American theater has never been livelier. Broadway is crowded with sold-out shows, hundreds of regional theaters are producing new works, and many of Hollywood's children are forsaking the set for the stage. In the words of Lincoln Center Theater's artistic director André Bishop, "I think we're in a golden age." Here's what's on around the country this season.
LAKE HOLLYWOOD Signature Theatre Company, through May 9; 212/244-7529. The first act of John Guare's new two-act play takes us to New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee on August 15, 1940, where a young couple teeters on the brink of marriage while America contemplates war. An unlikely chain of events and a motley supporting cast whisk the audience to act two, where the pair, now in their twilight years, grapples with confession, revelation, and resolution.
CLOSER Music Box Theatre, through June 13; 212/239-6200. Hot on the heels of David Hare's The Blue Room, the Olivier Awardwinning Closer, starring Natasha Richardson and Rupert Graves, is all about sex, on-line and otherwise. The plot traces the hedonistic pursuits of a dermatologist, a photographer, an obituary columnist, and a stripper.
AMY'S VIEW Barrymore Theatre, April 15-July 18; 212/239-6200. British stage-and-screen doyenne Judi Dench appears on Broadway for the first time since 1961, in David Hare's new play about the crumbling life of an aging theater actress. Her angst surfaces when daughter Amy pays a visit.
THE ICEMAN COMETH Brooks Atkinson Theatre, opening April 8; 212/307-4100. This revival of Eugene O'Neill's 1939 drama features Kevin Spacey as Hickey, the traveling salesman who tries to raise the spirits of the social outcasts at a Hell's Kitchen bar.
THE WEIR Walter Kerr Theatre, opening April 1; 212/239-6200. London's Olivier Award winner for best new play is the story of three Guinness-guzzling Irishmen in a pub who exchange spooky stories and local gossip to impress a pretty stranger, until she tells a chilling secret of her own.
VIA DOLOROSA Booth Theatre, through June 13; 212/239-6200. David Hare himself stars in his autobiographical play about a life-changing trip to Israel.
L'ORFEO BAM Opera House, June 10-13; 718/636-4100. Choreographer Trisha Brown takes on Monteverdi in her opera debut, replacing Orfeo's pastoral kingdom with a glowing circle whose hues reflect the shifting moods of the story line. Peaceful blues form the backdrop for Eurydice and Orpheus's sylvan love, while infernal shades of orange signal their plunge into the underworld. Celebrated conductor René Jacobs makes his American debut.
CHARLIE IN THE HOUSE OF RUE Hasty Pudding Theatre, April 1-25; 617/547-8300. This homage to Charlie Chaplin's The Tramp is a futuristic combination of theatrical trickery (film, slides, live music, and sound sampling), directed by Bob McGrath.
THREE TALL WOMEN Walnut Street Theatre, through April 25; 215/574-3550. A revival, at the oldest active theater in the United States, of Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prizewinning portrait of the modern Everywoman, in which the lives of three women are examined from very different perspectives.
OO-BLA-DEE Goodman Theatre, through April 17; 312/443-3800. This world premiere centers on an all-black, all-female 1940's bebop band on the eve of its big break: a recording contract with a Chicago label.
THE ELEVATION OF THIEVES Denver Center for the Performing Arts, May 6-June 5; 303/893-4100. The world premiere of a dark comedy about a quiet European town thrown into chaos when its centuries-old religious pageant is wired for television.
TRAVESTIES Alley Theatre, May 21-June 13; 713/228-8421. A new production of Tom Stoppard's account of a fictitious meeting between James Joyce, Dadaist Tristan Tzara, and Lenin, in 1917 Zürich.
ENIGMA VARIATIONS Mark Taper Forum, April 24-June 13; 213/628-2772. Making its American premiere, this witty mystery stars Donald Sutherland as a Nobel laureate living on a Norwegian island. After sending away the woman he loves - fearing their relationship is doomed to convention - he's visited by a reporter, and the two are locked in a philosophical face-off.
HEDDA GABLER Geffen Playhouse, through April 18; 213/365-3500. Annette Bening stars in Ibsen's domestic tragedy about a disillusioned young woman whose plot to destroy an ex-lover produces devastating results.
THE FIRST PICTURE SHOW American Conservatory Theater, May 6-June 6; 415/749-2228. This tale explores the early days of moviemaking through the memories of a 99-year-old woman, one of the last surviving female directors to have worked in the heyday of silent film.
La Jolla, Calif.
JANE EYRE La Jolla Playhouse, July 13-August 29; 619/550-1010. A new musical by Tony Awardwinning director John Caird (Les Misérables), based on Charlotte Brontë's novel of love lost and found. Sets are by Broadway über-designer and five-time Tony winner John Napier of Cats and Miss Saigon fame.
John Guare, playwright: "If you want to see the future, make a trip to the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut, where just about every American dramatist since 1964 got started."
Lisa Peterson, resident director, Mark Taper Forum: "There's a raucous freedom in the performances in Los Angeles. They're the theatrical equivalent of Op Art. Two of my favorite venues are the Actors' Gang and Circle X."
Tony Walton, set designer: "My great love is the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, Long Island, where my daughter Emma Walton is an artistic director. It's distinguished by its productions of new plays, and needless to say my daughter puts Dad to work quite a lot. Last year I did the set for House, by Jon Robin Baitz and Terrence McNally, which starred Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason."
Michael Greif, artistic director, La Jolla Playhouse: "I'm always developing new works, but for me a great adventure is a revival that makes me see a play anew and understand why it's a classic."