11 winter theater productions that promise to make for a happier New Year

For many in the Atlanta arts community, the final curtain call of 2021 felt more like an encore performance of 2020. After the anticipated “grand return to normalcy” fell flat this past fall, hindered by the delta variant, live performances were poised to start back up with a bang in the new year. That is, until another variant, omicron, sent case counts skyrocketing again in December — proving that, as long as the pandemic continues, nothing is certain.

Following some abrupt early closings over the holidays brought on by the latest surge were postponements including Actor’s Express’ staging of “Intimate Apparel” by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. The company announced on Dec. 29 that it would be moving the play’s early-January opening to late March, which will require a shuffling of dates for all remaining 2021-2022 season shows.

As 2022 tiptoes tentatively forward, actors, writers, directors and artists are planning for whatever comes next, keeping their minds open to change. But the good news is that —assuming the fates allow it — Atlanta stages this winter and early spring are poised to host dynamic work in an array of subjects and styles, including several world premieres and a pocketful of musicals.

This list is far from comprehensive but represents a cross-section of highlights to keep us looking forward in eager anticipation, even with all the virus-related uncertainty. All dates are subject to change; check theater websites for updates.

“Feeding Beatrice”

Aurora Theatre, Jan. 20-Feb. 6

From the electrifying mind of prolific playwright Kirsten Greenidge comes “Feeding Beatrice,” a thriller with dark comedy elements. We follow along with Lurie and June, a contemporary Black couple who just became homeowners. They get way more than they bargained for when they encounter a surprise feature of the new abode, the ravenously hungry ghost of a young white girl from the early 20th century, Beatrice, who brings out a menacing history within the house’s walls. The show has drawn comparisons to the work of Stephen King, Jordan Peele and Rod Serling.

Greenidge grew up in the notably haunted city of Boston and cultivated her distinct voice, which often speaks to narratives at the intersection of gender, race and class, at the Playwright’s Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Credit: Courtesy of Alliance Theatre

Credit: Courtesy of Alliance Theatre

“Dream Hou$e”

Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage, Jan. 28-Feb. 13

Emerging writer, performer and filmmaker Eliana Pipes tackles community displacement and gentrification in the 2022 winner of the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition. “Dream Hou$e’s” world premiere, an Alliance co-production with Long Wharf Theater and Baltimore Center Stage, follows two Latina sisters selling their family home via an HGTV-style reality show. The story takes a plunge into the surreal from there, unfurling the sisters’ ancestral past in the process.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, in “a pocket of the city that was gentrifying,” Pipes said she drew inspiration for this story in part from direct experience. When she was 13, her family sold their house and moved — which “really changed my family’s financial future for the better, but it also meant we were participating in that process of gentrification . . . and that move constituted a kind of cultural loss that I didn’t really understand at the time,” she said in a recent interview in an installment of “Let’s Talk About Theatre” from California-based Shotgun Players on YouTube.

She also pulled from the experience of being an artist of color “being asked to sell my cultural pain for money” in predominantly White spaces, “grappling with that sticky dynamic, and with that gaze. Who’s watching who, and who’s buying what, and for what price?”

Credit: Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade

Credit: Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade

“Tootsie”

Fox Theatre, Jan. 25-30

In this comedy based on the snappy 1982 film classic starring Dustin Hoffman, Michael Dorsey is a New York actor who can’t get a job because “no one will work with you,” as his agent says. So he adopts the persona and look of an older Southern actress named Dorothy Michaels and lands a plum role almost immediately, thus, complicating his life and career in the process.

Cleverly, instead of the soap opera role of the film, “Tootsie” has Dorsey landing a gig in — what else? — a musical. That fictional show-within-a-show is “Juliet’s Curse,” a ridiculous-sounding sequel to “Romeo and Juliet” in which the heroine, who has miraculously survived her near-death, falls for Romeo’s brother Craig. (Dorothy plays Juliet’s nurse.)

