TOP TITLES ALONG WITH TOP NAMES — LAUREN GUNDERSON, LUCAS HNATH, TOPHER PAYNE, JANE AUSTEN — LEAD OUR LIST OF WHAT TO SEE AS DAYS DARKEN AND THEATERS BRIGHTEN.
IF ANYTHING, metro Atlanta’s 2017 fall/winter theater season is on the move. Storied director Richard Garner goes home, the Alliance Theatre takes the stage everywhere but home, The Crucible’s nasty Abigail Williams moves to Boston, we go to Regency-era England for a Jane Austen double dip, and Actor’s Express takes us to church.
Summer used to be a slower season in American theater, but no more. Still, there’s something exciting about shorter days and the crackling promise of great work amid somewhat cooler temperatures. After scouring brochures, season lineups, directors and casting, we’ve come up with this list of 11 must-sees playing metro Atlanta stages before year’s end. See if you agree. And feel free to debate.
Shakespeare in Love
AUG. 30-SEPT. 24 | Alliance Theatre. All hail this reunion of the Georgia Shakespeare mafia! The 29-year-old company closed — quite sadly — three years ago, but a healthy handful of the old rep’s players join co-founder and director Richard Garner to stage this sparkling entertainment at their old home, the Conant Performing Arts Center at Oglethorpe. This staging is one of many the Alliance is taking to venues all town this season as its Woodruff Arts Center home is renovated. Shakespeare in Love, truly a love letter to the bard, is based on the 1998 film that won seven Academy Awards including best picture. Young Will Shakespeare (Thomas Azar) has writer’s block as the deadline for his new play looms. He desperately needs inspiration. Enter his muse, Viola (Bethany Anne Lind). The 23-member cast includes one-time Georgia Shakes regulars Barrett Doyle, Allan Edwards, Neal A. Ghant, Chris Kayser, Tess Malis Kincaid and Joe Knezevich, plus Brian Hatch (Synchronicity’s Anne Boleyn), Tinashe Kajese-Bolden (Actor’s Express’ Serial Black Face) and Stephen Ruffin (the Alliance’s Too Heavy for Your Pocket). Oglethorpe University campus, 4484 Peachtree Road NE. $10-$75. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.733.5000.
SEPT. 16-OCT. 15 | Actor’s Express. The West Midtown company bills this big-little drama, as it’s been called, as “a provocative excavation of modern faith.” The setting is a megachurch that’s rocked and divided when its pastor discards fundamentalist Christianity in favor of something more inclusive. The drama premiered at the 2014 Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville and played off-Broadway in 2015. The script is by Lucas Hnath (silent “h”), the playwright who made his Broadway debut with last season’s Tony Award-nominated A Doll’s House, Part 2. The Express cast is led by Brian Kurlander as the pastor and Enoch King as his challenger. Much of the rest of the cast plays the church’s congregants and choir. Express artistic director Freddie Ashley directs. At the King Plow Arts Center, 887 West Marietta St. NW. $30 plus fees and subject to change. Details, ticket HERE or at 404.607.7469.
SEPT. 21-OCT. 15 | Aurora Theatre. Remember that evil Abigail Williams from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible? The lives she ruined? The blood on her hands? She’s back. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s 2012 script catches up with Abigail 10 years after the Salem witch trials. She’s in Boston, seeking salvation but haunted by the terrors of her past. Forgiveness is everything, but it might come at an unthinkable price. Justin Anderson directs a cast that features Diany Rodriguez, who always seems to be working, as Abigail. You may know Aguirre-Sacasa from Say You Love Satan (Dad’s Garage, 2001), Weird Comic Book Fantasy (Dad’s, 2003) and Good Boys and True (Actor’s Express, 2010). This 90-minute drama has no intermission and contains mature themes. 128 E. Pike St., Lawrenceville. $20-$55. Details, tickets HERE or at 678.226.6222.
Sense and Sensibility
SEPT. 22-OCT. 15 | Synchronicity Theatre. Regional premiere. Jane Austen can be fun! Just ask playwright Kate Hamill. Her 2014 adaptation of the beloved novel ratchets up the energy level, using inventive staging and a cast of 10 to play the Dashwoods, the Ferrars and a busy bunch of gossips that demonstrate just how the very private worlds of Regency era Brits lacked privacy. Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout praised it thusly, calling this “a version so full of galloping comic vitality as to suggest a bunch of stupendously clever kids playing dress-up in the nursery.” Artistic director Rachel May directs an athletic cast led by Shelli Delgado (The Crucible at Actor’s Express, Space Girls with the Weird Sisters Theatre Project) as Elinor Dashwood, Jennifer Schottstaedt (Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Actor’s Express) as Marianne Dashwood and Justin Walker (Gruesome Playground Injuries with Catalyst Arts Atlanta, Macbeth at Serenbe Playhouse) as Edward Ferrars. One Peachtree Pointe, 1545 Peachtree St. NE. $30. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.484.8636.
SEPT. 22-OCT. 29 | Horizon Theatre. Not your typical courtroom drama. You’ll be on both sides of the judicial system in this fact-based story about an innovative program dedicated to rehabilitating sex workers instead of punishing them. Seven actors double as victims/participants and court staff. Artistic director Lisa Adler leads a cast of familiar Atlanta faces (Lane Carlock, Carolyn Cook, Marianne Fraulo, Maria Rodriguez-Sager) and some that will be familiar soon (Shayla Love, Synchronicity’s Eclipsed; Brooke Owens, Synchronicity’s Anne Boleyn; and Christy Clark, Horizon’s Blackberry Daze). This National New Play Network rolling world premiere was written by Karen Hartman, who used a revolutionary Philadelphia court as the basis for her script. Her drama tests the thin lines between freedom and slavery, and activism and obsession. 1083 Austin Ave. at Euclid Avenue. $25 and up. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.584.7450.
