Kate Scelsa, Scott Shepherd, and Jim Fletcher in Gatz
(© Chris Beirens)
Kate Scelsa, Scott Shepherd, and Jim Fletcher in Gatz
(© Chris Beirens)
It was ever thus -- or at least has been since the early '80s, when Harvard's fledgling American Repertory Theatre first went up against Boston University's Huntington Theatre. ART likes to gamble on the avant-garde, whereas the Huntington is known for its solid work with oldies but goodies. Case in point: This month the ART hosts New York's Elevator Repair Service ensemble touring their international hit, Gatz -- a two-part, six-hour exploration of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby (January 7 - February 7). Meanwhile, the Huntington is employing an A-list of local actors (Will Lyman, Karen MacDonald, Ken Cheeseman, Dee Nelson), plus two New York imports (Lee Aaron Rosen and Diane Davis), for its mainstage revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons (January 8 - February 7). David Esbjornson directs.

Broadway Across America tours touching down in town include Strega Nona at the Colonial (January 9) and In the Heights (January 12-24). The Lyric Stage offers a regional premiere of a well-received New York production: Ian Bruce's Groundswell (January 1-30), a tense drama in which two disenfranchised South Africans try to lure a passing businessman (Richard McElvain) into investing in their diamond-mining scheme. Wheelock Family Theater, a reliable source of child-pleasers, presents the musical Honk! (January 29 - February 28), a 2000 Olivier Award-winning gloss on The Ugly Duckling.

The various stages at the Boston Center for the Arts are abuzz as always. Within the Calderwood Pavilion, Magic Bean Productions takes over the Wimberly Theatre for Boyce and Melinda's Investment Strategies for the Post Money World (January 14-31). Will Lebow and Julie Perkins star in this year 2020 fantasy -- Palin is posited as president -- by Gip Hoppe. In the Roberts Studio, SpeakEasy Stage Company goes light and playful with [title of show] (January 15 -February 13), musically directed by -- and featuring -- popular local cabarettist Will McGarrahan.

In the BCA's Plaza Theatre, Company One, under Summer L. Williams' direction, mounts Tracey Scott Wilson's The Good Negro (January 15 - February 5); the drama, set in 1960s Birmingham, earned an extended run at New York's Public Theater last season. In the adjoining Black Box, Page 2 Productions offers My Licklider.com (January 22-23), a spoof on the potential pitfalls of social networking, and Brian Morey performs Joe Siracusa's one-man speed-Shakespeare show, I Am Hamlet (January 26-31). And in the BCA's grand Cyclorama space, Vermont's renowned Bread and Puppet Theater mounts two political parables (January 25-31): Tear Open the Doors of Heaven, geared to adults, and the family-friendly Dirt Cheap Money Circus.

At the other end of the size spectrum, Boston's tiniest fringe space, the Factory Theatre, hosts two shows: The Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (January 8-16), and Douglas Carter Beane's Music from a Sparkling Planet (January 22-31), about a quest on the part of three disillusioned midlife men to track down a colorful TV futurist recalled from childhood.

The Boston Playwrights Theatre welcomes SlamBoston, a 10-minute-play extravaganza (January 7-9), as well as Piti Theatre Company founder Jonathan Mirin performing his solo show Art Therapy with Bobbie, about coping with a chronic disease (January 29 - February 7).

In Cambridge, the Underground Railway Theatre, in concert with Providence Black Repertory, presents the East Coast premiere of Lydia R. Diamond's Harriet Jacobs (January 7-31), based on the memoirs of a slave who hid in a crawl space for seven years rather than be subject to abuse. The Cambridge YMCA Theatre gets its freak on with Fort Point Theatre Channel's Carny Knowledge: A Sideshow Extravaganza of Original Plays and Extraordinary Oddities (January 29 - February 6).

The Wellesley Summer Theatre Company (which operates year-round) opts for genteel -- at least on the surface -- with Noel Coward's hilarious marital smack-down Private Lives (January 7-30). Similar pandemonium rules in the staid household turned topsy-turvy by a surprise guest in John Kolvenbach's comedy Fabuloso, at Merrimack Repertory (January 7-31). Elsewhere in the suburbs, Stoneham Theatre offers the U.S premiere of a Canadian romance, Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad (January 14-31), which comes with a terrific tagline: "Love in the bleachers. Blood on the ice." Watertown's New Repertory Company has mustered a crack cast -- including Steven Barkhimer, Leigh Barrett, Neil A. Casey, and Benjamin Evett -- for Chris Craddock's fractured fairy tale, Indulgences (January 17 - February 7).

The Berkshires tend to be rather frigid this time of year, but not so at Shakespeare & Company, which is heating up a steamy production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (January 24 - March 14), directed by company founder Tina Packer and starring 2009 Norton Award-winner Elizabeth Aspenlieder as the scheming Marquise de Merteuil.