Jay Whittaker in Shining City
(© Peter Wynn Thompson)
Jay Whittaker in Shining City
(© Peter Wynn Thompson)
Boston isn't subject to the early-May Tony cutoff date that inspires a frenzy of spring openings in New York. For the Norton Awards (the local equivalent), the deadline comes even sooner: March 31, preparatory to a May 12 ceremony. So this month sees a mini-flurry of eleventh-hour candidates.

One especially resplendent contender is Conor McPherson's Shining City on the Huntington Theatre mainstage (March 7-April 6) , directed by Robert Falls, who gave this story of a conflicted Dublin therapist such punch on Broadway in 2006. The well-credited cast comes by way of Chicago's Goodman Theatre, the Santo Loquasto sets from the New York original.

At its Calderwood Pavilion space at the Boston Center for the Arts, the Huntington introduces The Cry of the Reed (March 28-May 3), Sinan Unel's drama about a kidnapped journalist in Turkey who is allowed one phone call -- to her estranged mother, a devotee of the Sufi poet Rumi.

Alvin Epstein plays Prospero in the Actors' Shakespeare Project's The Tempest (March 13-April 13); the director/designer team of Patrick Swanson and David R. Gammons were responsible for the stirring Lear, also starring Epstein, that transferred to La MaMa last summer.

Appropriately for this season of all things Albee, Lyric Stage tackles his Three Tall Women (March 28-April 26) with Trinity Rep stalwart Anne Scurria, local light Paula Plum, and Liz Hayes representing three stages of womanhood.

All sorts of tours are buzzing in: Defending the Caveman at the Calderwood Pavilion (March 5-16); The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley (March 7-9) and the avidly awaited Avenue Q (March 11-23), sequentially at the Colonial; and Annie at the Wang Theatre (March 25-30). Further family fun awaits when the Big Apple Circus sets up its big top in City Hall Plaza (March 29 - May 4): drawing talents from ten countries, the new show Celebrate! honors the one-ring phenomenon's thirty-year track record.

Fringe endeavors range from the untried (but possibly true) to the barely printable. Ridge Town Productions premieres Anastasia Townsend's Sub-Zero -- about a bipolar artist -- at the Factory Theatre (March 6-23). Within the Boston Center for the Arts' black boxes, 11:11 Theatre Company presents The Seagull and Boston Actors Theater takes on Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses (each, independently, March 7-15); Company One offers the Boston premiere of Kirsten Greenidge's The Gibson Girl, about the mystery posed by twin sisters of varying hues (March 14-April 5); and Tir Na Theatre revives Marie Jones's popular comedy Stones in His Pockets (March 20-April 5).

The Institute for Contemporary Art hosts Chinese-Australian photographer/monologist William Yang in his slide show-cum-commentary Shadows (March 21-22). At the Charlestown Working Theatre, feisty Theatre on Fire mounts Mac Wellman's 7 Blowjobs, about hypocrisy in high levels of rightist government (March 21-April 5). And Gloucester's West End Theatre takes its two greatest hits so far -- John Ronan's romantic comedy The Yeats Game and M. Lynda Robinson's eight-vignette exposé Wives -- to the Boston Playwrights' Theatre (March 26-April 6).

Two esteemed suburban theatres are taking on challenging fare. Undeterred by controversy, Watertown's New Rep is using its Downstage to stage the docudrama My Name Is Rachel Corrie (based on the real-life letters of young American woman killed while trying to defend a Palestinian home on the Gaza Strip from an Israeli bulldozer), juxtaposed with Zohar Tirosh's solo show Pieces, which documents her two years in the Israeli army (March 8-30). Out in Lowell, Merrimack Rep salutes Albee with a reprise of his Pulitzer-winning portrait of middle-class dystopia, A Delicate Balance , featuring a full house of Broadway vets (March 13-April 6).

The Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre on Cape Cod is getting a jump on summer with Arlene Hutton's tender tale Last Train to Nibroc, a WW II romance in which a couple coming from two divergent socioeconomic strata but the same small Appalachian town (Lewis Wheeler and Abby Huston) discover unexpected common bonds (March 28-April 23).

In Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the Gamm Theatre can boast among its ensemble a perfect pair to portray the fractious bluestockings in David Mamet's comic sleeper Boston Marriage (March 20-April 13): Wendy Overly and Casey Seymour Kim, who gave us a thrilling Rise and Fall of Little Voice a few seasons back. Just down the road, in Providence, Trinity Rep is going light and lively with Blithe Spirit (March 28-April 27).