OUR TOP 10 LIST OF THE BEST IN ATL THEATER NUMBERS 18 AND TAKES YOU FROM INTOWN AND SOUTH ATLANTA, TO LAWRENCEVILLE, ROSWELL AND CHATTAHOOCHEE HILLS
SIX WORLD PREMIERES, a handful of regional premieres and one certifiably classic American drama await metro Atlanta theatergoers between now and the end of April. It’s a lineup that could knock some people, like me, silly with its diversity, depth and promise.
This isn’t a Top 10 list. Don’t believe in arbitrary cut-offs. This is the best of the best being offered at playhouses, large and small, over the next four months. It takes you to Midtown and downtown, from West Midtown and Little Five Points to southwest Atlanta, Roswell and Chattahoochee Hills.
We’ve dug deep into brochures and websites and talked to folks in the know to determine this collection, which numbers 18 — yes, 18! This amazing range of work, from dramas to comedies, from musicals to one-person shows, would make audiences in any theater town take notice. We might not be Chicago or New York, but this lineup is ever more evidence that Atlanta occupies an important niche in the national theater landscape.
A few items to know:
- These choices come from professional theaters only, the 19 companies eligible for Suzi Bass awards, plus Out Front Theatre, which is in its first season and gets a pass on that requirement.
- Shows in metro Atlanta tend to open and close in clumps, which can make seeing everything you’d like to see a bit challenging. Do your best.
- Finally, this list is subjective. These are my choices, and I stand behind them. Will every single thing be great or to your taste? Probably not. But isn’t that the fun of going to the theater?
JAN. 12-FEB. 12 | Aurora Theatre. Atlanta actors Neal A. Ghant and Cynthia D. Barker are two excellent reasons to see this 2008 drama. Return to April 3, 1968, and Memphis’ Lorraine Motel in Katori Hall’s script. It reimagines the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on Earth, a magical encounter told with humor, history and two characters. The drama, written when Hall was in her 20s, earned an Olivier Award in London in 2010. The 2011 Broadway version (with Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett) received mixed reviews and ran less than four months. Bonus points for Aurora’s free parking, in a city lot attached to the theater. $20-$55. Details, tickets HERE or at 678.226.6222.
JAN. 18-FEB. 12 | Alliance Theatre. A world premiere musical by Atlanta playwright Janece Shaffer (The Geller Girls, Broke) and Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, who sealed their creative partnership over a breakfast of scrambled eggs and Diet Coke. The Alliance describes this as a “a feel-good romantic comedy” set in 1951 Nashville. It tracks changing times in country music through the lives of a retiring country legend (Radney Foster), his musician son (Zach Seabaugh), an aspiring singer-songwriter (Sylvie Davidson) and a rodeo tailor (Andrew Benator). $20-$72. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.733.5000. Discount tickets at PoshDealz.com.
JAN. 21-FEB. 19 | Actor’s Express. An American classic as achingly timely now as it was when Arthur Miller wrote it in 1953 in response to McCarthyism. The witching hour is at hand in the tight-knit community of Salem, where personal vendettas collide with lust and superstition, fueling widespread hysteria. Do witches walk among us, or has revenge created a monster? Artistic director Freddie Ashley says the company is “cracking open how [the play] resonates in the world today than in other times when it might have been produced.” His large multicultural cast features Jonathan Horne as John Proctor, Courtney Patterson as Elizabeth Proctor and Shelli Delgado as Abigail Williams. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.607.7469. Discount tickets at PoshDealz.com.
Unexpected Play Fest | Theatrical Outfit
JAN. 21-22 | Theatrical Outfit. The downtown company is the latest to offer a play-development project to Atlanta audiences hungry for new work. The Outfit promises four new (or newish) scripts in two days, directed and acted by first-rate Atlanta talent. The scripts are Karen Zacarías‘ Just Like Us, set in modern-day Denver; Matthew Buckley Smith’s Spooky Action at a Distance, set in 1971 Berkeley, Calif., during the Vietnam War; Anna Ziegler‘s Boy, about sexual identity from the 1960s to 1980s; and Suehyla El-Attar‘s Nope. That’s Just My First Name: A Nearly One-Woman Show. $10.80 per reading or $37.80 for a four-reading pass HERE or at 678.528.1500.
Le Petit Prince
FEB. 1-12 | Théâtre du Rêve. Atlanta’s French-language theater company — its name translates to Theater of the Dream — stages Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 classic about a stranded aviator and a mysterious child whose journey has made him wise beyond his years. Atlanta everyman Chris Kayser plays the pilot, and Jasmine Thomas the prince. Carolyn Cook directs. Performed in French with English supertitles at 7 Stages’ BackStage space. $18.50-$27.50. Details, tickets HERE.
