HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, 212.868.4444,

JULY 22-September 2: Want to catch a sneak peak at the next generation of directorial talent? For the last 15 years, the American Living Room has provided one of the best armchair views available for previewing the theatrical future. In response to our ongoing political turmoil, this summer's festival has declared a "Free Speech Zone," where artists have been encouraged to challenge the increasingly outrageous status quo. So if you're angry about the Patriot Act or just want John Ashcroft to get his comeuppance, pull up a hassock. You might just find yourself theatrically dazzled in the process.


Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 845.758.7900,

JULY 8-AUGUST 22: Gogol takes over Bard's beautiful campus this summer with an array of theater, music, and film events celebrating the Russian satirist's writing. St. Petersburg's Alexandrinsky Theatre is bringing over a production of The Inspector General (July 8-11), as well as theatrical adaptations of various Gogol tales: The Overcoat (August 4-8), Nevsky Prospekt (August 11-15), and the movement theater piece White Cabin (August 18-21). Shostakovich's seldom revived comic opera, The Nose, rounds out the Gogol stage offerings.


WorkShop Theatre, 312 West 36th Street; Where Eagles Dare Theatre, 347 West 36th Street; 212.868.4444,

JULY 12-AUGUST 1: Though now in its fifth year, the Midtown International Theatre Festival continues to operate under the radar of many theatergoers. Yes, it's held in midtown. Its internationalism in years past, however, hasn't always been so evident. But with 33 shows in 21 days, there's bound to be a bit of everything, cosmopolitan and not. Musical theater lovers will have much to choose from in this year's lineup, which includes song-filled works on Samson and Delilah, the American explorer John C. Fremont, and a gay man with insomnia.


Theatre Row Theatres, 410 West 42nd Street,

JULY 5-AUGUST 1: Emerging playwrights have it tough in this theater town, which is why this First Annual Summer Play Festival is such welcome news. Presenting 16 plays and two musicals (out of over 1,000 submissions), the event doesn't charge an entry fee to writers. It's all about discovering the next Lorraine Hansberry, Tennessee Williams, Maria Irene Fornes, and Sam Shepard, which is why producer Arielle Tepper plans to keep ticket prices low and invite in producers who are willing to take risks on fresh talent.


Dixon Place, 258 Bowery; Dixon Place at the Marquee, 356 Bowery; 212.219.0736,

JULY 6-28: Dixon Place is returning to its old digs on the Bowery for its annual Hot! festival, which features a Who's Who of queer performance royalty, including John Fleck, Holly Hughes, and Reno. Readings by gay and lesbian authors, an "outrageous" new work by Argentinean playwright Susana Cook, and an open-mic potluck complete the nothing if not gloriously queer bill.


Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster Street, 212.966.4844,

JULY 7-AUGUST 14: Winner of last year's Ross Wetzsteon Award for its ongoing commitment to the development of new work, Soho Think Tank's Ice Factory festival includes a contribution by Les Freres Corbusier, whose Off-Broadway sleeper, A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant, unexpectedly lit up the fall season. Les Freres' latest piece is called The Franklin Thesis (July 21-24). Its reasonable argument: that Benjamin Franklin was in fact the Antichrist. Other potential highlights include Josh Fox's Expense of Spirit, an exploration of the Iraq war's impact on a video store, and John Clancy's Fat Boy, "a grotesque" about the rapaciousness of today's world leaders.


Various Venues, 212.875.5766,

JULY 6-25: Complicite has shortened its name (from Theatre de Complicite), though not its theatrical aspirations. The company, under the direction of Simon McBurney, has adapted three stories from Haruki Murakami's The Elephant Vanishes (July 21-25), potentially the most innovative offering in what promises to be an adventurous theater bill. Other productions of literary note include Gersher Theatre's The Slave (July 20-23) and Shosha (July 24-25), two adaptations by the Israeli company of works by Nobel winner Isaac Bashevis Singer. But the hot ticket will no doubt be Stephen Sondheim's The Frogs, a Musical, which stars the comically inimitable Nathan Lane, who apparently had a hand in this freehand version of Aristophanes' classic.


Central Park, inside 103rd and Central Park West, 212.252.4531,

JULY 29-AUGUST 22: The Delacorte apparently isn't the only place in Central Park where the classics come to life. New York Classical Theater is reviving Aphra Behn's The Feigned Courtesans, a rare opportunity to experience restoration comedy from a female point of view. Better still, the production, which plans to fully exploit the natural locale, doesn't charge admission.


Various Venues, 212.279.4488,

AUGUST 13-29: Now in its eighth year, the ever expanding Fringe Festival promises to be even more international this year. Watch as the Lower East Side transforms itself for two weeks into a revolving showcase for virtually any kind of performance you can imagine—and some you might rather not. Forget American Idol! Dress skimpily (not all of the venues have robust air-conditioning systems) and try to predict which show might become the next Urinetown.


HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, 212.868.4444,

JUNE 16-26: Still trying to establish itself, the eighth annual Queer @ HERE Festival is once again going it alone (after teaming up last year with Dixon Place)—though the event promises to be as queer as ever. Sex and gender insouciance are the typical fare, but don't count out rebellious forays into cross-media performance and general artistic mischief making.


Delacorte Theater, Central Park, near West 81st Street entrance, 212.539.8750,

JUNE 22-AUGUST 7 'Much Ado About Nothing': Shakespeare's witty battle of the sexes is the Public's lone Central Park offering this summer, but don't fret. David Esbjornson's production features a pool of talent worthy of any festival. Kristen Johnston and Jimmy Smits portray the dueling lovers, Beatrice and Benedick—with Brian Murray, Sam Waterston, and Elisabeth Waterston rounding out the starry cast.


13th Street Pier and Shipyard Park, Hoboken, New Jersey, 201.459.1117,

JULY 22-AUGUST 15: Central Park isn't the only place in the metropolitan area where the Bard goes pastoral. The Hudson Shakespeare Company is presenting Coriolanus and Cymbeline this summer, with Aristophanes' Lysistrata thrown in for good anti-war measure. If that's not enough for Jersey bardolaters, the Shipyard Shakespeare Festival is performing A Midsummer Night's Dream with the Actors Shakespeare Company in Shipyard Park.

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