With a Tony-winning book by Robert Horn and a score by David Yazbek, this musical promises warmth and delight to help lift the spirits in bleak mid-winter. When it debuted on Broadway in 2019, the role of Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels was originated by Santino Fontana, best known to non-New York audiences for his role in the TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”

“Every Brilliant Thing”

Horizon Theatre Company, Jan. 28-Feb. 27

It’s not often that you encounter a hit off-Broadway one-character show — a comedy no less — that centers around depression and suicide. But that’s indeed just what British playwright Duncan Macmillan pulled off in “Every Brilliant Thing,” his tale about a young boy attempting to cure his mother’s chronic depression by creating a list of the best things in the world, i.e., the things that make life worth living. That list includes everything from ice cream to “Star Trek” to falling in love.

First produced in the U.K., where it moved through various fringe festivals, it made its off-Broadway debut in 2015 and was filmed for HBO the next year. The interactive monologue also involves audience participation. The Guardian called it “one of the funniest plays you’ll ever see about depression — and possibly one of the funniest plays you’ll ever see, full stop.”

“Bright Half Life”

Theatrical Outfit, Feb. 2-27

Familiar Atlanta actresses Park Krausen and Candy McLellan star in “Bright Half Life,” a two-person romantic epic recounting the almost half-century love story between Vicky and Erica — who met, fell in love and embarked on the commitment roller coaster of marriage, family and heartbreak. As intricately imagined by 2020 PEN American awardee Tanya Barfield (who won a 2016 Lambda Literary Award for this), the play’s structure is where this story gets interesting.

Striding across time in a nonlinear pattern, darting backward and forward and sometimes “replaying” scenes, the story mirrors how our memories of significant relationships tend to blaze through our minds. Shows such as musical “The Last Five Years” have depicted a relationship (or at least one side of a union) beginning at the end and wending its way backward, but this one is particularly ambitious in how it constructs and makes sense of a relationship’s ups and downs and eventual — perhaps inevitable — conclusion. Barfield is on the faculty at Julliard and also has flexed her writing chops on TV series such as “The Americans” and “Mrs. America.”

“All the Natalie Portmans”

Out Front Theatre Company, Feb. 3-19

All the Natalie Portmans,” C.A. Johnson’s dreamlike but grounded coming-of-age comedy/drama examines “how popular art can both distract us and serve as background for our pain,” as The New Yorker put it. We follow 16-year-old Keyonna, a gay teenager living in Washington, D.C., in 2009, whose home life has hit the rocks. Her father is dead, and she, her brother and her alcoholic mother are struggling to get by and facing possible eviction.

To escape, she immerses herself in a rich fantasy life, imagining the writing of scripts for her idol, Natalie Portman. In a touch of magical realism, Portman becomes a character, paying her visits dressed as characters from movies such as “Black Swan” and “Garden State.” The critically acclaimed premiere run of Johnson’s play at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space off-Broadway closed early at the beginning of the pandemic, so it’s exciting that the work will get to experience new life with this Atlanta remounting.

Credit: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Credit: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

“Raisin”

True Colors Theatre Company, Feb. 8-March 13

Starting in February, we’ll get the chance to see a new rendering of the 1970s Tony-winning musical adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking 1959 masterpiece, “A Raisin in the Sun.” “Raisin’s” story, set in 1951, follows three generations of the Younger family as they pursue the American dream in south Chicago, only to encounter hostility, housing discrimination and racism.

True Colors has a unique tie to the work, of course, in that its co-founder and former artistic director, Atlanta theater icon Kenny Leon, directed the 2004 Broadway revival starring Sean “Diddy” Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald. Then he did it again to even more accolades in 2014, with star Denzel Washington, earning a Tony Award for best director of a play.

“Bina’s 6 Apples”

Alliance Theatre, March 11-27

For this world premiere co-production with the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, playwright Lloyd Suh drew from his own family’s history to craft the story of 10-year-old Bina. The family of the title young girl in “Bina’s 6 Apples” grows apples in Korea up until the Korean War breaks out, forcing the clan to flee their home and separate. Alone, with just six apples in her possession, Bina must find a way back to her family.

An Indiana native who received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship Award in 2020, Suh told Broadway World that this story was inspired by what his parents experienced during the Korean War as well as what he has observed in his own kids and how they face the current world. “My greatest ambition for the play is that it speaks to both generations: their emotions, their imaginations, their sense of discovery and journey towards empathy. The play was written for young audiences, of course — but also for their parents and grandparents.”

