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“Snow in Midsummer” by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, will play at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
  • “Snow in Midsummer” by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, will play at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
Murder trials, medieval Chinese curses and messy family dysfunction – it may be summer, but drama never takes a vacation. While some theaters wind down for the summer, many others across upstate New York and southern Canada are ramping up their annual festivals. This summer’s offerings, in particular, include an exciting assortment of world premieres and works starring complicated and compelling women.

If you’re hoping to hide from the heat in a cool, dark theater, here’s your guide to get started:

Ending its season with a Broadway blockbuster bang, Geva Theatre Center will mount “The Color Purple,” the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s classic novel about Black women coming together in the face of trauma, May 28 - June 23.

Community theaters keep the local scene thriving during the summer. The Rochester Community Players host their annual Shakespeare at Highland Bowl with one of the Bard’s less often produced plays, “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” in a family friendly version including puppets from July 11 - 27. Pericles travels through the Mediterranean and faces dangers like shipwrecks and pirates while trying to reunite with his family; the performances are free and open to all. In a very different examination of family, Eighth Child Productions presents an evening of three original one act plays by local playwright Laura Thomas about mothers, sisters and prodigal sons in “Kinfolks,” June 6 - 9 at MuCCC.

For new works outside of Rochester, the Chautauqua Theatre Company is a breeding ground for new theater. This summer they’ll be staging “Birthday Candles” by Noah Haidle, which was developed during their New Play Workshop and opened on Broadway in 2022. Running July 9 - 21, the piece consists of birthday moments throughout one woman’s life, challenging an actress to play the same character at 17 years old, 101 years old, and many ages in between.

The Royal George Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
  • The Royal George Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
The Stratford Festival in Ontario offers a few world premieres, including “Get That Hope” by Andrea Scott from July 21 - Sept. 28, a dysfunctional family drama that unfolds over one hot summer day in Toronto’s Little Jamaica. Scott was inspired by both Eugene O’Neill and her mother’s move from Jamaica to Canada. Stratford will also debut “Salesman in China” by Leanna Brodie and Jovanni Sy, playing Aug. 3 – Oct. 26. Presented in both English and Mandarin, the play is based on the 1983 trip Arthur Miller took to Beijing to direct a production of his iconic “Death of a Salesman.” This piece of theatrical history may sound niche, and another bilingual play based on the same incident premiered in the East Village just last year. (Who knew Arthur Miller was back in the zeitgeist?)



If Chinese theater intrigues you but the twentieth century is just too recent, Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario is presenting two Chinese stories from around the thirteenth century: “Snow in Midsummer” by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, adapted from the more excitingly titled classic “The Injustice to Dou E That Moved Heaven and Earth” by Guan Hanqing and playing August 8 - Oct. 5. The play may be a bit too relatable in its portrayal of alarming changes to the climate; in this case, the unusual weather comes from the curse of a wrongly executed woman. More medieval revenge follows with Ji Junxiang’s “The Orphan of Chao” adopted by Michael Man, the 1330 tale of a royal orphan who avenges his family’s death, playing June 13 - Oct. 5.

For something a little closer to home in time and place, the Rev Theatre Company’s summer repertoire at the Merry Go Round Playhouse in Auburn, NY features recognizable musical blockbusters, starting with “Jersey Boys” June 5 - 22, the jukebox musical portraying the rise and fall of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. They continue with “Newsies,” the Disney hit based on the 1992 movie musical about young exploited newspaper boys singing and dancing their way through a strike in turn-of-the-century New York City, July 10 - 27.

Alice Busch Opera Theater in Cooperstown, NY.
  • Alice Busch Opera Theater in Cooperstown, NY.

If you’re thinking “music sounds good, but make it weirder and maybe with a serial killer,” then check out the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, NY. “Elizabeth Cree,” a recent opera by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell playing July 28 – Aug. 20, features a woman on trial for murdering her husband in London circa 1880. The piece interweaves performers in a music hall with crime, making it an appropriate companion for Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci,” the 1892 Italian opera about a troupe of clowns and a murdered wife, playing July 27 – Aug. 18.

Katherine Varga is a freelance contributor to CITY.

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