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StageStruck: In the Bleak Midwinter...

It turns out there's lots of theater to look forward to.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012
Lee Chambers Photo
Robert Lunde, Alika Hope and Tom Dahl in The Island Lily

It's the second week of January and I haven't seen a single play so far this year. How am I going to feed my 100-shows-a-year habit at this rate? After the holiday season, or even before, theaters go into hibernation before re-emerging in the new year refreshed and invigorated. So I've been spending my nights at home, rereading back issues of American Theatre magazine and leafing hopefully through winter/spring theater schedules like a catalogue shopper waiting for the sales to begin.

And finding, thankfully, a lot to look forward to this month and next. My first stop is West Springfield's Majestic Theater, where the Theater Project is premiering The Island Lily, founder Danny Eaton's latest play. Set in a dockside watering hole in Key West, this "romantic comedy about fishing" pits a charter boat captain and his bar owner girlfriend, both of them weathering tough economic times, against a smooth real estate developer with a trophy wife and an eye to "progress."

Another world premiere comes next month to Northampton's Academy of Music. Truth is a full-scale "folk" opera that traces the turbulent life of the great slave-born social activist Sojourner Truth. An original work created by Linda McInerney's Old Deerfield Productions, it stars local legend Evelyn Harris and other professional singers, supported by an epic stageful of community performers and a full orchestra.

A musical with some of the same resonance as Truth will visit the Fine Arts Center at UMass at the end of this month. The Color Purple, based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer-winning novel with a nod to Spielberg's 1985 movie, details the struggles of Southern black women to reclaim their personhood from white society's and black men's oppression. The musical adds song and dance to the gritty story without much prettying up of its sometimes harsh themes.

The annual January Term break extends the hibernation period at the Five Colleges, but two of them are mounting shows this month anyway. Chimps is an original radio drama based on the infamous Scopes "monkey" trial of 1925, which challenged a law against teaching evolution in the public schools. The play will be performed for a live audience on Jan. 30 with actors at microphones, a sound-effects foley and all the trappings of a 1920s radio broadcast. The UMass theater and English departments are following up their annual trip to the Edinburgh Festival by bringing one of the most-applauded shows to the campus. Matthew Zajac's The Tailor of Inverness, an odyssey of war and survival, plays Jan. 31-Feb. 3. And next month, Smith College presents a workshop staging of Moment, by the electrifying Irish playwright Deirdre Kinahan, a family drama about the cascading effects of a crime.

South of the border, both of Hartford's pro theaters start the new year off with revivals that reach to either end of the dramatic spectrum. Boeing-Boeing, at Hartford Stage, is a classic farce whose springboard is the juggling act of a man engaged to three airline stewardesses simultaneously. At TheaterWorks, The Sty of the Blind Pig is Philip Hayes Dean's 1971 comedy-drama that presaged August Wilson's complex explorations of the African-American experience.

That's some of what's on my new year's agenda. Actually, I count over a dozen shows coming up this month and next. I can hardly wait.

Chris Rohmann can be reached at StageStruck@crocker.com.

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