Commercial theater from Long Island to London's West End - and certainly not excluding Broadway - often plays it safe. From jukebox musicals to revivals, from sitcom plays to Shakespeare's greatest hits - if it's summertime under the stars it must be "A Midsummer Night's Dream" - and, oh, let's not forget the ubiquitous "Grease" . . . .
OK, somebody has to take a chance. Often it's workshops and those fresh-faced kids who don't know any better. Yes, college students. College theater goes where commercial theater fears to tread. And even when colleges revisit classics, it's often in the spirit of discovery. And it's cheap to boot - usually $12 or less a ticket.
Here's a tour of what's coming up this semester across Long Island, where spring can't happen soon enough:
“The Laramie Project” followed up, dramatically, on the homophobic murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in 1998. It’s a narrative told through interviews with people in that college town. The “Project” also introduced us to the Westboro Baptist Church, whose founder, Fred Phelps, showed up in Laramie after Shepard’s death with crude signs, which are not censored in the show, stating that homosexuality offends God. Since then, Westboro has picketed military funerals and recently threatened a demonstration at the funeral of 9-year-old Christina Green, killed in the Tucson shooting.
WHEN "The Laramie Project," Feb. 15 to 20; "The Triangle Fire Project," April 7 to 17, "Cabaret," May 6 and 7
WHERE Adelphi University Performing Arts Center, 1 South Ave., Garden City
INFO aupac.adelphi.edu, 516-877-4000
Hofstra's annual Shakespeare Festival, its 62nd, is the second longest-running in the country (after the University of Oregon's). The drama department, boasting such alums as Francis Ford Copolla and Lainie Kazan, "has a good reputation in the city," says chairman David Henderson, giving students an edge in finding work. Royston Coppenger directs a one-evening version of Shakespeare's "Henry VI" trilogy, trimmed to a digestible 21/2 hours.
WHEN "The War of the Roses," a "Henry VI" trilogy, March 10 to 13 and 18 to 20; "Undeclared History" by Hofstra grad Isaac Rathbone, April 8 to 10 and 14 to 17
WHERE Adams Playhouse ("War of the Roses"), Black Box Theater("Undeclared"), Hempstead campus
The Post Theatre Company presents Stephen Adly Guirgis' "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," which poses the question: Was Judas the betrayer or the betrayed? We try not to get into politics or religion. So you decide.
WHEN March 4 to 13; first-year student showcase April 8 to 10
WHERE Little Theatre, Brookville campus
A musical and a drama, both Tony winners: first, the Kander-and-Ebb classic "Cabaret," followed by John Patrick Shanley's priest-nun moral standoff in "Doubt."
WHEN "Cabaret," March 17-20 and 23-27; "Doubt," April 28 to May 1 and May 5 to 8
WHERE Little Theatre, 1 Education Dr., Garden City
Suffolk County Community College
Intense best describes the work of Neil LaBute. "The Shape of Things" takes shape over the question of ethics in art and in life. It's followed by an original work as part of the theater training program, "The Icarus Project."
WHEN "Shape," March 17 to 27; "Icarus" April 28 to May 8
WHERE Shea Theatre, Ammerman Campus, Selden
"Extremities" - the late Farah Fawcett starred in the movie - highlights the inequities of jurisprudence that lead to a vigilante act and bonding between victim and attacker. It's followed by "I Hate Hamlet" and "The Producers." "We try to give students the tools to navigate the professional world" of theater arts, says drama department chair James Beneduce.
WHEN "Extremities," 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday; "I Hate Hamlet," March 17 to 20; "The Producers," April 14 to 17
WHERE Dix Hills Performing Arts Center, 305 N. Service Rd.
INFO dhpac.org, 631-656-2148
Changing its focus to concentrate on workshops and play development, Stony Brook presents a staged reading of Bertolt Brecht's "Galileo," the second annual student and faculty 10-minute play competition and the eighth annual John Gasser New Play Competition.
WHEN "Galileo," March 24; 10-minute plays, May 17; new play competition: date to be announced when finalists are selected
WHERE Various Stony Brook University venues
INFO stonybrook.edu/theatrearts, 631-632-7300
Offering a theater minor, the Patchogue branch presents student-community productions: "Vanities" - the trip from cheerleader to lady - followed by "Don't Tell Mother," as a librarian and her fiance entertain their mothers.
WHEN "Vanities," Feb. 25 to March 13; "Mother," April 29 to May 15
WHERE Clare Rose Playhouse, 155 W. Roe Blvd., Patchogue