Shakespeare with puppets, a legendary director still breaking ground in his 80s, and a couple of Pulitzer Prize-winning dramas are just some of the highlights of the spring theater season. As for new work, there's a brand new play by one of America's rising playwriting talents. But even the classics are being served in novel ways and the prospect of Annette Bening performing monologues by Ruth Draper has all the charge of a world premiere.
MARCH 18-APRIL 13
'A Song at Twilight'
This late work by Noël Coward is in the capable hands of director Art Manke, who has been shining a spotlight on the lesser-known reaches of the Coward canon. Manke's production of "Fallen Angels" at the Playhouse last year was a farcical treat. "Song," which boldly deals with discreet matters of love and sexual identity, is a more somber affair. The protagonist, a successful writer forced to confront his past, is said to be based on Somerset Maugham, though the playwright himself was familiar with this terrain. As we learned from the Antaeus Company's superb 2011 production of "Peace in Our Time," there's more to Coward than champagne and bons mots.
The Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, $24-$64, http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org or (626) 356-7529
MARCH 28-APRIL 27
Samuel D. Hunter may just be the hardest working playwright in the American theater today. In the last two years, "A Bright New Boise," "The Whale" and "The Few" have appeared in Southern California, sensitively probing the culture of the modern-day American West. His latest effort, set in a nursing home in northern Idaho that's about to shut down, revolves around the crisis that ensues when a 91-year-old Alzheimer's patient wanders off into a blizzard. The search for meaning in a culture of neglect — a perennial theme in Hunter's work — takes on a new guise in this world premiere.
South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, $22-$72, (714) 708-5555 or http://www.scr.org
'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
This British import, a collaboration between Bristol Old Vic and Handspring Puppet Company, brings playful visual splendor to Shakespeare's puckishly surreal romantic comedy. The production casts animate and inanimate actors side by side, making it appropriately difficult to distinguish fact from fantasy in the enchanted Athenian woods in which the characters fight and frolic. Handspring's contribution to "War Horse" was integral to that production's global success, and it wouldn't surprise me if Shakespeare's imagination takes the company's innovative puppetry to new heights.
The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St. Santa Monica, $53-$110, http://www.thebroadstage.com or (310) 434-3200
APRIL 8-MAY 18
'Ruth Draper's Monologues'
Actor, storyteller, character psychologist and social satirist, Ruth Draper was a monologuist who helped refine the dramatic solo form. Considered one of the greatest performers of the first half of the 20th century, she wrote her own material, maintaining a free hand with her extraordinary powers of improvisation. In this bill of character sketches by Draper, Annette Bening, a protean actress herself, pays homage to a talent who helped inspire artists as diverse as Lily Tomlin, John Lithgow and Tom Waits.
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., L.A., $37-$77, (310) 208-5454 or http://www.geffenplayhouse.com
Peter Brook. The name of this justly renowned director alone should provide sufficient incentive to see this Théâtre Des Bouffes Du Nord offering, created by Brook, his long-standing collaborator Marie-Héléne Estienne and composer Franck Krawczyk. A music-filled adaptation of a story of marital infidelity and revenge by South African writer Can Themba, the production is sure to showcase the rich and resonant minimalism of Brook's stagecraft
Freud Playhouse, UCLA campus, L.A., $30-$65, http://www.cap.ucla.edu or (310) 825-2101
APRIL 12-May 11
'Water by the Spoonful'
Quiara Alegría Hudes' 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama finally has its Southern California premiere. The second play in a trilogy of works about an Iraq war veteran's reentry into society, "Water" explores the subject of trauma, domestic as well as combat, from communal perspectives. For Hudes' battle-weary characters, the families they improvise are every bit as important as the families they were born into. A tender, humane play in which comedy and tragedy entwine just as naturally as they do in our off-stage lives.
The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego, tickets start at $29, http://www.theoldglobe.org or (619) 234-5623
APRIL 19-JUNE 15
'A Delicate Balance'
One of Edward Albee's finest plays, this portrait of the precarious stability of family life demonstrates that existence, even for well-heeled, martini-sipping suburbanites, is no sturdier than a house of cards. Robin Larsen, who directed the superb 2011 Rogue Machine production of "Blackbird," stages this revival of a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama that offers mature actors a feast of brilliant barbs and tragicomic sentiment.