Mark Cofta’s January theater picks

Carl N. Wallnau as Chick Sherman in the Arden's 'FUNNYMAN.' Photo by Mark Garvin.

The New Year starts with new plays from old favorites and much more.

And don't call Bruce Graham "old" like it's a bad thing because he's the area's most prolific and successful playwright, having a whirlwind season that started with summer's Stella and Lou (at People's Light) and the Act II Playhouse revival of According to Goldman in September, acclaimed comedies dwarfed by the much-anticipated Theatre Exile premiere of Rizzo.

Now it's the Arden's turn, with the world premiere of FUNNYMAN (January 14-March 6), a show business comedy in the vein of Something Intangible, the Arden's seven Barrymore Award-winning premiere of Graham's fictionalized account of brothers Roy and Walt Disney. FUNNYMAN is inspired by John Lahr's book Notes on a Cowardly Lion about his father, Burt Lahr, immortalized not only in The Wizard of Oz but also by acting in the premiere of an avante-garde Off-Broadway play, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Matt Pfeiffer directs.

FUNNYMAN isn't the last new Graham play this season — Trenton, NJ's Passage Theatre presents the area premiere of Graham's White Guy on the Bus May 5-22. And if you want more Graham, The Philly Fan, about the sufferings of a lifelong fan of local sports conceived and performed by Tom McCarthy, plays the Montgomery Theater in Souderton February 11-March 6.

Stoppard returns

The Wilma Theater is among the first American companies to produce Tom Stoppard's The Hard Problem (January 6-February 6), his first play since Rock 'n' Roll, produced by the Wilma in 2009. It's the Wilma's twelfth Stoppard — highlights include Arcadia, which opened their Broad Street theater in 1996 and Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, produced with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kimmel Center in 2002.

In The Hard Problem, Sarah Gliko plays a psychology student seeking a position to study the titular issue of consciousness. Expect a dizzying exploration of game theory, cognitive philosophy, and the brain activity that supposedly makes humans unique — all wrapped in witty, playful dialogue and wicked plot twists.

Welcome the Drake

We all got a little nervous when InterAct postponed the eagerly awaited opening of its new home at the Drake last fall, but they're now completing renovations at 1512 Spruce Street on a 128-seat mainstage space and a 75-seat second stage, both of which InterAct will share with Azuka Theatre, Inis Nua Theatre Company, the Simpatico Theatre Project, and PlayPenn.

Artistic director Seth Rozin inaugurates the large space with #therevolution (January 22-February 14), a new play about social media by Kristoffer Diaz (The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity), while Simpatico opens the second stage with Amanda Schoonover and Brenna Geffers' The It Girl (January 20-February 7), about silent movie star Clara Bow.

Around the corner on Broad Street, the Philadelphia Theatre Company features their co-production with New York City's Primary Stages of Exit Strategy (January 29-February 28), a drama by Ike Holter about a Chicago public school slated for closure.

Classics Redux

The Lantern Theater Company's Oscar Wilde: From the Depths (January 14-February 14) is a new play by artistic director Charles McMahon about the celebrated playwright, who's also a popular character in plays about his life. This new play is inspired by Wilde's "De Profundis," a letter he wrote to his lover from prison after his conviction for homosexuality.

At the Walnut Street Theatre, Mary Chase's 1944 Pulitzer Prize-winning, crowd-pleasing comedy Harvey (January 19-March 6), about a genial drunk whose best friend is an invisible six-foot-tall rabbit, takes the main stage.

Upstairs in the Independence Studio on 3, another Pulitzer Prize winner, Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten (January 12-February 7), launches a national tour.  Director Kate Galvin's production features Angela Smith and Anthony Lawton, plus the return of beloved actor Michael Toner, who lost a leg to a hit-and-run driver last year.

The Media Theatre revives To Kill a Mockingbird (January 27-February 21), Christopher Sergel's adaptation of Harper Lee's novel, directed by Jesse Cline and featuring Robert Stineman as Atticus Finch.

Princeton, NJ's McCarter Theatre presents a major new production of August Wilson's The Piano Lesson (January 8-February 7), the 1990 Pulitzer-winning drama set in 1930s Pittsburgh. Jade King Carroll's production features Tony Award-winner Cleavant Derricks.  

The Resident Ensemble Players at the University of Delaware — a professional company with a great facility — offer Frederick Knott's classic thriller Wait Until Dark (January 20-February 6) about a blind woman facing bad guys alone in her Greenwich Village apartment. Jeffrey Hatcher's 2013 revision seems unnecessary — it backdates the play from 1966 to 1944 and streamlines the text for modern audiences — but the story of a resourceful woman's fight for survival still works. 

At right: Michael Toner, Angela Smith, and Anthony Lawton star in A Moon for the Misbegotten. Photo courtesy of the Walnut Street Theatre. 

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