Years ago, theatre in the warm months meant bad summer stock and countless productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream. No longer. In the mood for Greek tragedy? A Pinter play? Then stay in town, where you can enjoy those along with two kick-ass theatre festivals - SummerWorks and the Fringe - and lots of the Bard.
This is the August that SummerWorks goes all-juried. A wise move, since partial jurying during the past few years has upped the fest's quality. This year's 13th-anniversary lineup includes works by A. Shay Hahn, Kate Lynch, Laurie Fyffe, Stan Rogal, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Alex Poch-Goldin, Araxi Arslanian, Peter Reitzel, Anna Chatterton, Evalyn Parry, Chris Leavins, Theatre Skam and bluemouth inc. Opens August 7 and runs to August 17 at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst), Artword Theatre (75 Portland) and several off-site locations. 416-410-1048.
We all hoped, after its smash Fringe run last summer, that Top Gun! The Musical would get another clip of cartridges. It has. The Denis McGrath/Scott White parody of that Tom Cruise flick and various musical-theatre chestnuts returns with the same artistic team - director Colin Viebrock and performers Drew Carnwath, Dmitry Chepovetsky, David Collins, Steven Gallagher, Alison Lawrence, Racheal McCaig and Mary Francis Moore. Opens June 5 and runs to June 22 at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). 416-504-9971.
Maternal devotion cuts a little too close to the bone in Phèdre. In Jean Racine's treatment of the Greek tragedy, the title character develops a more than motherly love for her stepson Hippolytus. Soulpepper stages the show in Ted Hughes's verse translation, with Daniel Brooks directing the majestic Nancy Palk in the title role and a strong cast that includes Diego Matamoros, Jonathan Watton, William Webster, Kate Hennig and Yanna McIntosh. Previews begin July 11, opens July 18 and runs to August 16 at the du Maurier Theatre Centre (231 Queen's Quay West). 416-973-4000.
One of Harold Pinter's subtlest works is No Man's Land, written for great Brit stage performers Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud. In the Soulpepper staging, directed by Albert Schultz, the roles are taken by Canadians William Hutt and Peter Donat. In the piece, a blend of past and present, two men face each other over drinks and go through a charade - or is it reality? - of having known each other. Previews from July 3, opens July 10 and runs to August 23 at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queen's Quay West). 416-973-4000.
For its 21st season, The Dream In High Park returns to one of the Bard's best comedies, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, in which cross-dressing thwarted loves and delicious clowning figure prominently. David Storch directs a cast that includes David Collins, Michael Spence, Sanjay Talwar, Michael Spencer-Davis, Jovanni Sy, Zainab Musa and Chapelle Jaffe. Previews begin July 1, opens July 3 and runs to August 31. High Park Amphitheatre. 416-367-1652 ext 500.
When you're a teenager, you never seem to stop growing. This year's 15th annual Fringe of Toronto expands to 125 theatre companies performing more than 900 shows in 18-plus venues. Look for works by up-and-comers as well as the established T.J. Dawe, Lisa Merchant, Ellen-Ray Hennessy, Sean Dixon, Chris Abraham and Paul Gibson, who won the fest's new-play contest. Opens July 2 and runs to July 13 at various venues. 416-966-1062.
The duelling is verbal rather than physical in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, and since the sparring Beatrice and Benedick are two of Shakespeare's wittiest characters, they draw plenty of audience laughs instead of blood. There's a happy ending to this romantic comedy, for the two are tricked - or are they? - into loving each other. Michael Waller directs Shakespeare in the Rough's production, with Richard Alan Campbell, Sharmilla Dey, Tracey Ferencz, Jeff Gruich and Michelle Polak in the cast. Previews from July 31, opens August 2 and runs to September 1 in Withrow Park (south of Danforth, between Carlaw and Logan). 416-536-0916.
Da Kink In My Hair, a success at the 2001 Fringe, delighted audiences with its braided tales of women who frequent the hairdressing salon of a talkative West Indian stylist. Played by writer Trey Anthony, the proprietor coaxes stories both comic and serious from the women who come into her shop. The cast, directed by Weyni Mengesha, includes Ngozi Paul, Ordena Stephens and d'bi.young. The Plaitform Entertainment and Theatre Passe Muraille production previews June 10, opens June 12 and runs to June 29 in the Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson). 416-504-7529. theatre Now critics' picks