Perhaps the toughest part of winnowing down a Philadelphia-area fall theater best-of list is reading through all the options and finding at least 20 more that could qualify. For example, the list below doesn't include independent shows in the Philly Fringe or First-Person Arts festivals, touring productions, offbeat, site-specific shows from companies that will fly under the radar until the last moment, emerge, and astonish critics with their inventive work.
I couldn't add everything, but I did manage to choose a selection of forthcoming shows I'm really excited to see. Of course, your results may vary, and in that case, by all means, check out that other 20.
A Runaway, a Soldier, and a Snowball Fight (Sept. 9-24, Fergie's Pub). Iron Age Theatre often gets overlooked because it's off the beaten path in Norristown, but this world premiere by Leah Lawler brings together two important Revolutionary War figures, Crispus Attucks, and Sam Adams, and places them in a Center City barroom. You want drunk history? Here it is. (215-413-1318, fringearts.com)
Bathing in Moonlight (Sept. 9-Oct. 9, McCarter Theatre Center). This world premiere reunites playwright Nilo Cruz and director Emily Mann, who won a Pulitzer the last time they worked together, on Anna in the Tropics. This time, the story concerns a struggling Cuban American family, the priest who helps them, and forbidden love. (609-258-2787, mccarter.org)
The War of the Roses (Sept. 14-Oct. 2, Delaware Theatre Company). Audiences might remember this divorce comedy from Warren Adler's 1981 novel or the 1989 film starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. The U.S. premiere of its stage adaptation now has eyes toward a Broadway run, and its tryout is right in our backyard. (302-594-1100, delawaretheatre.org)
Stupid F#*@ing Bird (Sept. 15-Oct. 16, Arden Theatre Company). Arden cofounder Aaron Posner returns (sort of) with his acclaimed reimagining of Chekhov's The Seagull. With original music by Pig Iron Theatre Company's James Sugg. Learn amore about Stupid F#*@ing Bird. (215-922-1122, ardentheatre.org)
How We Got On (Sept. 21-Oct. 9, Azuka Theatre). The first play of Azuka's pay-what-you-decide season is Idris Goodwin's paean to coming of age in the suburbs during the early days of hip-hop. A DJ spins and narrates. If nothing else, taking a chance on new work will pay off for you or for Azuka, but, either way, someone wins. (215-563-1100, azukatheatre.org)
This Is the Week That Is, the Election Special (Sept. 29-Nov. 7, Plays and Players Theatre). Unfamiliar with 1812's annual political satire? Picture a sketch-comedy-friendly version of The Daily Show, but the old one, with Jon Stewart. It's really funny, and I suspect this year it will be even funnier. (215-592-9560 or 1812productions.org)
Grounded (Sept. 30-Oct. 23, InterAct Theatre Company). In this one-woman show, a military fighter pilot finds herself pregnant, and, unable to fly, is assigned to a trailer in which she controls unmanned combat drones half a world away. It's an intense and topical look inside both the war on terror and a soldier's mind. (215-568-8079 or interacttheatre.org)
A New Brain (Oct. 13-Nov. 6, Theatre Horizon). From William Finn and James Lapine, the team behind Falsettos, this heavily autobiographical musical follows a children's television show songwriter dealing with a potentially deadly brain operation. Sounds bleak, but it's not. An homage to life and second chances, this production has an excellent cast (led by 11th Hour Theatre Company cofounder Steve Pacek) and it should buoy spirits right before the election, which is when we'll probably need it the most. (610-283-2230, theatrehorizon.org)
The Legend of Georgia McBride (Oct. 13-Nov. 27, Arden Theatre Company). Matthew Lopez's comedy finds a soon-to-be-father fired from his job as an Elvis impersonator and picking up the slack by performing as a drag queen. Also, Dito van Reigersberg, a.k.a. Martha Graham Cracker, will play that Elvis-turned-drag-queen. Need I say more? (215-922-1122, ardentheatre.org)
Guards at the Taj (Oct. 20-Nov. 13, Theatre Exile). Rajiv Joseph (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo) gets inside the heads of two imperial guards during the 17th-century building of the Taj Mahal. There are legends about the cruelties that occurred during the building of this monument; Joseph imagines a few. (215-218-4022, theatreexile.org)
Breathe Smoke (Oct. 25-Nov. 2, Painted Bride Art Center). Orbiter 3, an independent troupe dedicated to producing new work by Philadelphia playwrights, presents this world premiere by Douglas Williams. His devised (ensemble-created) play about a musician's final concert should sound great and look just as good. (orbiter3.org)
Found (Nov. 9-Dec. 11, Philadelphia Theatre Company). I know, they're remounting Theatre Exile's production of Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham's Rizzo first. I'll leave it to others to debate the merits of that show, and will give my stamp of approval to Found, an overlooked gem of a musical about the genesis of Found Magazine, an oddball collection of notes, photos, and other items that are, yes, found anywhere and everywhere, and submitted to the editor. (215-985-0420, philadelphiatheatrecompany.org)
Antagonyms (Nov. 30-Dec. 17, Curio Theatre Company). Curio has really emerged as a theater anchor for West Philly, and its productions get stronger every year. Company member Rachel Gluck wrote this world-premiere noir drama about four young Philadelphians and their struggles with identity and love. Sounds like a great fit for the University City crowd. (215-525-1350, curiotheatre.org)
Wilde Tales (Dec. 7-31, Sedgwick Theater). True, Quintessence is a classic repertory company, but it also does a great job of adapting children's theater for the stage. In this case, it's Oscar Wilde's mystical children's stories. Quintessence has an outstanding ensemble, they provide an excuse to get out to Mount Airy, and, as far as I'm concerned, the sooner a child is introduced to Wilde, the better. (215-987-4450, quintessencetheatre.org)