m. Saturday. The band has a wealth of mostly original material in its catalog; expect to hear several cuts from its new album, “Sea of Heartbreak,” released in July.

Tickets are $25-$55; go to 

One hot opera: It’s not like she didn’t warn Don Jose and everybody else in sunny Seville. In her first big number in her self-titled opera, that sultry temptress Carmen sings (in French) the “Habanera,” about the fickle nature of her affections: “Love is a rebellious bird that nobody can tame, and you call him quite in vain if it suits him not to come.”

For an opera that is about love, betrayal, fate, despair and death, Bizet’s “Carmen” sure has a surplus of appealing tunes. Walnut Creek-based Festival Opera mounts a production of it this weekend in the Lesher Center for the Arts’ Hofmann Theatre.

Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz takes the title role, first seducing then abandoning tenor Dane Suarez as Don Jose. Soprano Hope Briggs is the lovelorn Micaela, and baritone Young Kwang Yoo is the swaggering toreador Escamillo.

Performance times are 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets, $20-$90, are available at or 925-943-7469. 

This summer’s crop of Merolini will be presented in a Grand Finale concert at War Memorial Opera House this weekend. (Courtesy Kristen Loken)

Another grand night for singing: The members of the 2023 class of the Merola Program, San Francisco’s prestigious apprenticeship project for aspiring opera singers, accompanists and stage directors, having polished their skills over 11 weeks of the summer, are ready to strut their stuff on stage.

The Merola Grand Finale, a showcase for all 27 of the young artists, rolls out on the War Memorial Opera House stage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, with Kelly Kuo conducting and Tania Arazi Coambs directing. A wide range of operatic and theater pieces fill the program, including excerpts of works by Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, Britten, Bizet, Rossini and Mozart as well as Richard Rodgers’ “The Boys from Syracuse” and Mitch Leigh’s “Man of La Mancha.”

Tickets range from $28 to $53, but for an additional $75, attendees can meet the performers afterward at a reception in the Green Room of the Veterans Building next door. Find them, and more information, at or call (415) 864-3330.

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