Alcestis: Oct. 10 - Nov. 9
When copious amounts of television are making you feel like a zombie, trekking to Spring Green's American Players Theatre for a classical Greek tragedy is the perfect remedy. High-art performances can engage your brain in restorative ways, and seeing them onstage has a visceral impact most TV shows can't replicate. Other times, the zany zombies of Evil Dead: The Musical may be just what you need, particularly if you've been cooped up in a library, lecture hall or office cubicle.
Enter Isthmus' guide to fall theater and dance offerings. We've highlighted those that'll give your brain a workout and those that'll give it a joyride. There's also a "you decide" category for brains that appreciate ambiguity. Life's not all gods and goblins, after all. Visit isthmus.com/theguide for the latest list of shows.
UW Lathrop Hall, through Sept. 13
Jin-Wen Yu, a professor in UW-Madison's dance department, is a thoughtful and innovative dance-maker. For "In Tune" he turns to pop music for inspiration. As he explains it, "By pairing my contemporary aesthetic with recognizable music like Ozzy Osbourne's 'Crazy Train,' audiences will experience a dance concert that is theatrical... yet unexpected." Other things to look forward to are Yu's pas de deux "Un Bolero Azul" for Madison Ballet dancers Phillip Ollenburg and Shannon Quirk, and a visit from Canadian dancer, choreographer and musician Rob Kitsos.
American Players Theatre, Oct. 10-Nov. 9
American Players Theatre's staging of Alcestis, a play by Euripides translated by poet Ted Hughes, is culture at its best. First, the show is produced by a company known for high-quality presentations of classic material. (The Wall Street Journal even named the company's last Greek outing production of the year.) Second, this is the story of a queen, who decides to take the hit for her husband, who has put off death only to find that his number is up. A dying queen, the god Apollo, lyrical choral odes...how much higher can art get?
Bartell Theatre, Nov. 7-22
In 1895 the father of Oscar Wilde's lover called Wilde a "sodomite," and Wilde sued for libel. This suit and the events that followed led to Wilde being tried for "gross indecency." Using transcripts from his trials, personal correspondence, and material excerpted from interviews, Madison Theatre Guild's Gross Indecency tells the story of the scandals that surrounded the wildly witty writer. It's a moving retelling of Wilde's downfall, offering insight into attitudes surrounding class and sexuality in the Victorian age, many of which may still feel familiar today.
UW's Mitchell Theatre, Nov. 7-16
University Theatre brings Mary Zimmerman's innovative retelling of the world's most iconic journey to the stage. The Odyssey begins in the present day with a young woman struggling to understand Homer's classic tale. With the insight of a muse who stops in for a visit, she finds herself not just reading the story but becoming a part of it. Zimmerman has said that audience members don't need previous knowledge of The Odyssey to appreciate her version, so whether you loved or hated it in high school -- or skipped it altogether -- you should find this show approachable.
UW's Hemsley Theatre, Nov. 21-Dec. 7
In Ellen McLaughlin's take on Euripides' tragicomedy, Helen of Troy never went to Troy. She's waiting for husband Menelaus in an Egyptian hotel room, bored out of her mind. Visited by myriad mythical figures, including Athena, goddess of reason, Helen begins to understand the breadth of devastation caused by the war that was fought in her name. Cerebral yet accessible, University Theatre's production should give lovers of classical mythology new and perhaps unorthodox insight into the face that launched a thousand ships.
Overture Center's Playhouse, Dec. 5-14
Bless you, Four Seasons Theatre, for bringing Stephen Sondheim's oft-maligned, infrequently produced musical about presidential assassins to Overture Center. Assassins tells the stories of John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and a host of other miscreants who, as Sondheim predicted, nobody would want to see in a musical. As he investigates their experiences and motivations, he shines a light on their dark and complicated histories using era-specific musical styles.
Bartell Theatre, Dec. 5-20
Tired of A Christmas Carol? Strollers Theatre's The Lion in Winter is a great alternative for fans of historical holiday tales, especially medieval ones. Unfolding over the Christmas holiday in 1183, this play follows the fictionalized inner and outer lives of England's King Henry II and his family and holiday guests. Expect a mix of comedy and drama in this show, which explores a timeless theme: the ups and downs of family life.
Overture Hall, Dec. 13-27
Madison Ballet celebrates its 10th consecutive production of the high-art holiday classic this year, complete with gorgeous costumes, a jaw-dropping set and artistic director W. Earle Smith's lush, dramatic choreography. It's a chance to enjoy solos by some of the company's most talented dancers and marvel at the skills of its tiniest trainees. Like a dusting of December snow, Tchaikovsky's beloved score makes everything shimmer.