The One and Only Ivan
FEB. 3-26 | Synchronicity Theatre. You might remember Ivan the gorilla from his time at Zoo Atlanta. Katherine Applegate’s 2013 Newbery Medal-winning novel revisits his earlier days, particularly his 27 years in a glass-and-concrete cage in a Tacoma, Wash., shopping center, where he didn’t set foot outside or see another gorilla. This stage adaptation uses actors who bring the animals — Ivan, elephants named Stella and Ruby, a dog named Bob — alive through movement, headpieces, masks, costumes and puppetry. Julie Skrzypek (last season’s Fancy Nancy) directs. The sad — and beautiful — story is part of Synchronicity’s Family Series. $15-$22. Tickets, details HERE or at 404.484.8636.
Too Heavy for My Pocket
FEB. 4-26. | Alliance Theatre. A world premiere. The 2017 winner of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition is Jiréh Breon Holder’s script about two black couples during the civil unrest and the advent of Freedom Riders in 1961 America. Holder, a Memphis native and Morehouse College graduate, recently earned his M.F.A. in playwriting from the Yale School of Drama and is working at Emory University through a playwriting fellowship. In the Alliance’s Hertz Stage. $20-$42. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.733.5000.
A Kid Like Jake
FEB. 9-26 | Out Front Theatre. Out Front focuses on work about the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intergender and allied) community, is in its first season, likely with some wrinkles to work out. Still, Jake is an intriguing title. It features a New York City couple seeking the best private school for their precocious 4-year-old son. What makes Jake special — a lack of conformity and a passion for Cinderella dress-up — also causes family conflict. In its 2013 premiere at Lincoln Center, Daniel Pearle’s drama became a New York Times Critics’ Pick and was praised as being a “smart, fluent drama.” Out Front performs at the former Fabrefaction Theatre space on Brady Avenue in West Midtown. $15-$25. Details, tickets HERE.
FEB. 10-MARCH 5 | Aurora Theatre. World premiere. According to the Aurora website, playwright Georgina Escobar “is the maker of hyper-sensical, ridiculous and sometimes impossible narratives that run current systems of thinking through different filters of human logic.” OK, then. Through that lens, Sweep, subtitled A Strange Imagining, is easier to grasp. Sweepers Luna and Siri are the hitwomen of the multiverse, armed with deadly broomsticks bound to sweep mistakes into oblivion. But when they fail to clean up Adam and Eve’s apple situation, they find themselves on a cosmic journey through time. This is what happens, apparently, with a mash-up of Dragon Con sensibilities and the humor/adventure of a graphic novel, but who wouldn’t want to spend a couple of hours in Escobar’s world? In the Harvel Lab studio space. $20-$30. Details, tickets HERE or at 678.226.6222.
Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First 100 Years
FEB. 16-MARCH 5 | Georgia Ensemble Theatre. This oral history by Sadie and Bessie Delany began as a 1993 work of nonfiction, a New York Times best-seller, no less. In 1995 it was adapted for the stage. In 1999, the stage version became an award-winning TV adaptation (with Ruby Dee and Diahann Carroll). The sisters were the daughters of a former slave who became the first African-American elected bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church. They were civil rights pioneers, but their stories were largely unknown until a New York Times reporter interviewed them for a 1991 feature story, then turned her story into a book. At GET, Donna Biscoe and Brenda Porter play the sisters, under the direction of Andrea Frye. $21-$30. Details, tickets HERE or at 770.641.1260.
FEB. 21-MARCH 19 | True Colors Theatre Company. The Chicago Tribune called playwright Ike Holter, the man behind this script, one of the “most exciting young writers in the city.” It also named him Chicagoan of the Year in Theater in 2014. This drama, about a public school facing closure, seems simple, but it’s not. “A lot of people expect things from me when it comes to race, but I don’t just write black characters,” says Holter, who’s in his early 30s. “I really like getting inside the mind of a 55-year-old white woman and giving her the kind of text that no one has given her before. I like surprising people.” Here’s what the New York Theatre Guide said about Exit Strategy: “It hits on every level a theater lover, novice or even someone who doesn’t really like the theater (?!?) could want. Drama, got it. Comedy, check. Realism, idealism, struggle, conflict, triumph and even romance.” The True Colors cast includes Matthew Busch (The Thrush & and the Woodpecker at Actor’s Express), Tess Malis Kincaid, William S. Murphey and Diany Rodriguez, among others. Details, tickets HERE or at 877.725.8849.
The Temple Bombing
FEB. 22-MARCH 12| Alliance Theatre. World premiere. Although this script is set firmly in Atlanta — it deals with the October 1958 explosion at the city’s oldest synagogue — the project rests with New York’s Tectonic Theater Project and is inspired by the award-winning book by Melissa Fay Greene. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case, the Temple’s Rabbi Rothschild became a public advocate for civil rights. The explosion and national support for the Temple community toughened Atlanta city leaders’ resolve to investigate and prosecute the crime, leading the way to dramatic social change. The script is by Tectonic company member Jimmy Maize, who directs. It’s on the Alliance mainstage. No cast has been announced yet. $10-$72. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.733.5000.
