5 WORLD AND 3 REGIONAL PREMIERES, CHRIS COLEMAN’S RETURN, AND EVENINGS WITH TONY KUSHNER AND AUGUST WILSON TOP OUR LIST OF WHAT TO SEE IN ATLANTA THEATER.

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Arriving in May, in fact. But don’t look too far ahead just yet. From now through the end of April, Atlanta’s home-grown professional theaters will stage an intriguing, ambitious mix of comedy, topical drama, world and regional premieres and, in several cases, a welcome look back at some of America’s smartest plays.

We’ll encounter Euripides, Roy Cohn, Ethel Rosenberg, gods and people who think they’re gods. We get a full immersion in Tony Kushner’s storied Angels in America at Actor’s Express (prepare your backsides for heavy duty) and a double dip with Pearl Cleage in Hospice + Pointing at the Moon, two one-acts that are now a single piece, at the Alliance Theatre.

This rich list of 13 was culled from conversations, research, press releases, season brochures, a lifetime of theatergoing and 40 years as a theater artist and/or arts journalist. (We’re counting Angels at two shows because it requires separate tickets.) And, yes, the list is subjective. We welcome, encourage even, your thoughts, comments and debate.

JANUARY

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill 

JAN. 11-FEB. 5 | Theatrical OutfitThe 2014 Broadway revival brought Audra McDonald her sixth Tony Award. Here, Terry Burrell (Broadway’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, Dreamgirls, Into the Woods; the Alliance’s Ethel) plays legendary jazz/blues singer Billie Holiday, a role she previously played off-Broadway. This drama with music is set at Emerson’s Bar & Grill in South Philly in 1959, four months before Holiday died at age 44. The evening, both intimate and epic, includes sad and ribald stories about Holiday’s difficult life and a song list that features “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “Crazy He Calls Me,” “T’ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do” and 11 others. Eric J. Little directs, with musical direction by the great S. Renee Clark. $18-$51. Balzer Theater at Herren’s, 84 Luckie St. NW. Details, tickets HERE or at 678.528.1500. Discount tickets at PoshDealz.com.

Maytag Virgin

JAN. 11.-FEB. 11 | Aurora TheatreRegional premiere. Audrey Cefaly’s dramatic comedy premiered in fall 2016 at Quotidian Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., as part of the city’s inaugural Women’s Voices Theater Festival. DC Theatre Scene called it “a witty and earnest meditation on how people connect even when they feel they’re not ready.” Courtney Patterson plays Alabama English teacher Lizzy Nash, who’s mourning the unexpected death of her husband. Brad Brinkley plays the physics teacher who becomes her new neighbor. See how neighborly things get. Melissa Foulger — a name you should know — directs. $20-$55. 128 E. Pike St., Lawrenceville. Free, covered, attached parking in city deck at 153 E. Crogan St. Details, tickets HERE or at 678.226.6222. Discount tickets at PoshDealz.com.

Angels in America

JAN. 12-FEB. 17 | Actor’s ExpressSex, religion, politics and history collide in Tony Kushner’s shattering, time-traveling saga — subtitled A Gay Fantasia on National Themes — and set at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Its characters are real (convicted spy Ethel Rosenberg, Joe McCarthy pal Roy Cohn) and imagined (an Eskimo, an angel). Kushner’s achievement, one of the landmark theatrical events of the 20th century, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four 1993 Tony awards, including best play and best direction (by George C. Wolfe). The Express’ decision to take on the two-part epic — Millennium Approaches and Perestroika — might prove audacious. It might also prove foolhardy. In either case, it’s worth a look. Angels, incidentallyreturns to Broadway in March for a limited run with Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield in key roles. The Express cast features Robert Bryan Davis as Roy Cohn and Grant Chapman as Prior Walter, and includes Carolyn Cook, Thandiwe DeShazor, Louis GreggoryCara Mantella, Parris Sarter and Joe Sykes. Artistic director Freddie Ashley and Martin Damien Wilkins (Father Comes Home From the Wars) co-direct. $22-$40. King Plow Arts Center, 887 West Marietta St. NW. “Millennium Approaches” details, tickets HERE; “Perestroika” details, tickets HERE. Or call 404.607.7469. 

