A Midsummer Night's Diversion

Theater festivals offer more than drama

In the summer, it can seem as if all the world's a stage -- as theater festivals roll up the curtain across the country. You still have time to plan a trip to a drama fest, where the fringe benefits include backstage tours and chats with the actors -- and where the scenery may be as riveting outside as it is onstage. Here's a rundown of some of the best festivals. Web sites list plays and schedules, box office times, and often include information on other local attractions as well as lodging and dining. Most tickets are $30 to $45.

-- Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, Mass.; June 17-Aug. 30; berkshiretheatre.org. This 75-year-old festival in western Massachusetts is just one of the region's rich offerings, which also include dance at Jacob's Pillow and concerts at Tanglewood. BTF will present eight plays, including Enter Laughing, based on comedian Carl Reiner's youthful struggle for success. Check the schedule for "Talk Backs," free postperformance conversations with the cast, director, and sometimes, the playwright.

-- Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF), Shepherdstown, W.Va.; July 11-Aug. 3; www.catf.org. If your taste leans toward the contemporary, check out CATF, which offers four new plays plus readings of works in development. It will premiere Whores, by Lee Blessing, about human rights in Latin America, and Eric Coble's Bright Ideas, about parents trying to get their kid into a trophy preschool. Shepherdstown, 75 miles from Washington, D.C., and across the Potomac from Antietam, a major Civil War battlefield, boasts Federal and Civil War-period architecture.

-- Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Ore.; May-Sept.; orshakes.org. This festival in Oregon's wine country lures audiences with lectures, musical events, and free noon-time "park talks" with actors. Of the season's nine plays, four are Shakespeare; the others range from Noël Coward's Present Laughter to Nilo Cruz's Lorca in a Green Dress, based on the Spanish poet's works and life.

-- Stratford Festival of Canada, Stratford, Ont.; May-Sept.; stratfordfestival.ca. Stratford, with its Elizabethan-style Festival Theater and Shakespearean Garden, sets a definite bardish tone. But the festival's offerings are eclectic: The 12 plays in July and 15 in August range from five Shakespeare offerings to Lerner & Lowe's Gigi and Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit. Other events include the "Celebrated Writers Series," with lectures by novelist Margaret Atwood and other authors.

-- Utah Shakespearean Festival, Cedar City, Utah; June 19-Aug. 30; bard.org. In this town near Zion National Park, you can see three of the Bard's comedies plus Richard III. You can enjoy five additional plays, including Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Puppeteers, dancers, and magicians perform nightly on the lawn in front of the theater. Satisfy your hunger at the Feaste, a 16th century-style dinner served on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

-- Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, Mass.; June 25-Aug. 24; wtfestival.org. The playbill of nine productions offers classics such as Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, and an Aug. 12-16 series of readings of Chekhov by actors such as Olympia Dukakis and Blythe Danner. Off-hours, attend readings of new plays at "Fridays @ 3" and enjoy late-night cabarets.

By Ellen Hoffman

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