Credit: Courtesy of Frisch Marionettes

Credit: Courtesy of Frisch Marionettes

“The Wizard of Oz”

Center for Puppetry Arts, March 18-April 3

If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic’s impact on live performance, it’s that at least puppetry continues to thrive. That is exemplified by the Center for Puppetry Arts’ insanely busy start to the new year — with four shows, all based on beloved books. That’s excellent news for kiddos and grown-ups alike. The lineup includes: “The Snowy Day and Other Stories,” running Jan. 14-30; “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type,” Feb. 2-March 13; “Pete the Cat,” April 7-May 20; and “The Wizard of Oz,” starring a beguiling cast of marionettes.

Founded in 1995 by master puppeteer Kevin Frisch, Cincinnati’s Frisch Marionettes have contributed intricate creations that have appeared in opera houses, storefront windows, commercials, national magazines, television shows and on the big screen in “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.” Each intricate puppet can take more than 40 hours of research and craftsmanship to create. Frisch has said that he envisioned this rendering of the universally beloved “Wizard of Oz” as a “tribute to America’s rich musical heritage.” So follow the yellow brick road and get ready to enjoy your favorite characters as they sing spirituals, blues, ragtime, jazz and funk tunes.

“Legacy of Light”

Synchronicity Theatre, March 18-April 10

D.C.-based playwright Karen Zacarías centers “Legacy of Light,” a 2010 Steinberg Citation winner, around balancing ambition and family. She weaves together the stories of two women scientists — a notable historical figure from the 18th century and a fictional character in modern-day New Jersey. The former is Émilie du Châtelet, a mathematician and scientist (sometimes criminally overshadowed by the fact that Voltaire was a boyfriend), who faced unexpected pregnancy at age 42, something which, at that time, was extremely dangerous. The latter is a 21st-century physicist trying desperately to get pregnant.

If Emilie’s name and story sound familiar to Atlanta audiences, it may be because she was also the subject of Decatur native playwright Lauren Gunderson’s “Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight,” which debuted close to the same time as Zacarías’ work. Together, they marked a kind of Renaissance around this previously too-little-recognized contributor to our understanding of the world and how it works.

Credit: Courtesy of Actor's Express

Credit: Courtesy of Actor's Express

“Intimate Apparel”

Actor’s Express, March 24-April 17

Some experiences are worth waiting for, and we’re guessing that this may be the case with the postponed production of Lynn Nottage’s award-winning “Intimate Apparel.” Actor’s Express moved the production, directed by Ibi Owolabi, from early January to late March due to COVID-19. Set in 1905 New York, the play, which debuted off-Broadway in 2004 starring Viola Davis, follows Esther, a talented young Black woman who pours her artistry and time into stitching together beautiful lingerie for the city’s upper crust and sex workers alike. She’s saving up for the day when she can open her own shop where her Black patrons will be treated like royalty. Things begin to change when she strikes up a romantic correspondence with a mysterious suitor in Panama.

This carefully threaded narrative grapples with themes of longing, loneliness, ambition, love, friendship, race, class and gender. A MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient and Yale School of Drama grad, Nottage is the only woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama twice (in 2009 for “Ruined” and in 2017 for “Sweat”). She has developed original projects for Amazon, HBO, Showtime and Harpo, and served as writer/producer on the Spike Lee-directed Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It.”

Alexis Hauk has written and edited for numerous newspapers, alt-weeklies, trade publications and national magazines including Time, the Atlantic, Mental Floss, Uproxx and Washingtonian magazine. Having grown up in Decatur, Alexis returned to Atlanta in 2018 after a decade living in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York City and Los Angeles. By day, she works in health communications. By night, she enjoys covering the arts and being Batman.


Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

Working closely with the American Press Institute, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is embarking on an experiment to identify, nurture and expand a network of news partnerships across metro Atlanta and the state.

Our newest partner, ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be introducing more partners, and we’d love to hear your feedback.

You can reach Managing Editor Mark A. Waligore via email at mark.waligore@ajc.com.