FEBRUARY

The Followers; A Retelling of the Bacchae 

FEB. 1-25 | 7 Stages. Speaking of audacious. The 38-year-old L5P company looks to ancient Greece — 405 B.C., give or take — for its first production of 2018. Euripides’ The Bacchae delves into opposite sides of human nature: the rational, civilized side represented by the king of Thebes (Lowrey Brown) and the instinctive side represented by Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy (Ofir Nahari, a guest artist from Israel). 7 Stages’ telling, which qualifies as a world premiere, comes from Margaret Baldwin, an Atlanta playwright of note. It uses opera, dance, puppetry and physical theater to tell its story of blind faith, abuse of power and vengeance. Michael Haverty, the company’s co-artistic director, directs. Klimchak, who builds and plays unusual instruments, provides original music, with musical direction by Bryan Mercer and Naharin choreographing. In the Back Stage Black Box. $15-$25. 1105 Euclid Ave. NE. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.523.7647.

The Mystery of Love and Sex

FEB. 1-18 | Out Front Theatre Company. London-born playwright Bathsheba “Bash” Doran’s four-character drama is an unexpected love story about where souls meet and the consequences of growing up. Charlotte and Jonny have been best friends since age 9. She’s Jewish, he’s Christian; he’s black, she’s white. Their differences intensify their connection until sexual desire complicates everything. The play premiered in 2014 at NYC’s Lincoln Center (“written with compassion and wry wisdom,” said The New York Times) and has played Chicago and Los Angeles. Doran also has written for TV (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Masters of Sex,” “Smash”). Working Title PlaywrightsAmber Bradshaw directs a cast comprising Donald McNamus, Tiffany Morgan, Terrance Smith and Rachel Wansker. The piece contains nudity. $20 + $25. 999 Brady Ave. in West Midtown. Details, tickets HERE or 404.448.2755.

King Hedley II

FEB. 13-MARCH 11 | True Colors Theatre CompanyAugust Wilson (1945-2005) is one of the great American playwrights of any century, and remains a personal favorite. King Hedley II is part of his 10-play Century, or Pittsburgh, Cycle, all reflecting the black experience in 20th-century America. King (Neal A. Ghant) is an ex-con peddling stolen refrigerators in inner-city Pittsburgh in the 1980s. His goal: Buy a new business and thus, a new life. Surrounding him for better or worse in his quest are his wife, his mother, his mother’s ex-lover, his best friend and a neighbor named Stool Pigeon (Eddie Bradley), a wise, Greek chorus-kind of character. Also in the cast: Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Tonia Jackson, E. Roger Mitchell and Eugene H. Russell IV). Some consider King Hedley II a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. It seemed so in a mesmerizing production at the Alliance in 2003/04. Recommended for age 16 and up (language, content). $20-$35. Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road SW. Details HERE, tickets at Ticket Alternative HERE or 877.725.8849.

Perfect Arrangement

FEB. 22-MARCH 18 | Theatrical Outfit. Bob loves Jim, and Norma loves Millie. Both couples are masquerading as heterosexual during the Lavender Scare of the 1950s (when sexual “deviants” were targeted for dismissal from federal employment). Topher Payne, well-known to metro audiences (Angry Fags, The Only Light in Reno, Let Nothing You Dismay, Swell Party), won the 2014 American Theatre Critics Association Osborn Prize for his script, called “a clever canapé of a comedy” by The New York Times. It has played across the country and off-Broadway and although the Outfit run is its professional Atlanta premiere, it workshopped in its early days at the Process Theatre. The cast: Joe Knezevich (Bob), Clifton Guterman (Jim), Courtney Patterson (Norma), Ann Marie Gideon (Millie), plus Stacy Melich, Kevin Stillwell and Ann Wilson. Adam Koplan, of New York’s Flying Carpet Theatre Company, directs. Contains mature themes and content. $20.50-$49 (Feb. 22-23 previews a bit cheaper). Balzer Theater at Herren’s, 84 Luckie St. NW. Details, tickets HERE or at 678.528.1500. 

MARCH

Sheltered 

MARCH 1-25 | ALLIANCE THEATRE AT ACTOR’S EXPRESS. World premiere and winner of the 2018 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. New York-based playwright Alix Sobler‘s suspense story, based on true events, takes place in 1939 as World War II breaks out in Europe. Two ordinary Philadelphians make an extraordinary decision: to bring 50 Jewish children from Nazi-occupied territory to safety in America. Kimberly Senior, a freelance director based in New York City, directs a cast comprising Lauren Boyd, Amanda Drinkall, Park Krausen, Lee Osorio and John Skelley. Recommended for age 12 and up. The Alliance’s annual Kendeda Week, featuring staged readings of four runners-up, is one of the highlights of Atlanta’s theatrical season. The readings (not Sheltered) are free. Don’t miss out! $42; $10 teens. Actor’s Express in the King Plow Arts Center, 887 West Marietta St. NW in West Midtown. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.733.5000.