The Bridges of Madison County
MARCH 9-APRIL 16 | Aurora Theatre. Regional premiere. This 2014 musical by Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last 5 Years) didn’t have much success on Broadway, running a paltry three months. But it has its fans still, including that wildly talented gang making theater in Lawrenceville. The show, with a book by Marsha Norman, is based on Robert James Waller’s slim 1993 novel and subsequent feature film. Bridges tells the story of Iowa housewife Francesca Johnson and her life-changing, four-day whirlwind romance with traveling photographer Robert Kincaid. Kristin Markiton is Aurora’s Francesca, Travis Smith (Memphis) its Robert. $20-$65. Details, tickets HERE or at 678.226.6222.
White Woman in Progress
MARCH 17-APRIL 2 | 7 Stages. World premiere. Tara Och’s one-woman crackerjack of a play was the single best piece of theater I saw last year — and it was only a first reading. White Woman in Progress comes from Ochs’ work as civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo in the 2014 Oscar-nominated movie Selma. Although she didn’t have a great deal of screen time, the story of Liuzzo — a Detroit housewife who drove to Selma to take part in the famous march and was murdered — won’t let go. Ochs’ drama champions individual power and breaks open the conversation surrounding privilege, race and social justice today. Here’s a shout-out, also, to 7 Stages’ Home Brew developmental series, which introduced White Woman to an enthralled Saturday afternoon gathering. $22 and up. Details, tickets HERE.
MARCH 23-APRIL 16 | Serenbe Playhouse. This long-lived 1971 musical, based on creator Jim Jacobs’ high school years in Chicago, will be staged at a vintage drive-in. It’s 1959. Will Danny and Sandy ever get together? Will the Pink Ladies and Greasers continue to rule? Will it rain on prom night? The tuneful Broadway original ran for eight years, was revived in 1994 and 2007, had two national tours, became a cult favorite feature film in 1978 and had a live TV production last year. It’s not a great musical by any stretch of the imagination, but Serenbe’s creative staging begs for a look. So we wonder: Were you born to hand jive? For ages 15 and up. Artistic director Brian Clowdus directs. Serenbe is an outdoor theater in Chattahoochee Hills (south Fulton County). Only season tickets were available at our deadline. Details, tickets HERE or at 770.463.1110.
The Magic Negro and other Blackity Blackness, as told by an African-American Man who also happens to be Black
MARCH 24-APRIL 15 | Alliance Theatre. Yes, that’s the title. And the playwright’s capitalization (or lack thereof). Every word hints at what you might expect from this “hilarious sketch comedy” created by Mark Kendall and produced at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company. Kendall, a leader in Atlanta’s growing African-American comedy network, shows a performer at war with himself. He pointedly and humorously dissects common themes in representations of the African-American experience, making us laugh, then ask why we’re laughing. He covers everything from race cards and white flight to Aunt Jemima. The Magic Negro and Other Blackity Blackness was developed in Alliance’s Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab and is the first Reiser project to get a full production on the Hertz Stage. Recommended for adult audiences. $15-$25. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.733.5000.
Strait of Gibraltar
MARCH 31-APRIL 23 | Synchronicity Theatre. World premiere. This drama by Andrea Lepcio (The Lost Pony in 2009) was timely when the script was first being developed a few years ago. It’s even more timely now. Strait looks at the impact of the Patriot Act through the eyes of a young couple in love. Zameer is a Moroccan man living in New York illegally; Miriam is a Jewish-American banker. He’s suspected of terrorism, she of money laundering. Did they do it, or is it a witch hunt? This is the world we live in, Lepcio’s drama says, asking: “Is it the world we want?” Producing artistic director Rachel May directs. Benjamin DeWitt Sims is Zameer. Maggie Birgel is Miriam. $26-$31 Details, tickets HERE or at 404.484.8636.
Pais de Bicicleta (Bicycle Country)
APRIL 7-30. | Aurora Theatre. One of the Lawrenceville’s company’s most admirable attributes is its Teatro Aurora program, which brings Spanish-language productions to audiences of all backgrounds. Pais de Bicicleta, on the Harvel Lab stage, comes from playwright Nilo Cruz (last season’s Sotto Voce, a Pulitzer Prize winner for Anna in the Tropics). We meet three refugees with a lust for freedom, finally trying to make a successful journey across the sea from Havana to Miami. The play’s magical realism comes with whip-fast dialogue that stings with vitality and is stitched with the Latin love of music and dance. The Spanish dialogue comes with English supertitles. $20-$30. Details, tickets HERE or at 678.226.6222.