S. Epatha Merkerson
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
S. Epatha Merkerson
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
June busts out all over in L.A. as the summer is ushered in with an eclectic slate of dramas and musicals. At the top of the must-see list is the Kirk Douglas Theatre's revival of the 1950 William Inge classic, Come Back Little Sheba (June 17-July 15). In the starring roles are two great television and stage veterans: Alan Rosenberg as the alcoholic Doc and Emmy winner S. Epatha Merkerson (of TVs Law and Order) as his unhappy wife Lola.

Another star-driven highlight is the world premiere of Missouri Waltz at Blank Theatre Company at Hollywood's 2nd Stage Theatre (through July 1). This new play is written by and stars Oscar nominee Karen Black, with songs by Harriet Schock. Set in the 1970s in an old family home along the Mississippi River, the piece is about a return to familial roots.

An assortment of musical shows is headed by performer-writer Hershey Felder's biographical George Gershwin Alone (Geffen Playhouse, June 5-July 22), in which pianist Felder recreates the great songwriter's life through song and the spoken word. George Coffin's musical comedy Five Course Love (Long Beach's International City Theatre; June 15-July 15) imagines five dates in five different restaurants, each with its own cuisine and musical style. Musical Theatre West in Long Beach revives the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance (Long Beach Performing Arts Center, June 30-July 15), starring Rex Smith, who played Frederic in Joe Papp's celebrated stage and film version of this chestnut during the 1980's.

There's also an abundant array of dramatic works on tap. Ventura's Rubicon Theatre offers a revival of Mark Medoff's Pulitzer-winning drama Children of a Lesser God (June 7-July 1), a provocative love story about a teacher at a school for the deaf and a fiery, fiercely independent former student. Harold Pinter's classic No Man's Land (June 1-July 7, Theatre/Theater) is about an elderly gay man who spends the night with the object of his desire, a reclusive writer and his boys. Walk'n Thru The Fire by acclaimed writer-director-producer John DiFusco (June 12-July 21, Hayworth Theatre) is a spiritual journey through life, love, and loss.

If you're still looking for more drama, consider Tom Dudzick's The Last Mass at St. Casimir's (La Mirada Theatre; June 1-17), which recalls Buffalo's great blizzard of 1977. The iconoclastic City Garage in Santa Monica brings back Eugene Ionesco's absurdist classic Rhinoceros (June 1-July 15), one of the most notable vehicles for the late Zero Mostel. Richard Caliban's Famine Plays (Theatre of NOTE, June 29-August 4) is described as "in the tradition of Mother Courage and Endgame," exploring survival in America.

The outdoor Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon brings the tradition of summer and Shakespeare together again with A Midsummer Night's Dream (June 9-July 21 and September 2-30). The Boomerang Kid (Powerhouse Theatre, June 8-July 14) is an interactive comedy in which the audience participates via software with the show's story. And the latest L.A. Theatre Works reading to be recorded for subsequent radio broadcasts is Melinda Lopez' Cuban-based drama Sonia Flew (Skirball Cultural Center, June 13-17), starring Elizabeth Pena, Philip Casnoff, and Hector Elizondo.

Finally, here's a couple of shows that the whole family can enjoy: And Awaaay We Go to Wonderland!, billed as 10 fairy tales in one (Santa Monica Playhouse, June 16-September 30), and Quincy Long and Dennis McCarthy's The Only Child (South Coast Repertory, June 8-24), the story of a bratty girl who is eventually redeemed.