Playgrounds for the mind
Overture Center's Capitol Theater, through Sept. 14
Fans of Sam Raimi's 1981 movie -- and zombies in general -- will thrill to Evil Dead: The Musical, the only show with a designated "splatter zone" over the audience. The production, whose proponents have dubbed it "the next Rocky Horror Picture Show," follows five college kids who traipse into the woods and unknowingly release a bunch of demonic creatures. With songs like "All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Canadian Demons" and "Ode to an Accidental Stabbing," this show is the nadir of culture but the apex of cool.
Broom Street Theater, Sept. 12-Oct. 4
Local ensemble theater company Are We Delicious? presents a four-week fest with performances every Friday and Saturday. The concept is somewhat similar to Saturday Night Live. As in the famous sketch-comedy TV show, performers write comedic material over the course of a week, culminating in a variety show performed on the weekend. Eight playwrights will address four themes: elephant in the room (Sept. 12-13), noir (Sept. 19-20), privacy and surveillance (Sept. 26-27) and musical library (Oct. 3-4). Is your mouth watering yet?
UW's Hemsley Theatre, Sept. 19-28
Quirky characters abound in University Theatre's Greater Tuna, which is back for a second run after debuting over the summer. Based on a party skit inspired by a political cartoon, the play features more than 20 eccentric characters who live in fictitious Tuna, Texas, including a clueless radio DJ, Baptist "smut snatchers" and a crooked judge. In a fun and ambitious twist, two actors play all of the roles -- men, women, children and animals -- making this a hilarious yet insightful look at life in a small town where "the Lions Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies."
Overture Hall, Oct. 13
Finalists from the 11th season of the hit TV show are touring the country with original works and favorite pieces from the competition. Sure, the program can sometimes be a bit tacky, but it has made dance fans out of people who may never have been exposed to the art form otherwise. The dancers are also pretty amazing, considering that the show requires them to perform solidly in so many styles. For example, a recent "final four" included two tap dancers, Zack Everhart and Valerie Rockey, who more than held their own in genres ranging from Afro-jazz to hip-hop. And it's futile to deny the appeal and talent of Ricky Ubeda, who was crowned champ in the season finale earlier this month.
Bartell Theatre, Oct. 17-Nov. 1
The Baltimore Waltz is an Obie Award-winning satire about an elementary school teacher with ATD, Acquired Toilet Disease, a slightly veiled stand-in for AIDS. Along with her gay brother, she sets out on a European vacation, determined to sleep with as many men as possible before she dies. Reportedly inspired by the AIDS-related death of playwright Paula Vogel's brother, Strollers' production finishes with a surprise ending that adds poignancy and deepens the plot.
UW Memorial Union, Fredric March Play Circle, Nov. 21-22
Just when you can't get enough of reality TV shows that promise the "next top" something or other, there's Broadway's Next Hit Musical. The cast relies on audience suggestions to determine the name of the musical and to create the plot and songs. Has anyone ever suggested a musical about a reality show about a musical? Just wondering.
Overture Hall, Nov. 25-30
Skip Sunday school and take the family to Overture Center to see Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway classic. Using a wide range of music, from calypso to country, Joseph is a lively musical retelling of the biblical tale of Joseph and his coat of many colors. Though some of us may have been jaded by seeing too many high school versions of this show, it remains a beloved and colorful part of Broadway history.
Bartell Theatre, Dec. 5-20
Christina? What did I tell you about these hangers? I said... no... wire... hangers... EVAH! Yes, Christmas with the Crawfords deals with those Crawfords, Mommie Dearest Joan and I'm-not-gonna-take-it-anymore daughter Christina. The script is a homage to a radio show they performed together on Christmas Eve 1940, the goal of which no doubt was to present them as the perfect American family. History reveals it was actually one big horror show behind the scenes. StageQ camps it up in this production sure to beat A Christmas Carol or The Grinch for holiday ho-ho-hos.
UW Memorial Union, Sept. 12-13
Bandaloop's "vertical dance pioneers" perform on and over Memorial Union instead of in it during Madison World Music Festival. Based in Oakland, the company has presented site-specific works at Seattle's Space Needle and on a fjord in Norway, combining choreography, climbing and aerial arts to stun audiences. You'll see dancers swirl across the sides of buildings, spin on walls and windows, and elegantly dangle from great heights with grace and athleticism. All performances are free, and they're a great way to celebrate the opening of the newly renovated Wisconsin Union Theater.
