The traditional theater season runs from September to May. But there’s no shortage of programming to keep local audiences entertained this summer, from rousing musicals to thoughtful dramas to wholesome family fare.
Nestled in the bucolic Chattahoochee Hills community, about 45 miles south of Atlanta, Serenbe Playhouse covers all bases in its fourth season of shows. Making the most of its outdoor setting, the company stages productions perfectly suited to mother nature. The season opener features local playwright Rachel Teagle’s adaptation of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” which transplants the classic children’s story to post-Civil War era Savannah. It’s currently running Friday and Saturday mornings through July 27.
Next up is Lee Blessing’s “A Walk in the Woods,” fittingly set in the woods outside Geneva, Switzerland. The drama charts the relationship between two diplomats — one American, the other Russian — as they negotiate nuclear disarmament. Co-starring prominent Atlanta actors Robin Bloodworth and Allan Edwards, it opens June 27 and continues through July 14.
“In the case of something like ‘A Walk in the Woods,’ it’s easier performing it in the woods than trying to imagine that setting within a typical black-box theater space,” said company founder and executive artistic director Brian Clowdus. “With 1,100 acres at our disposal, no space has been used the same way twice. The possibilities are actually limitless.”
In his concept for the hippie musical “Hair” (July 25-Aug. 11), Clowdus will recreate elements of the original Woodstock festival, replete with tents, scaffolding and a box office in the form of the school bus.
“It’s not about building big, flashy sets or whatever,” said Clowdus. “This sort of site-specific theater is something you can’t get in Atlanta or anywhere else in the Southeast.”
Through much of its 28-year history, Georgia Shakespeare performed its own trio of shows each summer under a giant tent on the grounds of Oglethorpe University. With the opening of the school’s Conant Performing Arts Center in 1997, the troupe moved its act indoors. And starting in 2006, co-founder and producing artistic director Richard Garner added an extra family show to the lineup.
This summer marks another dramatic shift. The annual family show remains in place — “Mighty Myths and Legends” (July 7-20) — but the rest of the season consists of a single show and a remounted one at that: “Metamorphoses,” based on a series of Greek myths, which Garner initially staged in 2006 to great critical and popular fanfare.
With the company facing dire financial challenges for the last couple of years, Garner said, “It’s a very deliberate decision, a chance to pull back and pare down a bit, to take some time to rethink and figure out what would be a more sustainable model.”
Returning cast members Chris Kayser, Carolyn Cook, Joe Knezevich and Park Krausen join a handful of newcomers to tell the story of 10 myths, including Midas, Zeus and Aphrodite, which take place in and around a 25-foot reflecting pool.
“For me, personally, it’s always been a profoundly impactful and poignant piece of theater,” Garner said. “But, especially now, it really hits home after everything all of us have been through. Without being too touchy-feely about it, there’s something really healing about this show. The different stories really seem to ring true and speak to the tenacity of the human spirit.”
Meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead for Essential Theatre’s 15th annual New Play Festival, running July 12-Aug. 11 at Actor’s Express. The company presents a summer slate of regional premieres and world debuts of works from local playwrights. This year it’s offering rotating productions of three works by Georgia-based playwrights.
“Mysterious Connections” (opening July 12) is billed as a “fantasy drama” about two lonely women, written by Essential artistic director Peter Hardy and directed by Ellen McQueen. Hardy directs this year’s winner of the Essential Theatre Playwriting Award, “Stray Dogs” (opening July 18), penned by Atlanta actor Matthew Myers and described as a “Tarantino-esque crime comedy.” Katie Grant Shalin’s “Swimming with Jellyfish” (opening July 25) is a dysfunctional family drama, directed by local actor Bill Murphey.
Serenbe Playhouse. 9110 Selborne Lane, Suite 210, Chattahoochee Hills. 770-463-1110; www.serenbeplayhouse.com.
Georgia Shakespeare. 4484 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-504-1473; www.gashakespeare.org.
Essential Theatre. 887 W. Marietta St., Atlanta. 1-866-811-4111; www. essentialtheatre.com.
Other summer offerings include “Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class,” a one-woman spinoff from the popular “Nunsense” shows, continuing through June 23 at Stone Mountain’s ART Station. “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” part of another series of musicals about a 1950s girl group, runs Aug. 1-18. 770-469-1105. www.artstation.org
Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville opens its 2013-14 season early for an extended run of the sprawling French Revolution musical “Les Miserables,” July 25-Sept. 8. 678-226-6222. www.auroratheatre.com
On tap for the kids and their families at the Center for Puppetry Arts are “Dr. Suess’ The Cat in the Hat” (June 13-July 28), directed by Jon Ludwig, and a Michael Haverty/Bobby Box adaptation of “Rumpelstiltskin” (Aug. 1-Sept. 8). 404-873-3391. www.puppet.org
Thomas W. Jones II, a frequent Horizon Theatre collaborator, directs its version of a “fantastical whodunit” by Marcus Gardley, “Every Tongue Confess” (July 12-Aug. 25). Bernardine Mitchell heads the cast. 404-584-7450. www.horizontheatre.com
Conceived and directed by David H. Bell (“Gut Bucket Blues”), Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre presents the gospel musical “Shakin’ the Rafters” at the 14th Street Playhouse, July 12-Aug. 4. 1-877-725-8849. www.truecolorstheatre.org
Onstage Atlanta’s inaugural production in its new Decatur space is the local premiere of the Mel Brooks musical “Young Frankenstein,” July 12-Aug. 17. 404-897-1802. www.onstageatlanta.com
At the Shakespeare Tavern, the Bard’s “Hamlet” and Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” continue in repertory through June 23. The Lee Blessing play “Fortinbras” runs June 29-July 14, followed by a remount of the three-man parody “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged),” Aug. 9-Sept. 1. 404-874-5299. www.shakespearetavern.com
Dunwoody’s Stage Door Players present the musical “Once Upon a Mattress” (July 12-Aug. 4), based on the fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” 770-396-1726. www.stagedoorplayers.net