The Bay Area theater scene has been ablaze lately. Major houses from the American Conservatory Theater and Berkeley Rep to TheatreWorks have skyrocketed to national prominence. The region has also become a launchpad for Broadway, giving birth to hits such as "Wicked," "Memphis," "American Idiot" and "Legally Blonde."

But all that razzle-dazzle can blind theatergoers to the depth and breadth of our theatrical ecosystem. There are legions of great small companies out there that may never win a Tony award but regularly deliver unforgettable works of art.

This is a list of the top 10 theaters you've never heard of that you really should. These are the hidden gems that don't get all the ink. Of course, it's impossible to include every company that deserves a spot, but here are 10 favorites -- listed in alphabetical order -- that should be on your radar.

Firefighters (from left, Michael Uy Kelly, Tristan Cunningham*, Kevin Clarke) surround Mr. Biedermann (center, Dan Hiatt*) in his home in "The
Firefighters (from left, Michael Uy Kelly, Tristan Cunningham*, Kevin Clarke) surround Mr. Biedermann (center, Dan Hiatt*) in his home in "The Arsonists" at the Aurora Theatre Company. Photo: David Allen/Aurora (David Allen/Aurora)

AURORA THEATRE COMPANY

Arguably the finest small theater in the Bay Area, this Berkeley jewel produces an intoxicating combination of lesser-known classics ("Eccentricities of a Nightingale," "The Long Christmas Dinner") and cutting edge new plays ("Body Awareness," "Collapse") performed by some of the best actors around. Don't miss Mark Jackson's revival of the Max Frisch cautionary tale "The Arsonists" (through May 12).

Details: 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, 510-843-4288, www.auroratheatre.org

BUTTERFIELD 8 THEATRE COMPANY


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This audacious little company tackles challenging fare with aplomb. Next up, the troupe is reviving Oscar Wilde's infamous 1891 one-act "Salome." It runs May 2-26.

Details: Cue Productions Live, 1835 Colfax St., Concord, 800-838-3006, www.b8company.com.

CAMPO SANTO

This always provocative company has made its name with daring new works from celebrated authors such as Dave Eggers, Denis Johnson, Octavio Solis, Luis Alfaro, Erin Cressida Wilson and Naomi Iizuka. Forging an intense sense of intimacy with its audience, the thoughtful troupe also boasts some of the best acting you've ever seen. Don't miss the border drama "The River" (through May 4), a world premiere from Richard Montoya of Culture Clash fame, directed by Campo Santo stalwart Sean San Jose.

Details: A.C.T. Costume Shop, 1117 Market St., San Francisco, http://theintersection.org

CITY LIGHTS THEATER COMPANY

A brave small troupe that dares to scale epics such as "Angels in America" and "August: Osage County," this company knows no fear. As part of its 30th anniversary season, City Lights is tackling Brian Friel's modern adaptation of Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler," through April 21.

Details: 529 S. Second St., San Jose, 408-295-4200, www.cltc.org

MAGIC THEATRE

The Magic made its name as the home of iconic American playwright Sam Shepard in the '70s. After struggling with issues of money and identity, this once-illustrious theater has made a huge comeback under gifted artistic director Loretta Greco. Memorable recent shows include Linda McLean's riveting "Any Given Day" and Sharr White's haunting "The Other Place." Check out the regional premiere of Julie Marie Myatt's moving "The Happy Ones," directed by Jon Moscone of Cal Shakes, through April 21.

Patrick Russell, left, and Craig Marker star in "reasons to be pretty" at SF Playhouse.
Patrick Russell, left, and Craig Marker star in "reasons to be pretty" at SF Playhouse. (SF Playhour)

Details: Fort Mason Center, third floor, San Francisco, 415-441-8822 or 415-441-8822, http://magictheatre.org

THE MARSH

Celebrated for its hot blend of new works and solo shows, such as long-running hits by Dan Hoyle and Charlie Varon, the Marsh now qualifies as fertile artistic ground on both sides of the Bay, with venues in San Francisco and Berkeley. Brian Copeland's moving solo "The Waiting Period" returns to the San Francisco venue later this month.

Details: 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco; and 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley, 510-704-8291 or 415-826-5750, http://www.themarsh.org.

SAN FRANCISCO PLAYHOUSE

This up-and-coming troupe has quickly established itself as the place to go for sparkling new plays such as Annie Baker's "The Aliens" and Stephen Adly Guirgis' "The Mother ... With the Hat." Edgy comedies are the sweet spot, which bodes well for its production of Neil LaBute's "reasons to be pretty," which runs through May 11 at the Playhouse.

Details: 450 Post St., San Francisco, 415-677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

SAN JOSE STAGE COMPANY

San Jose Stage has made its name for muscular productions of modern classics from Martin McDonagh's "The Lonesome West" to Shepard's "Buried Child" and Conor McPherson's "The Seafarer" in its intimate downtown venue. Now the troupe is bringing Jane Austen's late gem "Persuasion" from page to stage. Directed by Kenneth Kelleher, it runs through April 28.

Details: 490 S. First St., San Jose, 408-283-7142, www.thestage.org

SHOTGUN PLAYERS

One of Berkeley's best small theaters, Shotgun is known for being hugely ambitious. From Tom Stoppard's epic "Coast of Utopia" trilogy (running through April 20) to a gorgeous revival of Georg Büchner's "Woyzeck," this fun-loving company delivers extremely high aesthetics in a hip venue (it's green-powered and serves yummy apps) with a party atmosphere.

Details: Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, 510-841-6500, http://shotgunplayers.org

WORD FOR WORD

Literary adaptations are the stock-in-trade with this top-notch company. Over the years it has brought classic stories from page to stage without messing with a single world. It's unparalleled theatrical alchemy from Edith Wharton ("Xingu") and Upton Sinclair ("Oil!") to Siobhan Fallon's "You Know When the Men Are Gone." Next up, Zona Gale's "Sodality" is part of the company's 20th anniversary celebration (Aug. 14-Sept. 15).

Details: Z Space, 450 Florida St., San Francisco, 866-811-4111, http://zspace.org/w4w

Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Read her at www.mercurynews.com/karen-dsouza, follow her at Twitter.com/KarenDSouza4 and like her at Facebook.com/Dsouzatheaterpage.