Christopher Chew and Kathy St. Georgein Johnny Guitar(Photo © Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo)
Christopher Chew and Kathy St. George
in Johnny Guitar
(Photo © Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo)
Local stages are bursting at the seams with lavish offerings this time of year. If you're thinking of gifting theatre tix, someone in your vast circle of friends would surely appreciate a chance to see the dry-witted spoof musical Johnny Guitar (presented by Speakeasy Stage at the Boston Center for the Arts through December 18; tell them to open this present early), or perhaps the Restoration romp The Provok'd Wife at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge through December 26. Meanwhile, a flock of fresh openings await in the wings.

Think your family's a bit wacko? The protagonist of Ginger Lazarus's new farce, Matter Familias (at the Boston Playwrights Theatre December 2-12), has her heart set on having a son: never mind that her designated adoptee is a good decade older than she, and in fact middle-aged. Local phenom Nancy Carroll plays the manipulative mother of the would-be mom. During that same time span, the fledgling Underdog Stage assays Traps, Caryl Churchill's seldom-performed 1977 study of dysfunctional communal living, at Boston's Piano Factory, and the Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires pierces holiday platitudes with The Santaland Diaries. David Drake -- actor/author of the OBIE Award-winning The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me -- performs Joe Mantello's monologic adaptation of David Sedaris's memoir recounting his abortive stint as a Macy's elf called "Crumpet." The Theatre Zone, a feisty young company at the Chelsea Theatre Works in Boston, offers a competing production December 3-26.

Meanwhile, Christmas Carols proliferate. On December 2-24, Stoneham Theatre adds a fresh musical score to the canon, reprising a version created at Vermont's Northern Stage last season. Aficionados could compare and contrast with the North Shore Music Theatre's crowd-pleaser, the sixteenth anniversary production of which is onstage through Christmas Eve. Trinity Rep's adaptation, by company founder Adrian Hall, dates back to 1976 and this year stars company vet Cynthia Strickland as Scrooge; dual casts keep it running through December 26. They're directed by musical-whiz Amanda Dehnert, who'll be taking up the reins as artistic director when Oskar Eustis decamps for The Public Theater come spring.

Rough & Tumble Theatre, one of Boston's quirkier companies, presents an original "indie play" about office life, I'm Away from My Desk Right Now, at the BCA December 3-18. The ensemble's faux-naif style can teeter precariously between irritating and delightful, but not to worry: they're offering an enjoy-yourself-or-else money-back guarantee. (Don't you wish everyone did?) Fostering yet another start-up group (this one is brand-new), the BCA will host the Alarm Clock Theatre Company in An Evening of Israel Horowitz --comprising a 1968 pairing, It's Called the Sugar Plum and his breakthrough work The Indian Wants the Bronx -- December 3-19.

On December 9 and 10, Bostonians will have a chance to assess Embedded, the satirical commedia created by Tim Robbins and his L.A.-based Actors' Gang, about compromised journalists involved in "an unspecified Mideast conflict." New York wasn't uniformly wowed when it played at The Public last spring; it'll be interesting to see how this ultra-blue state relates. The Gang's residency at Northeastern University's Center for the Arts wraps up a national tour.

On the mainstream touring front, Kate Mulgrew brings her Katharine Hepburn impersonation, Tea at Five (which she developed at the ART in 2002), to the Shubert Theatre December 7-19. On December 14-19, the Wilbur will resound to Vagabond Tales staged by Barrage, a septet of itinerant acrobatic violinists (think Cirque du Soleil meets Riverdance).

On December 10-12, Elliot Norton Award-winning actor Vincent Ernest Siders directs members of the New African Company in As Told on the Corner, an evening of short plays centered on the tradition of "the trickster" in contemporary Black and Native American cultures. It's a fund-raiser for NAC, founded in the heady days of 1968. On December 16-18, the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven will call upon the talents of six local Gospel choirs to remount Langston Hughes's Black Nativity; a concert staging two years ago proved an SRO hit. Boston's Black Nativity, produced by the National Center of Afro-American Artists, is celebrating its 35th season. On view at the Tremont Temple through December 19, it's the longest-running rendition of this seasonal sensation in the world.