Europe Central (Little Green Pig & Manbites Dog Theater): Ambitious—and daunting—would describe this attempt to adapt William Vollmann's massive 2005 historical novel for theater. The National Book Award bestseller used a large cast, from Stalin to Shostakovich, to paint a broad yet incredibly intimate portrait of artistic and individual resistances to German and Russian totalitarianism. But how much of it can adapters John Justice and Michael Smith, director Jay O'Berski, and a star-studded cast possibly put on stage in something less than a mini-series? (Jan. 17-Feb. 2, Manbites Dog Theater)
Inherit the Wind (Burning Coal Theater): It wasn't Burning Coal's original choice to inaugurate its new Murphey School space, but with reporters questioning presidential candidates' views on evolution, the issues in this classic drama remain far too current. (Jan. 31-Feb. 17)
Also: Dreamgirls, North Carolina Theatre (Jan. 12-20); All in the Timing, Ghost & Spice Productions (Common Ground Theater, Jan. 11-26); Sweeney Todd, Company Carolina (ArtsCenter, Jan. 25-Feb. 3); The Rocky Horror Show, Hoof 'n' Horn (Shaefer Theater, Duke, Jan. 17-28).
Doubt and Topdog/Underdog (Playmakers Rep): A courageous extension from previous programming? A hedged bet? Or is the decision to have two controversial works share the same slot a combination of the two? In the first, Ray Dooley won't reprise the role he played in the European premiere of John Patrick Shanley's drama about a priest accused of sexual indecencies with a child; Jeffery Blair Cornell has those duties here. In the second, the safety's off when two abandoned black brothers—named Lincoln and Booth, as a joke—grapple with each other for supremacy in an arcade world where sideshow work and three-card monte delineate the difference between legitimate and illegitimate gain. (Jan. 26-March 2)
The Drowsy Chaperone (Broadway Series South): Can't see the New York production before it closes? Then catch the professional touring version of this warm and witty valentine to the big Broadway musicals—and musical-goers—of yesteryear. (Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, Feb. 12-17)
Also: Dying City, Manbites Dog Theater (Feb. 21-March 8); Othello, Bare Theatre (Common Ground Theatre, Feb. 14-22); Hedwig & the Angry Inch, Raleigh Ensemble Players (Feb. 16-23).
Moby Dick Rehearsed (The Acting Company): A professional restaging of Orson Welles' epic 1955 London production. What happens when an audacious director interrupts a rehearsal of King Lear to give his actors a new adaptation of the Melville classic? "A sustained assault on the senses" and "pure theatrical megalomania," said Kenneth Tynan of the original. (NCSU Center Stage, Stewart Theatre, March 25)
Joshua Lozoff: Beyond Belief (Ghost & Spice Productions): Our favorite sleight-of-hand artist and mentalist returns to Manbites Dog for further card tricks, prestidigitation—and mind games that leave us wondering, "How...?" (Manbites Dog Theater, March 20-April 6)
Also: A New Brain, Pauper Players (ArtsCenter, Feb. 28-March 2; Cabaret, UNC Student Union, March 6-9); The Trip to Bountiful, Raleigh Little Theatre (March 7-23).
Spring Awakening (Duke Theater Studies): After its hot revival inflamed New York's passions last season, Jeff Storer directs the sexually controversial Frank Wedekind musical. (April 3-13)
Angels in America, Parts 1 & 2 (Theatre in the Park): Why has it taken this long for a regional theater to produce a full production of Tony Kushner's magnum opus (thus far)? Adam Twiss directs a strong cast including Ira David Wood as Roy Cohn. (April 11-27)
Bent (Raleigh Ensemble Players): A revival of reputedly one of the strongest regional productions in the past decade; a harrowing depiction of gay persecution during the Holocaust. (April 17-May 3)
Also: Spamalot, Broadway Series South (April 15-20); Amadeus, Playmakers Rep (April 2-20); Crowns, Burning Coal (April 10-27); Witness to an Execution, PRC2 (April 23-27).
Avenue Q (Broadway Series South): What the dark end of Sesame Street's really like. Muppets—or muppet-like creatures—deal with the grittier aspects of city life in the touring version of this hilarious musical. Leave the kids home. (Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, May 6-11)
Fistful of Love (Manbites Dog Theater & Little Green Pig): Playwright Charles Mee threw down the ultimate gauntlet: "Feel free to take the plays and use them freely as a resource for your own work.... Don't just make some cuts or rewrite a few passages ... but pillage the plays ... and build your own, entirely new, piece." Jay O'Berski and crew take up his challenge, in an evening based on Mee's Big Love and others. (May 15-31)