The Lyric Stage opts for a laugh-filled divertissement in the form of Theresa Rebeck's The Understudy (January 1-29), starring Laura Latreille as an actress manquée stage-managing a pick-up rehearsal to work an action-film star into a Broadway production of Kafka. You can count on plenty of parodic laughs, especially with the Gold Dust Orphans' Larry Coen directing.
SpeakEasy Stage's artistic director, Paul Daigneault, has convened Boston's leading divas -- including Leigh Barrett, Aimee Doherty, and Maureen Keiller -- for his favorite musical, Nine, at the Boston Center for the Arts' Roberts Studio Theater (January 21 - February 19); Timothy John Smith plays the beleaguered Guido.
Still radical after all these decades, Vermont's Bread and Puppet Theater makes its annual Boston pilgrimage with an adult-oriented show, The Return of Ulysses (based on the Monteverdi opera) and the family-friendly Decapitalization Circus; the two rotate in repertory at the BCA's grand Cyclorama space (January 24-30). Also at the BCA, within the Plaza Theatre, Company One presents Neighbors (January 14 - February 5), last spring's controversial breakout hit for Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Johnny Lee Davenport plays Richard Patterson, an African-American professor rendered ballistic by his new neighbors "the Crows," a retrogressive family of black actors who, to his mind, are dragging down the neighborhood. At another BCA black box, Boston Experimental Theatre Company premieres Walter A. Davis' study of child exploitation and abuse: There Is Another Court: An Evening With JonBenét Ramsey (January 27 - February 5).
ArtsEmerson, at the Paramount Theatre, is fast becoming a one-stop shop for top international fringe fare. This month's roster includes The Civilians' In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards (January 19-23), fresh from its acclaimed Brooklyn premiere. In PSY (January 25-30), a neo-circus show conceived by the Montreal company Les 7 Doigts de la Main, various patients undergoing psychotherapy -- e.g., an obsessive-compulsive, an agoraphobe -- perform astounding feats as they struggle to overcome their perceived limitations. Last up is the world premiere of The Color of Rose, Katherine Bates' portrait of Rose Kennedy at three stages in her influential life (January 27 - February 6); local star Karen MacDonald plays the political matriarch at the height of her powers.
Boston's own fringe incubator, the Factory Theatre, hosts the 11:11 Theatre Company presenting the New England premiere of The Master Forger by David Wiener (January 28 - Febuary 5), based on the fascinating exploits of Dutch art dealer Han van Meegeren.
Two shows should especially appeal to families: Cirque du Soleil's touring Dralion -- a 1999 blockbuster based on Chinese acrobatic arts -- at the Agganis Arena (January 5-9) and Wheelock Family Theatre's own original musicalization of The Secret Garden (January 28 - February 27), starring Katherine Leigh Doherty (recently seen on Broadway as Fredrika in A Little Night Music) as the "sour" Mary Lennox and up-and-comer Andrew Barbato as Dickon.
In Cambridge, the American Repertory Theatre introduces R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe (January 13 - February 5), a bio-play written and directed by D.W. Jacobs, starring ART veteran Thomas Derrah. And make room for more resurrected celebs: At the Central Square Theatre, John Kuntz (Derrah's partner) and Richard Snee star as Salvador Dali and Sigmund Freud, respectively, in Terry Johnson's 1994 Olivier Award-winning comedy Hysteria, or Fragments of an Analysis of an Obsessional Neurosis (January 6-30), a surreal what-if supposition based on an actual encounter.
Out in the suburbs, Lowell's Merrimack Rep time-travels to Edwardian London for Karoline Leach's romantic thriller Tryst (January 6-30), about a con man (played by Mark Shanahan) who lures trusting heiresses to the altar, only to disappear -- with all their loot -- the next day. Wellesley Summer Theatre Company revives The Last Night of Ballyhoo (January 6-30), a Southern family dramedy by Alfred Uhry. And Watertown's New Rep offers Steve Yockey's afterlife:a ghost story (January 16 - February 6), a disaster tale of a young couple facing down a killer storm in their beach house. It features a distinguished local cast including Marianna Bassham, Georgia Lyman, Karl Baker Olson, and Paula Plum.