Summer theater highlights, from Kenneth Branagh to Michael Shannon

Kenneth Branagh as the title character in "Macbeth" Kenneth Branagh as the title character in "Macbeth" at the Manchester International Festival in 2013. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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THE KILLER (in previews, opens Thursday). Theatre for a New Audience, an institution far more fascinating than its name, winds up its first season in its dazzling new Brooklyn playhouse, the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, with the first major production in 54 years of Eugene Ionesco's 1957 absurd tragicomedy. Michael Shannon, creepily beloved in "Boardwalk Empire" and also much admired onstage, stars as the everyman who discovers his utopia, then finds a serial killer in it. Darko Tresnjak ("A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder") directs a new translation by critic Michael Feingold. Tickets are $60-$85. 866-811-4111, tfana.org

EUGENE ONEGIN (Thursday through next Sunday). The second annual Cherry Orchard Festival, which brought John Malkovich as Casanova last spring, introduces the U.S. premiere of a modern interpretation of Pushkin's iconic drama by the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia. The production, in Russian with English subtitles, includes 45 actors and a score including Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Russian folk songs. Tickets are $35-$150 at New York City Center, 131 W. 55th St. 212-581- 1212, cherryorchardfestival.org

AYCKBOURN ENSEMBLE (Thursday-June 29) Playwright Alan Ayckbourn directs three world premieres of his plays -- "Arrivals & Departures," "Time of My Life" and "Farcicals" -- in repertory as part of the Brits Off-Broadway series at the tiny 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St. Tickets are $50-$70. 212-279-4200, 59e59.org

JUST JIM DALE (in previews, opens June 3). This musical memoir by the multitalented showman ranges from his childhood in the British music hall, his many Broadway star turns and his experience taping all seven Harry Potter audio books. Richard Maltby Jr. directs the production at the Roundabout Theatre's Off-Broadway venue, the Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St. Tickets are $79. 212-719-1300, roundabouttheatre.org

MACBETH (previews begin Saturday, opens June 5). It is hard to believe, but Kenneth Branagh has never performed Shakespeare live in New York. But here he comes now as the tormented, ambitious antihero in a production he codirected with Rob Ashford for a sold-out run at the Manchester International Festival. The visit, through June 22, takes place at the historic and gorgeous drill hall of the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Ave., where theatergoers are promised the sensation of being on the sidelines of the battles. Except for the June 5 benefit, tickets are $45-$350. 212-933-5812, armoryonpark.org

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (previews begin June 3, opens June 16). The Public Theater kicks off its 52nd season of free Shakespeare in Central Park with Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater as the warring Beatrice and Benedick. Jack O'Brien directs. The summer continues with John Lithgow and Annette Bening in director Daniel Sullivan's "King Lear," beginning previews July 22, opening Aug. 5. Check publictheater.org for information on free tickets.

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THE WHO & THE WHAT (previews begin Saturday, opens June 16). Ayad Akhtar, whose "Disgraced" won the Pulitzer Prize after its New York premiere in Lincoln Center Theater's tiny Clare Tow Theater, returns with this play about an outspoken woman whose book threatens her Islamic family. Kimberly Senior, who staged "Disgraced," again directs. Tickets, as always in this special theater, are $20. 212-239-6200, lct.org

WHEN WE WERE YOUNG AND UNAFRAID (in previews, opens June 17). Cherry Jones, fresh off her Tony-nominated performance in the acclaimed revival of "The Glass Menagerie," returns to Off-Broadway for Sarah Treem's new play about a woman who turns her B&B into a sanctuary for needy women in the early '70s. Pam MacKinnon, who won last season's Tony for best director of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," stages the world premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage I, 55th Street east of Seventh Avenue. Tickets are $89. 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org

HOLLER IF YA HEAR ME (previews begin June 2, opens June 19). The music of the late rap icon Tupac Shakur is the inspiration and background for this new Broadway musical about childhood friends in a Midwestern inner city. Kenny Leon ("A Raisin in the Sun") directs at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway. Tickets are $59-$139. 877-250- 2929, hollerifyahearme.com

