Poster art for The Sand Storm: Stories From the Front
Poster art for The Sand Storm: Stories From the Front
To paraphrase a Rodgers and Hammerstein lyric, March comes in like a lion to the City of Angels. The month's theater roster is highlighted by a very rare occasion, the simultaneous opening of a new work by a major playwright on Broadway and in L.A. To add to this excitement, the Pasadena Playhouse staging of John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, which premiered last year Off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club, stars Academy Award-winning actress Linda Hunt (The Year of Living Dangerously), and is helmed by veteran film and TV director Claudia Weill (It's My Turn, Girlfriends). The Broadway production of this play, starring Cherry Jones, starts previews on March 9, with Pasadena's separate mounting starting March 11. The story takes place at a Catholic school in the Bronx, as a nun grows suspicious when a priest begins taking too much interest in the life of a young male student. Is she being overly protective or not protective enough? Shanley is best known for his Oscar-winning screenplay for Moonstruck, and his frequently performed first work Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.

Reversing a recent trend toward musicals, the March lineup is dominated by promising sounding dramas, such as Papa, by Pulitzer-winning journalist John deGroot (Hollywood's Open Fist Theatre, opening March 11). Set in Ernest Hemingway's home in Cuba over a long afternoon, it's a glimpse into the life of this 20th century literary giant, based on interviews with those who knew him. Another biographical piece, in its California premiere, Brian Harnetiaux's National Pastime charts Jackie Robinson's entry into the Brooklyn Dodgers, integrating Major League Baseball for the first time (Pasadena's Fremont Centre Theatre, opening March 19). More fact-based drama arrives in The Sand Storm: Stories From the Front, Mark Seabrook and Sean Huze's documentary-style play (Hollywood's Elephant Asylum Theatre, opening March 18). The show's solo anecdotes are based on first-hand experiences of the Marines of the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in Iraq. Navy veteran David Fofi directs. In a similar vein, Sean Branney's stage documentary Mine Eyes Hath Seen (Burbank's Gene Bua Theatre, opening March 4) is compiled from a wide body of first-person writings and music from the Civil War. And to stretch the point a bit, Shakespeare's history-based tragedy Julius Caesar is on tap (Glendale's A Noise Within, opening March 5).

Several other dramatic offerings sound enticing. The U.S. premiere of Brian Crano's 12th Premise (Hollywood's Lillian Theatre, opening March 10), is helmed by Ovation-winning director Kristin Hanggi (bare). It examines the friendships, relationships, and rites of passage of three disaffected young men who set out on a crash course in survival and end up discovering a hope-filled coda for living. A hard-hitting drama set amid the underbelly of society, Killer Joe (Hollywood's Gardner Stages, opening March 11), by Pulitzer Prize-nominated Tracy Letts, has its West Coast premiere. The Chicago-originated 1993 play garnered rave reviews, and has been performed in 20 languages in 26 countries. The Asian American-focused Lodestone Theatre Ensemble offers Judy Soo Hoo's Solve for X (Burbank's Grove Theatre, opening March 19), about a troubled relationship between a young math teacher and an older tea mogul, described as a poetic tale of loneliness, betrayal, and searching. And one of L.A.'s most renowned playwrights, Murray Mednick, premieres a three-play repertory (The Gary Plays) with Tirade for Three and Gary's Walk (opening March 31), and Girl on a Bed (opening April 1). All of them, presented at Venice's Electric Lodge, chart the experiences of Gary, a destitute former actor, who attempts to come to terms with the senseless and random murder of his son.

For those with a taste for comedies and musicals, there are a handful in the offing. One is definitely not a lighthearted choice. Rosenstrasse (Company Rep, opening March 18), with book and lyrics by Terry Lawrence and music by Max Kinberg, tells the true story of Jewish men held prisoner in a detention center in Berlin, who received courageous support from women who gathered outside the camp. A family musical by Doug Cooney and David O, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (Kirk Douglas Theatre, opening March 5), based on the book by George Saunders, involves goat farmers and the strange creatures invading their property. Rounding out the list are Tom Stoppard's mind-bending farce Arcadia (Century City Playhouse, opening March 19); a touring production of the perennial Andrew Lloyd Webber hit Evita (Pantages Theatre, opening March 2); Saturday Night at Grossinger's (Theatre West, starting March 26), a musical by multiple collaborators, about a 1919 Jewish family in the Catskills who take in boarders; and Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso's musical about American laborers, Working (Attic Theatre & Film Center, March 11).