Hark! The holiday season begins. Blink and it will be Thanksgiving. Drink and it will be a new year. Between the requisite shopping, cooking, stressing and kvetching, be sure to make room in your schedule for some diversion. Upcoming local plays offer ample ways to delight and distract you. Sit back and relax, letting dramas about familial dysfunction put your own clan in perspective. Laugh as political comedies take the edge off this election cycle. Marvel at how murder so rarely resolves anything, onstage or off. With any luck, a few tickets in, you’ll find yourself brimming with good cheer.
Bombs away at Brown University, as the undergrads take on The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer (November 3-13. Stuart Theatre, 75 Waterman Street. 863-2838, Brown.edu/tickets). Carson Kreitzer’s award-winning play follows the famous physicist from his development of nuclear weapons to his difficulty dealing with the aftermath. Spoiler alert: this can’t end well. Next, the students dive deeper into stories of destruction with Hecuba (December 1-4. Leeds Theatre, 83 Waterman Street). Playwright Marina Carr’s modern twist on the Ancient Greek tragedy reveals why the titular queen so richly deserves a second look.
Enjoy dinner, a show and a heaping serving of humor with Murder on Us’s The Deadly Christmas Carol (November 19-December 17. Bravo Brasserie, 123 Empire Street. 612-5013, MurderOnUs.com). Formerly based at the restaurant Barnsider’s (R.I.P.), the troupe celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, making it one of the longest running dinner theater companies in the country. Its latest murder mystery spoofs A Christmas Carol. Whoever discovers the killer first wins a free ticket to the next show.
Keep the election fervor funny with Elemental Theatre Collective’s Donald, Ted, and Marco (Now through November 8. AS220’s Black Box, 95 Empire Street. 831-9327, AS220.org). This original one-act by local playwright Dave Rabinow considers the question of how certain republican presidential hopefuls might react if trapped in a pocket dimension. Under the direction of Casey Seymour Kim, a talented, all-female cast supplies the surprising answer. The run includes an “Election Night Spectacular” on the AS220 Main Stage (115 Empire Street), complete with live streaming as the returns come in. Depending on the outcome, the idea of relocating to outer space could seem increasingly appealing. Embrace it with Counter-Productions Theatre Company’s riff on a retro sci-fi radio series, The Final Voyage of X Minus One, playing at AS220’s Black Box later in the month (November 11-20).
Remember when political leaders did the polka? Or, at least, when a handsome king of Siam did so once? Revisit that magical time with one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most beautiful musicals, The King and I (Now through November 6. Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC), 220 Weybosset Street. 421-2787, PPACRI.org). The National Tour of the Tony Award-winning Lincoln Center Theater production kicks off here, with Broadway stars Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in the leads. While some of its plot points have aged better than others, the show has the power to transport you just the same. After drying your eyes, return to PPAC for a newer Tony Award winner called A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (December 6-11). Lively songs, loony characters and bang-up British accents make for a jolly good comic combination.
When the change of season lends itself to reflection, wend your way over to the Brown/Trinity M.F.A. Program’s presentation of The Winter’s Tale (November 3-6. Pell Chafee Performance Center, 87 Empire Street. 351-4242, TrinityRep.com). Shakespeare’s haunting, dreamy story explores themes of death and rebirth, betrayal and forgiveness, loss and love – plus, there’s a bear. You can always count on the Brown/Trinity graduate students to put on an innovative and highly spirited show, at a price affordable enough to bring everyone you know.
If you think the family in The Winter’s Tale has problems, prepare yourself for the folks in Appropriate (Now through November 6. Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington Street. 351-4242, TrinityRep.com). Penned by contemporary playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a 2016 MacArthur Fellow (think “Genius Grant”), Appropriate examines a Southern family with a terrible secret. The play nods to works by Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams while maintaining its own signature voice, wit and razor sharp focus – making it a must-see. Afterwards, Trinity brings back its beloved, timeless tale of charity and figgy pudding, A Christmas Carol (November 5-December 31). While the Scrooges of the world may multiply, it’s a comfort to know that Trinity redeems at least one of them every year.
During times of seasonal stress, the urge to curse could be considered a reasonable human response. But, do your loved ones a favor by attending a David Mamet play instead. It just so happens that you can catch American Buffalo at the Gamm this very month (November 17-December 18. Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange Street, Pawtucket. 723-4266, GammTheatre.org). Helmed by Trinity Rep’s Associate Artistic Director Tyler Dobrowsky, the contemporary classic Buffalo stars Fred Sullivan, Jr., Tony Estrella and Marc Dante Mancini as three cussing crooks in a pawnshop, scheming to steal a rare coin. In the hands of such powerhouse actors, the profanity-laced script will soar – and the messages within it will sound clearly, too.
If wrangling relatives starts to rankle, hightail it to the Wilbury Theatre Group’s production of Straight White Men (November 17-December 24. 393 Broad Street. 400-7100, TheWilburyGroup.org). Watch and learn as a father and his three grown sons wrestle with race, identity, privilege and each other in this provocative play by Young Jean Lee, directed by Vince Petronio. For a counterpoint, it’s playing in repertory with Di and Viv and Rose (November 17-December 24), a funny play by Amelia Bulmore, directed by Kate Kataja. In Di and Viv and Rose, the three female characters wrestle as well – primarily with the challenges of change and its effects on friendship. Expect to leave both shows with lots to discuss.
Now, death tends to be an unwelcome guest at holiday parties. Any time, really. But he gets the chance to take a human form, look dapper and feel festive in The Players’ rendition of The Christmas Spirit (December 2-11. Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit Street. 273-0590, PlayersRI.org). Written by Frederick Stroppel, the bittersweet romantic comedy takes its cues from the plot of a 1934 Paramount Pictures film, Death Takes a Holiday (which also served as inspiration for Universal Studios’s 1998 film, Meet Joe Black, among others). Joan Dillenback directs this crowd pleaser in the Players’ lovely, historic theater. Bring a date (a living one, preferably).
There. Feel better yet? Happy holidays!