THE OLD WOMAN (June 22-29). Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov would seem to be the ideal pair for a surreal vaudeville directed and designed by Robert Wilson and presented at BAM's Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette St., Brooklyn. The story, said to be about two sides of the same corkscrew brain and a houseguest, is based on recently rediscovered writings by Russian avant-garde author Daniil Khams. Tickets are $35-$125. 718-636-4100, bam.org

ENCORES! OFF-CENTER (June25-July 19). Last summer's triumphant experiment with semi-staged revivals of seminal Off-Broadway musicals returns, again with Jeanine Tesori ("Violet," "Fun Home") as artistic director. The season begins June 25-28 with "tick, tick ... BOOM!," which the late Jonathan Larson wrote before "Rent," starring Lin-Manuel Miranda and Karen Olivo, followed by one performance of Randy Newman as the devil in a New York concert premiere of his own elusive musical, "Faust," July 1. It closes with "Pump Boys and Dinettes," July 16-19. All are at New York City Center, 131 W. 55th St. Tickets are $25-$150. 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org

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LINCOLN CENTER FESTIVAL (July 7-27, then Aug. 6-16). The centerpiece of this summer's unusually spread-out international festival is the Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera in full-length evenings July 12-27. But things officially begin July 7 with the Kabuki staging of a 19th-century ghost story and include a premiere by the Houston Grand Opera. Then, for the first time, the festival extends into August and moves to New York City Center for the Sydney Theatre's production of Jean Genet's "The Maids," starring Cate Blanchett and Isabel Huppert. For a calendar of events, locations and prices, Visit lincolncenterfestival.org

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (begins Aug. 5, Madison Square Garden). According to its publicity, the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice '70s popera has been "re-imagined for the 21st century as an arena rock spectacular." The cast Includes John (formerly Johnny Rotten) Lydon as King Herod and Michelle Williams from Destiny's Child as Mary Magdalene. Tickets are $50-$255, ticketmaster.com

... and keep in mind

WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER (in previews, opens June 5). A black sanitation worker, an East Indian shopkeeper and her transgender brother talk about more than global warming on a warm January day in Cori Thomas' new play at the Ensemble Studio Theatre.

FLY BY NIGHT: A NEW MUSICAL (in previews, opens June 10). Strange things happen during the blackout of 1965, when the lonely life of a sandwich-maker collides with two sisters in this new drama at Playwrights Horizons.

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OUR NEW GIRL (previews begin Wednesday, opens June 10). The American premiere of Nancy Harris' serious comedy about a seemingly perfect couple and an unsettling new nanny is at the Atlantic Theater's Stage 2.

THE VILLAGE BIKE (in previews, opens June 10). Greta Gerwig stars in Penlope Skinner's comedy about the journey of a pregnant woman at MCC Theater.

SEX WITH STRANGERS (begins previews July 8). David Schwimmer directs Laura Eason's serious comedy about a blogger and a novelist, not to mention infinite relationship possibilities, at Second Stage.

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY (begins previews July 10). Stephen Adly Guirgis (author of Broadway's beguiling but unprintable "The With the Hat") explores the relationship of a widower and his ex-con son as they try to hang on to a rent-stabilized apartment, at the Atlantic Theater.

PIECE OF MY HEART (begins previews June 25, opens July 21). Bert Berns, described by publicity as the most famous composer we've never heard of, gets his own jukebox musical of songs from 1960 to 1967 at the Pershing Square Signature Center.

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MALA HIERBA (begins previews July14, opens July 24). The Second Stage's adventurous Uptown Series continues with Tanya Saracho's play about a conflicted trophy wife in Texas at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre.

AND I AND SILENCE (begins previews Aug. 5). Challenging playwright Naomi Wallace explores the lives of two imprisoned teenagers, one black and one white, at the Pershing Square Signature Center.

BOOTYCANDY (previews begin Aug.22). Robert O'Hara's new play at Playwrights Horizons is an anthology of sketches about growing up black and gay in New York.

THE FATAL WEAKNESS (previews begin Aug. 19). The Mint Theater Company, specialists in discovering interesting lost plays, has found George Kelly's grown-up comedy about the highs and lows of long married life.

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