THE SEAGULL: János Szász directs the Chekhov classic at the ART.
Now that the most disquieting holiday season in recent memory is past, you have the long, frigid winter to warm your financially fissured heart. Well, maybe not. But as they say in the theater, the show must go on. And whether you're looking for gut-wrenching drama that puts your own personal bankbook saga into perspective or just escapism, you'll find comfort somewhere when the curtain rises.
Perhaps last season's longest-running drama was the fever-pitched election campaign, an O'Neill-worthy marathon, to be sure. Politics — ancient and contemporary — have always been a go-to source of inspiration for the great playwrights. Just a few days after our new president is inaugurated, we get to take a look at politics back, when Stacy Keach blows into the Colonial Theatre (www.broadwayacrossamerica.com) to lead the cast of FROST/NIXON (January 27–February 8). Peter Morgan's play, which was also recently released as a film, delves into the famous interview encounters between the disgraced ex-president and the breezy, cavalier British TV journalist. Athol Fugard, on the other hand, builds his drama EXITS AND ENTRANCES around apartheid in South Africa. New Repertory Theatre (www.newrep.org) presents this investigation of the meaning of art amid a tumultuous society (February 22–March 15).
Politics get personal in THE DUCHESS OF MALFI (January 8-February 1), by Jacobean dramatist John Webster. Actors' Shakespeare Project (www.actorsshakespeareproject.org) carries on its custom of performing in unconventional spaces when the company takes over Midway Studios in Fort Point for this rarely seen play, in which an Italian duchess marries beneath her, inciting her brothers to take revenge. And those aren't the only Italians in town. The Huntington Theatre Company (www.huntingtontheatre.org) offers TWO MEN OF FLORENCE (March 6–April 5), historian Richard N. Goodwin's play about Galileo's intellectual showdown with Pope Urban VIII. Edward Hall, associate director of London's National Theatre, is at the helm. Meanwhile back at ASP, the troupe led by Benjamin Evett isn't content to stir up trouble just on Malfi. It moves to Rome when it stages the Bard's CORIOLANUS (March 12–April 5).
Shakespeare, of course, is alchemical when it comes to transforming tragedy into poetry. Joan Didion did the same thing in her 2005 memoir THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, which she then adapted for the Broadway stage. Lyric Stage Company (www.lyricstage.com) offers the New England premiere (January 2-31) of this personal dissection of grief that began when the iconic author's husband, John Gregory Dunne, died of a heart attack at home. Eric C. Engel directs Nancy E. Carroll in the one-woman play.
While on the topic of family angst, it would be good to mention a few Russian dramas. Nora Theatre Company (www.centralsquaretheater.org) launches the year at the new Central Square Theater with Chekhov's melancholic paean to a moribund gentry, THE CHERRY ORCHARD (January 8–February 1). Annette Miller stars in a new translation by George Malko. Down the road, American Repertory Theatre (www.amrep.org) invites Hungarian director János Szász back to helm THE SEAGULL (January 10–February 2), the Russian master's timeless tangle of love and art.
At the Boston Center for the Arts, wordsmiths take the spotlight in a new show developed by Company One (www.companyone.org). Dubbed an "artistic revolution" and authored by the cast, ARTICULATION (January 9-24) follows a squad of local poets as they mine their own imaginations. Like foot soldiers armed with language skills, the young bards confront life, love, youth, religion, and art. Sounds like a progressive battle cry with a hip-hop rhythm.
Also at the BCA, Zeitgeist Stage Company (www.zeitgeiststage.com) presents the New England premiere of Robert Farquhar's BAD JAZZ (January 30–February 21), a portrait of artists as young actors. The play within this play investigates the lines that blur between reality and theater and the risks people take for art as a director pushes his young thespians to a ruthless degree. But as an instructive figure, he's nothing compared to Miss Moffat, the Welsh schoolteacher who works with an illiterate bully and turns him into a star student in Emlyn Williams's THE CORN IS GREEN (January 9–February 8). Former honcho Nicholas Martin returns to the Huntington Theatre Company (www.huntingtontheatre.org) to direct Tony winner Kate Burton, who also played the role under his direction at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. She follows a long line of megawatt actresses who have tackled the role (Ethel Barrymore, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn), but she may be the first to play opposite her son (Morgan Ritchie).
Playwright Paul Rudnick has a few things to teach about gay life in THE NEW CENTURY (January 15–February 14). SpeakEasy Stage Company (www.speakeasystage.com) presents this set of four short plays in which the individual dramas of a Jewish mother of three gay children, an aging queen who's a magnet for young men, and a Midwestern craftswoman and competitive cake-decorator eventually intersect.