An American classic staged by a veteran actor, a musical farce to delight Anglophiles, and a reworking of a landmark 19th century drama are just a few of the more promising theater offerings this season. Predicting which will become a hit is always a crapshoot. For those placing bets, the Old Globe's offering has better than even odds, but on paper all of these shows are worth a gamble.
'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder'
In this musical comedy written by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, the outcast of the aristocratic D'Ysquith family learns that he's ninth in line to inherit a dukedom, meaning he's a measly eight murders away from easy street. Set in Edwardian England, this music hall-inspired comedy, directed by Darko Tresnjak, was a smash at Hartford Stage, and Broadway is no doubt in the show's sights. Jefferson Mays, the Tony-winning star of "I Am My Own Wife," portrays each of the eight heirs who stand in the way of the ruthless Monty Navarro (played by Ken Barnett), and if there's any actor who can make us laugh that many times dropping dead onstage it's the infinitely various Mays.
The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego. March 13-April 14. Tickets start at $39. http://www.theoldglobe.org
Weighing in at 600 pounds, Charlie, the heavyweight protagonist of Samuel D. Hunter's play, is committing suicide by meatball heroes and doughnuts. Ravenously mourning the loss of his lover, whose death he attributes to religious homophobia, Charlie, an online writing teacher, tries to establish some kind of relationship with his estranged and extremely antagonistic daughter before his inevitable end. But living in a self-created prison of flesh, he's having trouble just shifting his bulk around his apartment. Martin Benson directs this drama about the struggle for meaning in an America in which so many are trying to fill themselves up with whatever's closest at hand.
South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. March 16-31. $20-$70. http://www.scr.org.
'Joe Turner's Come and Gone'
Phylicia Rashad directs the Taper revival of the play that would get my vote as August Wilson's masterpiece. Rashad is no stranger to Wilson, having received a Tony nomination for her performance in "Gem of the Ocean." "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" is the next in line of the Wilson 10-play cycle, set in the second decade of the 20th century, as the great migration of African Americans to the north is underway. Best known for her role on "The Cosby Show," Rashad has been building her résumé as a stage director. Her Ebony Repertory Theatre production of "A Raisin in the Sun," reprised at the Kirk Douglas Theatre last year, was a solid effort. The Wilson is a steeper challenge, but Rashad is sure to bring a wealth of acting wisdom to the job.
Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles Music Center. May 8-June 9. $20-$70. http://www.centertheatregroup.org
It was probably only a matter of time before Neil LaBute, the American theater's perennial bad boy, would tackle Strindberg's indelible tragedy. Strindberg, the mad dyspeptic genius of the 19th century stage, is infamous for his misogyny, though it's probably his misanthropy that is his blackest mark. He also happens to be one of the forefathers of modern drama, a theatrical revolutionist with a ferociously keen understanding of human behavior at its worst. A match, it would seem, that was made if not in heaven then in a mutually hospitable locale for LaBute, who has set his adaptation in Jazz Age Long Island just before the 1929 stock market crash. Jo Bonney directs a cast headed by Lily Rabe in the title role of the unstable aristocrat whose fateful tryst with her ambitious servant has drastic upstairs, downstairs consequences.
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., L.A. May 1-June 2. $59-$74. http://www.geffenplayhouse.com
'Villa' and 'Discurso'
Chilean playwright and director Guillermo Calderón returns to REDCAT, where his earlier works "Neva" and "Diciembre" were presented to hallucinatory effect. This latest offering is a double bill combining traumatic political history and lyrical stagecraft. Performed in Spanish with English subtitles, these works continue REDCAT's commitment to showcasing global performance that prizes intimacy as much as innovation.
REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A. April 25-28, $20-$25. http://www.redcat.org