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Surveying a busy theater season 

Ray Dooley as Salieri in PlayMaker's 2008 production of "Amadeus"

Photo by Jon Gardiner

Ray Dooley as Salieri in PlayMaker's 2008 production of "Amadeus"

You hold in your hands—or see on your screen—a list covering four months of theater in an area in the center of North Carolina covering at least four counties and 2,200 square miles. The list will mention nearly two dozen productions out of a group easily more than four times that size.

You'll note some disparities among the listings: Some companies have several productions mentioned; others, one or none. Out of all the shows we know about, the ones below are those that I believe are most likely to tell us something significant about this region's theater—its ambitions and what it is capable of—in their outright triumphs and more qualified successes.

What will regional theater teach us this fall? Let's find out. The semester has begun; our class is now in session. Welcome.

Each year, we look to presenters like Carolina Performing Arts and Duke Performances to bring cutting-edge touring productions to our region. Somewhat puzzlingly, neither of them has scheduled theater productions for this fall. Fortunately present this fall, however, is N.C. State's Center Stage, presents Nearly Lear, a one-woman show telling King Lear from the standpoint of the Fool, Sept. 25-26. which is followed by a regular guest, London's Aquila Theatre Company with an Oct. 14 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The New York Times savored it as raucous, loud and broad. The following week, on Oct. 22, Center Stage hosts a revival of Faith Healing, choreographer Jane Comfort's historic dance/ theater hybrid version of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. Many will see this one just to watch dancer/ actor/ choreographer/ writer Mark Dendy reprise his turn as Amanda.

Another big player in the region, Playmakers Rep, has a full slate. In the company's season opener, As You Like It (Sept. 22–Oct. 10), Michele Vazquez—a noted local actor in the 1990s—will star in the role of Rosalind. Though many of August Wilson's works have never been shown in this area, PlayMakers still chose to mount the already regionally overproduced Fences yet again, beginning Oct. 27. That's followed by not one, but two holiday shows. Donald Margulies' latest, Shipwrecked! An Entertainment (Dec. 1–19) is an old-school potboiler for kids, which got favorable notices last season in New York. But you might want to check the fine print underneath the splashy graphics advertising Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, slated for Dec. 3–5. PlayMakers' first collaboration with the N.C. Symphony is actually a significantly abridged version of the play, punctuated with live performances of Mozart's greatest hits. Plus, there'll be no sets on the Meymandi Concert Hall stage, although actors will be in full costume, with Ray Dooley reprising his performance as Salieri.

At Duke University, director Jody McAuliffe directs Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka's scathing memoir of Lagos under military dictatorship in the 1990s, The Beatification of Area Boy, Oct. 21–31. Over at UNC Performance Studies, adaptor/ director Paul Ferguson is back in the game with an adaptation of Nothing Pink, Mark Hardy's gay coming-of-age novel set in the Baptist South, with music by the returning Mark Hartman, Sep. 9–19. Later, noted regional actor Lucius Robinson adapts the Hitchcock thriller Vertigo, in a production Joseph Megel directs, Nov. 21–31.

The biggest news among the bus-and-trucks is that Durham Performing Arts Center has two juggernauts: Billy Elliot The Musical (Oct. 30–Nov. 14) and Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (Dec. 7–12), their big bid for the holiday season.

In the Triangle's vibrant independent theater scene, there's an array of adventurous choices. Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern has dubbed the company's fifth year of existence its Japanese season. The opener is Redghost, an original adaptation of Yotsuya Kaidan, a kabuki play from the early 1800s that came to be one of that culture's most frightening and popular ghost stories, a multigenerational tale of unbridled desire, treachery, derangement, murder and revenge from both sides of the grave. Rachel Klem directs a cast that includes Monica Byrne, Hilary Edwards and John Jimerson at Common Ground Theater, Sep. 9–18.

After opening on Oct. 7–23 with Breadcrumbs, a new work by the playwright who penned last season's eerie Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, Manbites Dog Theater hosts The Theme is Blackness, a black theater festival co-produced with Little Green Pig. For fans of 2008's Goin'a Buffalo, the world premiere of playwright Ed Bullins' Night of the Beast runs Nov. 3–6, with Harriet Jacobs, Lydia Diamond's adaptation of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Nov. 10–13.

Burning Coal Theatre's season opens with the classic To Kill A Mockingbird, Sept. 9–26, and Temple Theater opens with a major upgrade bid: the musical Chicago, Sept. 16–Oct. 3. Deep Dish Theater asks the theatrical question Is He Dead? when it mounts David Ives' revival of Mark Twain's long-lost script, starting Oct. 22.

Anyone itching for good psychological drama should catch the Raleigh Ensemble Players version of Tracy Letts' Bug when it opens Oct. 22, prior to Broadway Series South's regional production of The Rocky Horror Show, Oct. 29–31. For further creeps, Free Association Theater Ensemble attempts the forbidding avant-garde classic Marat/Sade, Nov. 5–20, just after Ghost and Spice mounts the spicy Six Degrees of Separation, Oct. 8–23.

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