Jacqui Parker in Caroline, or Change
(Photo © Eric Levenson)
Jacqui Parker in Caroline, or Change
(Photo © Eric Levenson)
By month's end, the culturati will start fleeing town to hole up in New England's summer playgrounds, mountainous or coastal. For the moment, though, the Hub is enjoying one last florescence of catch-it-while-you-can theatre.

The biggest buzz surrounds SpeakEasy Stage Company's rendition of the Tony Kushner/Jeanine Tesori musical Caroline, or Change, with local treasure Jacqui Parker in the title role (May 5-June 3). Hopes are high, too, for New Repertory's Ragtime (April 30-May 28), especially with Leigh Barrett playing the Mother. (Lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty will be on hand, as tributees, for the company's May 9 gala.)

The Lyric Stage introduces Jack Neary's Kong's Night Out, (May 5-June 3), the first entry in their new play development program, "Growing Voices." Set in the apartment from which a certain oversize ape will soon pluck Fay Wray, the retro-screwball comedy features local favorites Larry Coen, Rachel Harker, and Ellen Colton. Meanwhile, the company's resident children's theatre, Once Upon a Time, ends its season with a participatory Snow White (May 13-21).

On May 8, Cambridge's American Repertory Theatre, in concert with Physicians for Human Rights, hosts An Homage to Vaclav Havel, with Paul Benedict and ART founder Robert Brustein reading the dissident-turned-president's 1978 play Protest. It takes place at the Zero Arrow Theatre, which will later be given over to Charlie Victor Romeo (May 17-28), a documentary play pieced together from airline black box transcripts recorded mid-emergency. ART's mainstage production is the 1725 Marivaux classic Island of Slaves (May 13-June 21), in which a shipwreck scrambles the social standing of two spoiled masters and their servants.

The Huntington Theatre assays its first-ever Shakespeare: Love's Labour's Lost (May 12-June 11), reset by artistic director Nicholas Martin in innocently optimistic pre-WWI Europe, with an assist from set designer Alexander Dodge, who gave us a splendid Rivals last season. Several Rivals vets, including sonorous Will LeBow, will be reconvening for this show.

Avid playgoers have been training all year for the 8th Annual Boston Theater Marathon, to be held at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts May 21. The ten-hour sprint encompasses 50 new blind-juried ten-minute plays. Once again, noted local practitioners such as Ed Bullins, Kirsten Greenidge, and John Kuntz have made it to the top of the heap. Sit there long enough and you'll see Boston's entire acting community pass before your eyes. You'll spot them all again the next day when the Eliot Norton Awards are announced at the Cutler Majestic Theatre.

Visiting shows include the family-friendly and seemingly gravity-free Project Bandaloop at the Shubert Theater (May 13-14) and the hit dance musical Movin' Out at the Colonial (May 17-28). Meanwhile, quadruple Tony Award winner Audra McDonald puts in a one-night appearance at Cambridge's Sanders Theater May 20; you'll have to choose between her dulcet tones and Jackie Mason's vituperative jibes that same night at the Berklee Performance Center, when he introduces Boston audiences to Freshly Squeezed: Just One Jew Talking.

At the outskirts of Greater Boston, Stoneham Theatre re-welcomes The Rat Pack Returns in the Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey and Dean (May 10-28), while Worcester's Foothills Theatre mounts The Full Monty (May 11-June 4).

Barrington Stage had hoped to launch their new home base, Pittsfield's Berkshire Music Hall, with a pair of one-acts by Mark St. Germain: The Collyer Brothers at Home (a portrait of the notorious hoarders) and Period Piece, about two character actors in fierce competition. The 1912 vaudeville house, alas, is not yet in move-in condition, so the dark (and possibly messy) comedies -- scheduled for May 17-28 -- will instead be staged at the elegant Berkshire Athenaeum.

The Berkshire Theatre Festival opens its 78th season with Tony Kushner's free-hand adaptation of Corneille's The Illusion, while Shakespeare and Company kicks off its season on May 24 with the delightful Enchanted April.

On Cape Cod, the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre reawakens from its long winter sleep on May 24 with The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, a 2006 Pulitzer Prize nominee (a pity the committee decided to skip the drama award altogether).

Acting director Amanda Dehnert's swan song at Rhode Island's Trinity Repertory Theater will be Cyrano de Bergerac (May 12-June 28). In nearby Pawtucket, the Gamm Theater -- which splintered off from Trinity two decades ago -- offers La Bete (May 18-June 18), David Hirson's witty Moliere hommage.

In Connecticut, Stamford Theatre Works is showing Jeffrey Hatcher's A Picasso, set in occupied Paris, through May 14. New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre offers Glen Berger's Underneath the Lintel (May 10-June 11), about a librarian's rabid quest to track down a miscreant who returned a library book some 123 years past its due date. Hartford Stage revives Terrence McNally's touching Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune (May 18-June 18) starring Portia and Robert Clohessy.

Meanwhile, Goodspeed Opera House presents a revival of L'il Abner (opens May 21), and also unveils a musical-in-the-making at the Norma Terris Theatre in Chester: Caraboo, Princess of Javasu. Incubated during composer Jenny Giering's and lyricist Beth Blatt's residency at the 2003 O'Neill Theatre Centre Conference in Waterford, the project has acquired a book by Marsha Norman.