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Summertime on the Cape has become a real variety show

By Ed Siegel
Globe Staff / June 5, 2005

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It used to be that come summer the culture vultures would head west to the Berkshires, leaving Cape Cod to the beach bums.

There's still nothing down south like Tanglewood, but in terms of theater, the Cape keeps narrowing the gap. Name a town somewhere along Route 6, particularly the outer Cape, and there's probably a merry band of thespians.

And most of the theaters keep expanding their schedules along with their artistic ambitions.

The Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater is a year away from moving into its newer theater, but that hasn't stopped the company from moving to a May-November, nine-play season, invading the Duck Creeke Tavern for a dinner theater run of ''The Dream Express," which is described as ''a metaphysical lounge tour to the end of the universe." Wellfleet has also added a kids' show (''The Very Sad Tale of the Late Mr. Stiltskin") at the theater's tent next to the Wellfleet Post Office. The season also includes ''Bug" by Tracy Letts (''Killer Joe").

''I think there's a sense that we want to do more," said producing artistic director Jeff Zinn, ''and would just like to give our folks, people who are here for chunks of time, more of an option of things to see.

''And hopefully," he added with a laugh, ''they'll buy more tickets."

The season has already begun with Robert Reich's move from politics to playwriting, ''Public Exposure," which will be followed June 23 by Edinburgh Fringe Festival winner ''Pugilist Specialist," with Iraq War overtones, by Adriano Shaplin. At the same time that's playing on Wednesday nights through Sundays, New Repertory Theatre artistic director Rick Lombardo and his wife, Rachel Harker, interrupt their vacation for Harold Pinter's ''Ashes to Ashes" and ''The Lover," he as director, she as costar with Wellfleet favorite Stephen Russell, Sundays through Tuesdays. Russell, in turn, is the writer-director of ''Mr. Stiltskin."

''Often what we've done," said Zinn, ''was put a one-man show into the Monday-Tuesday slot and play them through July and August, but I was getting reactions from people who weren't so crazy about the one-person concept." So now you can revisit the Iraq War, take in the outdoors, and end the day with Pinter.

Zinn hardly has the action to himself. Among the highlights elsewhere are Caryl Churchill's ''A Number," beginning July 21 in Truro at the Payomet Performing Arts Center. If you missed ''Elaine Stritch at Liberty" during the playoffs and World Series in Boston, you can catch her at the Provincetown Town Hall doing a benefit for the Provincetown Theatre Company June 29-July 3. The Provincetown Repertory Theatre, the professional theater in town, follows John Buffalo Mailer's ''Crazy Eyes" with ''A Girl Called Dusty" (as in Springfield), beginning July 7.

Provincetown also will have its usual assortment of one-person shows. Sometimes the actors don't even change genders, as in Andrea Reese's ''Cirque Jacqueline," subtitled ''Behind the Facade of Jackie O," at Theatre Go Round on Commercial Street.

Andre De Shields gets the Cape Playhouse's 79th season off to a start on June 20 with ''Ambassador Satch: The Life and Music of Louis Armstrong" in Dennis. The Cape Cod Theatre Project has a different play every weekend in July, beginning with Neil LaBute's ''Autobahn" July 7. The Cape Rep Theatre, a nonprofessional company in Brewster, tries its hand at ''Bat Boy: The Musical" beginning July 27.

Hop the ferry to Martha's Vineyard and ''Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," by John Patrick Shanley (''Doubt"), begins the Vineyard Playhouse season June 15, followed by Arthur Miller's ''The Archbishop's Ceiling" July 6.

No doubt the artistic quality will vary from theater to theater and from play to play, but there's no doubt the Cape scene is increasingly inviting. How successful are the theaters? In these economic times, said Zinn, ''success is surviving."

Ed Siegel can be reached at siegel@globe.com.

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