Blues for an Alabama Sky | PlayMakers Repertory Company, Chapel Hill | Through Sep. 25

After the Crash of ’29, the party was over; the Dirty Thirties largely put an end to the Harlem Renaissance. In Blues for an Alabama Sky, central character Angel, a singer and dancer at the Cotton Club, has been dismissed after a midshow meltdown and gotten her gay best friend Guy, the costume designer, fired too. In their apartment building, Delia is trying to open a controversial family planning clinic under activist Margaret Sanger, with help from her friend, a gynecologist named Sam, and a pastor at a local church.

In their midst, Leland, an Alabamian stranger, turns Angel’s head with the promise of marriage. But his looks are more appealing than the intolerant mindset he has brought with him to New York. And as he increasingly acts upon his prejudices, friendships and futures are threatened.

A Great Big Woolly Mammoth Thawing from the Ice | Burning Coal Theatre, Raleigh | Sep. 29–Oct. 16

Award-winning British playwright Tatty Hennessy’s pensive A Hundred Words for Snow touched the few who saw it in Burning Coal’s courageous early-pandemic production in October 2020. There are parallels in the world premiere of this work, which Burning Coal subsequently commissioned based on news reports about the titled animal. Once more, a young woman mourning the death of her father heads north, to understand what fueled his environmental activism. In an Alaskan bar, she meets an oil driller and a charismatic Silicon Valley technocrat, whose new technology could help oil companies extract more oil from beneath the not-so-permafrost. Their airborne odyssey onto the ice poses pointed questions about their survival, and ours.

Untitled Elegy Play | The Process Series, Swain Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill | Oct. 12-13

In Boccaccio’s The Decameron, 10 people tell 100 stories while seeking shelter from the plague. After studying it, playwright Andrea Stolowitz and her team interviewed people across varying social strata about their experiences during the first parts of the pandemic. As I began to read the script, I was disturbed at how much I’d already forgotten about the particulars: how alien and remote the isolation of that time already seemed. Reason enough to be reminded, in a work whose disarmingly direct address—from witnesses, ranging from an astronaut and a funeral director to a “mermaid” at a tourist trap—reminds me of The Laramie Project.

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 | Theatre Raleigh, Raleigh | Oct. 26–Nov. 6

With this production, Theatre Raleigh punches above its weight once again. Who else in the region would have the guts to take on a raucous, nimble, and immersive Broadway musical theater adaptation … of a 70-page section from Tolstoy’s War and Peace?

Bobbi Jene Smith: Broken Theater | Carolina Performing Arts, Memorial Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill | Nov. 11

What happens when the dancers, actors, and musicians show up—but their audience never does? In this musical, choreographic, theatrical, and film metaphor that explores artists’ lives during the extended (and potentially permanent) intermission of a pandemic, the masks fall away, only for other masks to appear. When they go, do we, or they, really want to see what’s underneath?

Monet Noelle Marshall: motherworld: a choreopoetic experience, NorthStar Church of the Arts, Durham Nov. 11–20, Various times

Ntozake Shange coined the word “choreopoem” to describe the famous staged fusion of dance, music, poetry, and theater in her theater piece for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, some 45 years before the show’s revival this year on Broadway. In her new stage adaptation of Durham poet Destiny Hemphill’s stunning forthcoming poetry collection, The Motherworld Devotions, auteur-director Monet Noelle Marshall and her performers craft a choreographic, musical, and spoken ritual, deeply grounded in earth and water, in old and even older faith ways and religions, and in Hemphill’s luminous language. Witness the invocation.

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