Bartell Theatre, through Sept. 20
In the arts world and beyond, some of the most exciting, challenging and important work is being done by transgender people. Even within the LGBTQI community -- and the network of people who support them -- transgender people deal with prejudice and misunderstanding. Standards of Care illuminates these struggles by telling the story of a transgender man seeking reassignment surgery, his therapist and the therapist's child, who is grappling with his own emerging transgender identity. Kudos to StageQ for giving this important story center stage.
Mercury Lab, through Sept. 27
A down-on-his-luck insurance agent makes a dramatic move in Pepperdog Productions' Policyland. When Kevin Moorely rents a billboard to advertise "policies that are out of this world," he has no idea what he's in for. A look at the decline of ethical standards in society, this dark, slightly absurdist comedy is full of fascinating characters who'll make you shake your head and crack a smile.
Overture Center's Promenade Hall, Sept. 18-28
The Suitcase Dreams started with a prompt Theatre LILA artistic director Jessica Lanius gave to several playwrights: write about anything having to do with a journey, right down to the very suitcase you pack. The result was a series of vignettes about travel and transition written by several talented locals, including Broadway actress Karen Olivo (see Madison Fall Arts Preview 2014: Show tunes).
Bartell Theatre, Sept. 19-Oct. 11
If you're old enough to remember the 1980s, you'll recall On Golden Pond as a movie about a cranky old father (Norman), his wife (Ethel) and their fortysomething daughter (Chelsea) who comes back to visit the family lake house with her new boyfriend and his teenage son. The movie was based on the Tony Award-winning play, which Strollers Theatre presents this fall. Norman is still cranky. Ethel still loves listening to the loons. And Chelsea is forever trying to work out her daddy issues with Norman, who never quite gave her the love and recognition she craved.
Bartell Theatre, Sept. 26-Oct. 11
Yankee Dawg You Die wins this season's award for best title. It's a reference to a line Asian American actor Vincent Chang said time and again playing an evil "Jap" soldier in World War II films. In this play, Chang is confronted by a younger Asian American actor who criticizes him for pandering to Orientalism. Madison Theatre Guild's production also includes an appearance by the ultimate embodiment of camp, Godzilla.
Overture Hall, Oct. 7-12
Once brings the bittersweet love story and captivating music from the 2006 movie to the stage. A talented cast does double duty, providing all the show's songs in this story of an Irish street musician who falls in love with a Czech immigrant. The plot isn't complicated -- it's another twist on boy meets girl -- but in this show, it's all about the music. You'll definitely leave with the haunting, Grammy Award-winning tunes stuck in your head.
Overture Center's Playhouse, Nov. 6-23
The violent teenage loner is a familiar villain these days. Equally proverbial is the dysfunctional suburban family. Forward Theater Company's From Up Here shakes off the clichés and assumptions as it delves into the lives of these recognizable characters. Kenny Barrett has done something that's got everyone on edge, and now he has to apologize in front of his entire high school. His family members negotiate issues of their own while trying to understand and reconnect with each other after the incident. Funny and dark, this play reexamines the American family and unveils the hidden side of a hot-button issue.
Bartell Theatre, Nov. 7-22
Mercury Players Theatre's Widescreen is an original satire written and directed by Ned O'Reilly. Set in a small hotel room in Wisconsin Rapids, the play promises lots of double entendres, some Wisco-style partying, corporate espionage and even fantasy baseball. From sharing hotel beds to navigating the boundaries of technology and social networking, Widescreen takes a smart and humorous look at what privacy means, both online and off.
Overture Center's Promenade Hall, Nov. 14-16
The mere mention of mimes can send a shiver down some people's spines. Mime Body Spirit calls upon dance stars, including former members of the Martha Graham Dance Company, to shatter stereotypes about the art form. In addition to presenting modern dance, Madison's Kanopy Dance Company joins forces with leaders in corporeal mime, which is a far cry from the antics of black-clad, white-faced performers who draw invisible boxes around themselves. Steve Wasson and Corinne Soum -- leaders of London's Theatre de L'Ange Fou and Spring Green's White Church Theatre Project -- worked with corporeal mime pioneer Etienne Decroux and will perform a duet based on Decroux's "La Meditation." Even if mime is not your thing, the chance to see many world-renowned performers on one stage is reason enough to attend.
Encore Studio for the Performing Arts, Dec. 5-20
The final week of the year is challenging for many people. Encore Studio, the professional theater company for people with disabilities, takes a heartfelt and humorous look at just how complicated the holiday season can be. In this original work by artistic director and resident playwright KelsyAnne Schoenhaar, Julian, a person with autism, navigates many changes in his world. His beloved grandmother, with whom he lives, is dying, so he's faced with the transition of leaving the home where he grew up. Despite its serious themes, The Last Week in December promises a fair amount of comedy, too.