An intriguing 2017-18 theater season gets off to a fine, wild start with Fringe, a celebration of Sam Shepard's genius, then gives us Dulé Hill as Nat King Cole, along with promising productions of classics (Blood Wedding, Blithe Spirit) and brand-new plays that are soon-to-be classics (Broken Stones, 2.5 Minute Ride, Red Velvet).
Fringe Festival 2017 (Through Sept. 24, various locations). Three weeks of almost anything people can devise in a space, on a stage, in your head. Just a taste of the intriguing shows: Hello, Blackout! (Sept. 10-17, New Paradise Laboratories, Proscenium Theatre at the Drake); Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano (Sept. 10, 12-17, 19-24, Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, Bethany Mission Gallery); Marx in Soho (Sept. 10, 14, 16-18, 22, Iron Age Theatre/Radical Acts, Philadelphia Ethical Society); Iphigenia at Aulis (Sept. 12-16 and 18-22, Philadelphia Artists' Collective, USS Olympia); Fishtown – A Hipster Noir (Sept. 10-11, 14-18, and 21-23, Tribe of Fools, Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake); A Billion Nights on Earth (Sept. 14-17, Thaddeus Phillips and Steven Dufala, FringeArts); A Period of Animate Existence (Sept. 22-24, Pig Iron Theatre Company, Annenberg Center). Information: 215-413-1318 or fringearts.com.
Red Velvet (Through Oct. 8, Lantern Theater Company). While antiabolition riots rage in the streets of 19th-century London, an African American actor prepares to perform in Othello. (215-829-0395, lanterntheater.org)
Simpatico (Through Oct. 15, Berlind Theatre, McCarter Theatre Center, Princeton). Sam Shepard has stepped across, but our love affair with him continues. This ought to be a grand production, by A Red Orchid Theatre, featuring familiar TV and film guy Michael Shannon. (609-258-2787, mccarter.org)
Ripcord (South Camden Theatre Company, Sept. 15-Oct. 1). Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire's comedy about two women engaged in a zero-sum battle. (866-811-4111, southcamdentheatre.org)
The Swallowing Dark (Oct. 4-22, Inis Nua Theatre Company). Welsh playwright Lizzie Nunnery's play about two Zimbabwean refugees who settle in Liverpool – and face threats to their asylum status. (215-454-9776, inisnuatheatre.org)
Blithe Spirit (Oct. 5-29, Hedgerow Theatre Company). Noel Coward's catty comedy about a man with two spouses, one in this life and another in the next. (610-525-4211, hedgerowtheatre.org)
2.5 Minute Ride (Oct. 6-29, Theater Horizon). A daughter and father tour the country's greatest roller coasters. A lot of ups and downs are involved, including those of ethnic and sexual identity, family, history, and mortality. (610-283-2230, Ext. 1; theatrehorizon.org)
Lights Out: Nat King Cole (Oct. 11-Dec. 3, People's Light). By Colman Domingo and Patricia McGregor, this world premiere is surely one of the most intriguing shows this fall. Starring Dulé Hill (West Wing, Psych) as Cole and Broadway guy Daniel J. Watts as Sammy Davis Jr., it's set on the last night of Cole's national TV show. (610-644-3500, peopleslight.org)
Red Herring (Oct. 24-Nov. 19, Act II Playhouse, Ambler). Michael Hollinger's noir comedy embracing three love stories, a murder mystery, and a nuclear espionage plot. (215-654-0200, act2.org)
Blood Wedding (Oct. 25-Nov. 19, Wilma Theater). A favorite of mine, this fiery drama by Spanish poet Federico García Lorca is a 20th-century masterpiece. (215-546-7824, wilmatheater.org)
Broken Stones (Oct. 27-Nov. 19, InterAct Theatre Company). When priceless artifacts are looted from a Baghdad museum during the Iraq War in 2003, a reservist is sent in to investigate. All else is open to interpretation. World premiere. (215-568-8079, interacttheatre.org)
Quartet (Oct. 31-Nov. 19, Bristol Riverside Theatre). Theater version of the popular film about three former stars who live in a retirement home for opera singers. At the annual celebration of Verdi's birthday, a big, big star comes to join in. (215-785-0100, brtstage.org)