Febuary. Febrary. Februayr. February! It might seem like there’s nothing intuitive about a month with 28 (sometimes 29) days and an unpredictable number of Rs in its name. But once you find out what the Folger’s theater partners have onstage this month, seeing a show at a theater near you will be a no-brainer.
Start things off with a delightful virtual Midsummer from high schoolers around the Chicago area, or make your way to Brooklyn to catch Theatre for New Audience’s exciting new Merchant of Venice. It’s also Black History Month, and this February offers the chance to see 20th-century American classics by groundbreaking Black playwrights at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and The Old Globe. Meanwhile, Gamut Theatre Group’s Echoes of Voices of the Eighth explores Black history in the company’s hometown of Harrisburg, PA.
In Baltimore, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company presents A Raisin in The Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, through February 27. When an opportunity to escape their South Side Chicago apartment arises, a Black family comes to realize they all have different visions of the “American Dream.” So, whose dreams come true, and whose get deferred?
Students representing thirty high schools from across the Chicago region came together this month to create a virtual performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s fifth annual Chicago Shakespeare Slam. Throughout the fall, teams rehearsed at their schools and gathered (virtually) for a series of community- and skill-building workshops. Each team rehearsed, performed, and recorded its contribution to the SLAM community’s unique staging of Midsummer, inextricably bound to the students’ own stories as their lives continue to collide with history in the making. Watch their performances virtually now.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company continues August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom with performances until February 12. The influential American classic tells the story of acclaimed Blues singer Ma Rainey, a Black woman determined to maintain autonomy in life and art, as she joins her band for a fraught recording session in 1927 Chicago.
Gamut Theatre Group’s Echoes of Voices of the Eighth begins on February 11. It is a journey that transcends time to connect two African American teens from the same Harrisburg, PA neighborhood. This heartwarming, time-travelling story, 21st-century high schooler Kay finds her voice and value when she meets with Della, who lived a much different life in Harrisburg’s long-gone Eighth Ward over a hundred years ago. As different as the times they live in are, Kay and Della discover that they are connected in many ways. Echoes is inspired by true stories and history-makers who lived between 1850 and 1920 in the rich and vibrant Old Eighth Ward.
Shakespeare Notre Dame hosts Actors From The London Stage, the renowned five-actor touring group, returning to the United States with a new staging of Much Ado About Nothing on tour through March. The dynamic ensemble takes one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated and enduringly popular comedies to colleges and universities across the United States, with residencies at the United States Air Force Academy, Middlebury College, the University of North Alabama, and more.
Want to brush up your Shakespeare? Join San Francisco Shakespeare Festival for virtual workshops. Upcoming classes include a sonnet workshop (just in time for Valentine’s Day), a four-week scene study series for teens, and, in March, a monologue masterclass.
Two plays. Two directors. Nine Actors. Seattle Shakespeare Company’s Shakespeare: Drum and Colours, beginning February 15, is theatrical lightning in a bottle. In this rotating repertory, Hamlet and As You Like It are distilled to their essences in sizzling adaptations that focus on the actor’s art of storytelling peeled bare. This all-POC company is set to craft experiences that complement each other and yet add up to so much more than their individual parts.
The Merchant of Venice, directed by Arin Arbus and starring John Douglas Thompson as Shylock, is playing at Theatre for a New Audience through March 6. A co-production with the Shakespeare Theatre Company, the show comes to Washington, DC, starting March 22. The production is Arbus’s fifth with Thompson, whom Ben Brantley once called “one of the most commanding classical actors around.” Speaking with The New York Times, Thompson explains what he wanted to explore about Shylock:
“What is it that drives someone to say, ‘No more’?” Thompson asked. “How does one who has been discriminated against horribly and treated horribly, how does that person get agency for themselves in a world that refuses, wants to keep them as a second-class or no-class citizen?”
At San Diego’s The Old Globe, you can catch a thrilling new production of a too-often neglected American classic: Alice Childress’s 1955 Trouble in Mind, onstage through March 13. A leading Black actress and a multiracial cast rehearse a challenging new Broadway play set in the South. Backstage rivalries and showbiz egos cause excitement of their own, but artistic differences between the cast and the white director soon bubble to the surface, revealing the truths that American drama covers over and the ways in which even well-meaning people can harm others under the guise of helping. The New York Times recently called the play “a rich, unsettling play that lingers in one’s memory long after its conclusion.”
Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Gamut Theatre Collective, Shakespeare at Notre Dame, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Theatre for a New Audience, and The Old Globe are members of the Folger’s Theater Partnership Program.