I'll never forget a Festival of Theatre of the Absurd at New York's Cherry Lane Theatre, where I caught unexpectedly in 1961 the world premiere of Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, with Ruth White. I also will always remember my happy attendance at Williamstown's The Chekhov Cycle in 2003, with five of Anton's plays read Monday through Friday, on Saturday a staging of a play based on his love letters to his actress wife, Olga Knipper, and a symposium on the seventh day.
I'm about to offer up some good theater suggestions out there this summer, but first let me be clear: If traveling on vacation, do check local listings. You might find a charming curiosity -- theater in a private home, or an updating of Shakespeare that keeps him fresh, or a musical you have always wanted to see and missed.
Hey, you might even run across the next David Mamet or, hope springs eternal, the next Arthur Miller.
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Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts offers pleasant days and cool nights and runs through August 19, featuring nine plays, including Oscar Wilde's most produced play, The Importance of Being Earnest, June 26 to July 14, directed by David Hyde Pierce and featuring a contemporary setting with gangsters as characters. You may exit wondering: What were they thinking? The Elephant Man, July 25 to August 5, always an acting challenge, is also here braved by Bradley Cooper and directed by Scott Ellis. Early ticketing is suggested, as David Byrne's take on Imelda Marcos, Here Lies Love, staged in a nightclub, is already sold out. And The Valley of Fear, a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, is presented in a field (bring a picnic lunch) and is free, July 11 to July 20. Manhattan Repertory Theatre will give us about 20 plays in its sixth Summerfest, June 6 to August 24. You might not want to visit Dean Linnard's one-man Hamlet (is it still five acts?) July 5, 6 and 7, but Throw Me. Under. World, August 15, 16 and 17, a musical where a young siren follows Orpheus to Hades, sounds intriguing. Dramatic Paws, July 5, 6 and 7, is another backstage play, as six young actors -- and a giant stuffed bear -- grapple with a play falling apart; I'd love to see it. And more, much more.
Dallas has the 14th annual Festival of Independent Theaters, which provides a venue (Bath House Cultural Center) for eight independent troupes with no permanent home, with four weeks of plays one hour or less, two a night, Thursday through Sunday, July 13 to August 4. (Note for next year: The Watertower Theatre has its annual "out-of-the-loop" fringe festival each spring, starting March 13 and running for ten days. San Antonio doesn't seem to have a festival, but at least The San Pedro Playhouse keeps an active summer schedule with Hello, Dolly July 20 to August 19, and is staging in its smaller venue The Cellar In the Next Room - or the Vibrator Play through July 8, and The Little Dog Laughed August 3 to 26. And the Shelton Vexler Theatre presents in August, fittingly, August - Osage County.
Austin Theatre Festival, July 5 to 15, brings us storytelling with Bernadette Nason's Dinner in Dubai, July 7 to 14, and from Christian Huey and T.E. Heidel comes the comedy Chicken Fried Radio - Live!, July 7 to 15. Vanities from Oh Dragon Theatre Company follows the lives of three cheerleaders, and promises to be heartwarming. Austin Comedy Workshop struts its stuff in That Comedy Show July 5 to 15. More familiar fare is Measure for Measure, July 6 to 15, and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged and Revised, but this time performed by three women, July 6 to 15. Houston Fringe Festival, 2012 hasn't yet announced its full schedule, but it is a three-week festival beginning August 31 and running through September 16. Sponsored by Frenetic Theater, it will also use Bohemio as a venue site. The first two weeks are events that have been juried in, the third week is titled Anything Goes and the title alone speaks volumes.
Last year's Festival Best in Show winner was, deservedly, Fugitive Songs by the British team of Famous and Divine (Mary Steadman and Amanda Price). One line from it captures its wild spirit: "We heard a song one night, while drinking gin and smoking viciously, and it called us to the unlived life and we followed..." It was haunting, beautiful, and hilarious; view segments on You Tube and judge for yourself. Shakespeare without Words seems to have growing acceptance, chiefly in California, but I'd rather be tarred and feathered than point the way to it -- Google it at your own risk.