The King and I
SEPT. 26-OCT. 1 | Fox Theatre. East meets West — and they don’t always get on nicely — in what is, by all accounts, a definitive version of this Rodgers & Hammerstein classic. The production comes from Lincoln Center Theatre and director Bartlett Sher, both responsible for the wonderfully inventive, picture-perfect South Pacific that visited the Fox Theatre in 2010. If you need a refresher, The King and I takes place in the 1860s, when the King of Siam hires an English schoolteacher to tutor his wives and children. There’s an undeniable emotional and intellectual attraction between them; a slave girl from Burma (Tuptim) and her forbidden lover (Lun Tha) have the primary romance, with the King’s favorite wife (Lady Thiang) also playing a key role. The score includes “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” “A Puzzlement,” “Getting to Know You,” “We Kiss in a Shadow,” “Something Wonderful,” “Western People Funny” and “Shall We Dance,” among others. At last check, the cast coming to the Fox features Broadway regulars Laura Michelle Kelly (Finding Neverland) as Mrs. Anna and Jose Llana (Flower Drum Song, Broadway’s 1996 The King and I) as the King. 660 Peachtree St. NE. $30-$135. Details, tickets HERE or at 855.285.8499.
SEPT. 28-OCT. 15 | Theatrical Outfit. Regional premiere. The Huffington Post called this drama “a smart, fresh transgender-play twist,” saying “it’s likely there are none like this one, certainly not any more beautifully realized.” Anna Ziegler’s 2016 drama spans 22 years and begins in 1968 Iowa after an accident, when a doctor convinces the parents of an infant boy to raise him as a girl. The drama is based on a true story. Atlanta actor Clifton Guterman, the Outfit’s associate artistic director, plays the title role and is directed by frequent collaborator Melissa Foulger, who makes her Outfit debut. Also in the cast: Tara Ochs (White Woman in Progress) and the Outfit’s Tom Key. Among other titles, the New York-based Ziegler has written the award-winning Photograph 51, which famously featured Nicole Kidman in London and on Broadway, and The Minotaur, seen at Synchronicity Theatre in 2012. 84 Luckie St. NW. $20.50-$49. Details, tickets HERE or 678.528.1500.
Hand to God
OCT. 20-NOV. 12. Alliance Theatre. Regional premiere. The New York Times described this contemporary Tony Award-nominated puppet comedy as “darkly delightful.” Robert Askins’ script is the most-produced play in American regional theater this season. After the death of his father, the meek Jason finds an outlet for his anxiety at the Christian Puppet Ministry. His complicated relationships with the town pastor, the school bully, the girl next door and his mother are thrown into upheaval when his puppet takes on a personality of its own. Recommended for ages 16 and up due to strong language and sexual content. Produced in association with Dad’s Garage at Dad’s Garage. Marc Masterson, artistic director of South Coast Rep in Orange County, Calif., directs. 569 Ezzard St. SE. $42. Details HERE or at 404.733.5000.
OCT. 26-NOV. 12 | Georgia Ensemble Theatre. World premiere. This new comedy from Atlanta playwright Topher Payne (Greetings Friend Your Kind Assistance Is Required, The Only Light in Reno, Perfect Arrangement, Angry Fags) takes place on a sunny spring afternoon in Atlanta’s Morningside neighborhood. Nine women with secrets are thrown together at a baby shower — with a case of champagne. What could possibly go wrong? Shannon Eubanks directs. Her cast: Kelly Criss, Amanda Cucher, Kate Donadio, Keena Redding Hunt, Shelly McCook, Ellen McQueen, Stacy Melich, Gina Rickicki and Ann Wilson. $29-$53 plus fees. Roswell Cultural Arts Center, 950 Forrest St., Roswell. Details HERE, tickets HERE or at 770.641.1260.
NOV. 11-DEC. 3 | Actor’s Express. Another new drama from the Humana Festival of New Plays, this time from 2016. It’s New Year’s Eve, 1999. In a remote northern Ugandan village, two girls — one, a local villager, and the other, the daughter of American missionaries — sneak into the local church to hold a makeshift wedding for themselves. When they’re interrupted by a boy soldier on the run, the girls are thrust into a chain of events that will change their lives forever. The script is by Hansol Jung. Kennesaw State’s Karen Robinson directs an enviable cast comprising Ashley Anderson (Essential Theatre’s Ada and the Memory Engine), Isake Akanke (Synchronicity’s Eclipsed), Stephen Ruffin (the Alliance’s Too Heavy for Your Pocket) and Rob Demery (Too Heavy for Your Pocket, True Colors’ Fetch Clay Make Man). At the King Plow Arts Center, 887 West Marietta St. NW. $30 plus fees and subject to change. Details, ticket HERE or at 404.607.7469.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
NOV. 30-DEC. 24 | Theatrical Outfit. Southeastern premiere. The script comes from Decatur-born, San Francisco-based playwright Lauren Gunderson (Silent Sky) — who’s being produced all over the country again this year — and colleague Margot Melcon. The holiday show, based on characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, takes us to 1815 England and focuses on the middle Bennet sister, Mary, and her hopes for independence, intellectual rigor and perhaps even love. Atlanta actor/director Carolyn Cook directs a strong cast led by Amelia Fischer as Mary, with Galen Crawley, Devon Hales, Jonathan Horne, Lee Osorio, Maria Rodriguez-Sager, Julissa Sabino and Juan Carlos Unzueta. The Chicago Tribune called it “a delicious seasonal sequel to Pride and Prejudice” and “a celebration of nerd love in all its overeducated glory.” 84 Luckie St. NW. $20.50-$49. Details, tickets HERE or at 678.528.1500.