Credit: Honest Pint Theatre Company

Perhaps it’s just a trick of the senses, but doesn’t the cold make the stars look sharper? Orion, Taurus, Canis Major, and the Quadrantids—the yearly meteor shower whose late-night pyrotechnics hit their peak this week—somehow all seem brighter in the chill of a winter’s sky.

The extended nights of the hibernal season are also auspicious for a different sort of stargazing: in the region’s theaters. There, constellations of stage artists will enact epic stories through the winter months, unfolding nightly, like the ancient sidereal ones overhead. Here are a few we’ll be tracking.

Every few years, someone takes on the old theatrical dare: take the number of folks you’d need for a good basketball game and stage a Shakespeare play with them. A cast of five astonished audiences when the Chapel Hill–based Actors from the London Stage performed Romeo & Juliet and Twelfth Night in the ’90s before Burning Coal attempted its (Three Man) Tempest in 2013. Sweet Tea Shakespeare splits the difference in its latest installment of the Henriad cycle, in a one-week run with a talented quartet including Dustin Britt, Jed Dixon, Teal Lepley, and Laura Parker as the monarch. Mia Self directs.

The region has seen a female Hamlet before—an august Mary Rowland made a memorable turn as the brooding prince in an independent Raleigh production in the 1990s. But given her recent triumphs in film and on stage, buzz has been circulating for months about actor Tia James’s upcoming take on the Dane in Vivienne Benesch’s January production at PlayMakers.

The theatrical challenge: stage a work whose central character is an adult African elephant—16 feet tall, just under 400 pounds—and its ghost, as it follows its tusks, which it was killed for, across a continent and beyond. Adventurous director Ana Radulescu, no stranger to the avant-garde, takes on Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage’s drama Mlima’s Tale, as a spectral pachyderm walks in search of justice among denizens of the illegal ivory trade, from poachers and police to bureaucrats, businessmen, artisans, and finally you, the consumer.

Justice also figures in Andalusian poet and playwright Federico García Lorca’s rarely staged Blood Wedding. This Spanish folk drama is steeped in Duende: the deadly passion sung of by the cantaores, in which the deepest love demands the deepest risk. Celebrated veteran director Rachel Klem returns to probe the lyrical beauty and treacheries that lace a multigenerational tale of love in a culture where honor demands a debt of blood.

Credit: Honest Pint Theatre Company

Those familiar underpinnings of love, misguided family honor, and blood also play out as choreographer Septime Webre plunges Romeo and Juliet into the cultural conflicts of Hong Kong in the 1960s. Warring families square off in expertly choreographed kung fu street fights to the famous Prokofiev soundtrack, when Carolina Performing Arts presents them at Memorial Hall.

Spectacle is key as Duke Performances brings two imaginative dance troublemakers to Page Auditorium in late January. Choreographer Moses Pendleton broke away from the modern dance institution of Pilobolus in 1980 to pursue his own muse in longer-form, evening-length works including a suite based on the Peter Gabriel soundtrack to the film Passion. In Alice, he takes his trademark multimedia mélange of surreal acrobatics, unconventional dance, and trippy costumery, props, and film down the rabbit hole in a work inspired by Lewis Carroll—and a certain song by Jefferson Airplane.

The following week, a subversive group of patrons pursuing a different aesthetic agenda hijack and upgrade a monotonous monochrome minimalist exhibition in Quebec-based Machine de Cirque’s La Galerie, transforming the space and the night into a celebration of color, life, and kinetic art.

“Without a common logic, it’s every man for himself and fuck your neighbor as you would expect your neighbor to fuck unto you.” Honest Pint Theatre first turned on the taps in 2013 with this gritty, probing police procedural, which our INDY Week five-star review called “a dirty, unsafe urban roller coaster” of a show. Ryan Brock and company cofounder David Henderson return as Denny and Joey, lifelong friends and veteran Chicago cops, who are being grilled by Internal Affairs after a blown call in the field leaves blood on the ground and a potential victim in the hands of a serial killer. As the jagged rhythms of playwright Keith Huff’s muscular prose trace out differing versions of what happened, the moral compasses of two deeply flawed centurions leave us asking who the bad guys are, and what exactly is the law once you get it on the street?

Since interfaith initiatives are rare on the regional stage, it got our attention to learn that a Jewish cultural center, a Baptist church, and an independent Raleigh-based troupe best known for children’s theater were teaming up for a production of My Name Is Asher Lev. Chaim Potok’s best-selling 1973 novel follows the childhood and life of the title character in a Hasidic Jewish family in New York in the 1950s. His artistic abilities, and his growing awareness of the stressors that faith and relationships place on the members of his family, ultimately invoke ageless conflicts between religion, art, tradition, individualism, and identity.

Credit: Honest Pint Theatre Company

Through artful illusions and wizardly set design and stagecraft, the rooms of a two-story house suddenly appear, one by one, on an originally empty stage in the early parts of Geoff Sobelle’s Home. But the real magic takes place afterward. A group of performers combine theater and dance to probe the interiority of the everyday lives of those who live in the house: family members who have to share the single bathroom, kitchen, and dining room before seeking sleep at night. But as the house ages and families move in and out, Sobelle meditates on the notion of living space: the comfort, support, nurturing, and protection of the spaces that let us live, and the ways in which family and friends finally turn the rooms here into a home.

Count on DPAC to bring on the Broadway bus-and-truckers, with five shows over the next two months. After Tina: The Tina Turner Musical plays January 3-8, we’ll see the 9/11 drama Come from Away (Jan. 18-22), Andrew Lloyd Webber’s evergreen Cats (Jan. 31–Feb. 5), and The Book of Mormon (Feb. 14-19) before Riverdance (Feb. 24-26) and the Alanis Morissette songbook musical Jagged Little Pill (Feb. 28–Mar. 5).

Elsewhere among the indies, North Carolina Theatre revives the musical Dreamgirls at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium (Feb. 7-12), Justice Theater Project stages The Best of Enemies (Feb. 10-26), and Switchyard Theatre takes Noel Coward out for a spin in Present Laughter at Durham’s PSI Theatre (Feb. 23-Mar. 5). On the student circuit, UNC’s Pauper Players pays RENT (Jan. 20-22) before Meredith College makes a splash with Carrie: The Musical (Feb. 22-26). 

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