Hospice + Pointing at the Moon

MARCH 23-APRIL 15. ALLIANCE THEATRE AT THE SOUTHWEST ARTS CENTER. A world premiere, of sorts. Pearl Cleage, the Alliance’s playwright-in-residence, gives us two one-acts that follow a woman named Jenny as she deals with unresolved questions from her past. In Hospiceshe confronts the approaching death of her estranged mother. Her story continues some 30 years later in the brand-new Pointing at the Moon, which takes place immediately after the 2016 presidential election. Jenny, now a respected scholar and literary critic, is reluctantly drawn into the swirl of political and cultural changes and must choose between her comfortable life and her deeply held beliefs. Hospice, which premiered in 1983, won five AUDELCO awards for achievement off-Broadway; Pointing at the Moon is a world premiere. The cast adds to the excitement of a new piece: Atlanta-based actors Terry Burrell (Ethel, Cinderella and Fella, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill) and Tinashe Kinjese (Disgraced, Blues for an Alabama Sky). Timothy Douglas, a New York-based director/actor/writer/educator, directs. $20-$45 (previews cheaper); $10 teens. The Southwest Arts Center is at 915 New Hope Road SW. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.733.5000.

The Harvey Milk Show

MARCH 9-10 | ACTOR’S EXPRESS AT ST. MARK UNITED METHODIST CHURCH. Welcome home, Chris Coleman. The return of Actor’s Express’ co-founder and longtime artistic director is, indeed, reason to rejoice. He’s back for a two-night-only concert version of The Harvey Milk Show (done at AE in 1992 with Coleman in the title role). Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in San Francisco, serving on the board of supervisors for 11 months before his assassination on Nov. 27, 1978, at age 48. Coleman helped create the Express in 1988 and led the company until 2000, when he became artistic director at Portland Center Stage in Oregon. In May, he becomes artistic director at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in May. This special concert is part of the Express’ 30th-anniversary-season celebration. $55. Post-show cocktail party with Coleman on Saturday is an additional $50. St. Mark is at 781 Peachtree St. NE. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.607.7469.

APRIL

Ripe Frenzy 

APRIL 13-MAY 6 | SYNCHRONICITY THEATRE. This world premiere by Jennifer Barclay won the National New Play Network’s 2016 Smith Prize for political theater. It brings us to Tavistown, N.Y., where a recent tragedy has shaken the small community. Zoe, our narrator and the town historian, recounts the days leading to the incident, as the high school prepares for its semiannual production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Barclay, an actor-turned-playwright  formerly based in Chicago and California, is now on the faculty at the University of Maryland. Atlanta-based A-listers Megan Cramer (Georgia Shakespeare back in the day) and Taylor M. Dooley (Aurora’s Burnpile) lead the cast, with artistic director Rachel May directing. $27-$31 (previews cheaper; swanky seat upgrades available). Synchronicity in the One Peachtree Pointe building, 1545 Peachtree St. NE. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.484.8636.

The Flower Room

APRIL 21-MAY 13 | ACTOR’S EXPRESSWorld premiere. Atlanta playwright Daryl Lisa Fazio’s comedy, part of AE’s 2016 Threshold Festival of New Plays, now gets a full staging. It follows Ingrid (Stacy Melich), an uptight academic who researches sexual behavior in primitive cultures while remaining completely closed off from her own sexual self. When she loses her university job, she writes erotica to pay the bills — unleashing her own journey of, well, discovery. Melissa Foulger directs a cast that includes Matthew Busch (The Thrush and the Woodpecker), Eliana Marianes and Joshua Quinn. $31-$44 (previews cheaper, opening night most expensive). King Plow Arts Center, 887 West Marietta St. NW. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.607.7469. Discount tickets at PoshDealz.com.

 

 

About Kathy Janich

Kathy Janich, Encore Atlanta’s editor, is a longtime arts journalist who has been seeing, working in or writing about the performing arts for most of her life. She's a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, Americans for the Arts and the National Arts Marketing Project. Full disclosure: She’s also an artistic associate at Synchronicity Theatre.

View all posts by Kathy Janich