Things kicked off on the UNC campus last week with the opening program of "Criminal / Justice," UNC-Chapel Hill's yearlong examination of the death penalty, a staged reading of The Death of Innocents, a memoir by renowned activist/author Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking) of witnessing two men who were wrongfully executed. This week, however, Playmakers Repertory Company officially inaugurates PRC2, its edgier second-stage series, with the U.S. premiere of WHEN THE BULBUL STOPPED SINGING, human rights lawyer Raja Shehadeh's controversial chronicle of the 2002 Israeli occupation of Ramallah. PRC artistic director Joseph Haj helms this one-man show, directed by Ellen Hemphill, at Kenan Theater in UNC's Department of Dramatic Arts Building, Sept. 12-16 (962-PLAY, www.playmakersrep.org). See "Playmakers' new season opens."
Is that orange actually blue? Is the thusly-confused mental patient really the son of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin? And who is actually the sane one among the patient, the doctor and his supervisor, the trio we encounter in Joe Penhall's nervy drama, BLUE/ORANGE? Don't speak too soon, when Natalie Sowell (Minstrel Show) directs Manbites Dog Theater's season opener, Sept. 20-Oct. 13 (682-3343, manbitesdogtheater.org).
Who else but auteur director Jay O'Berski would try to make a theater piece out of Eugene Smith's Jazz Loft Project—which included 40,000 photographs and 1,740 reel-to-reel tapes? This treasure trove documented eight years of after-hours performances in a Manhattan loft building where jazz musicians hung out and played at the end of the 1950s. We witness the resulting adaptation Sept. 26-29, when MISTERIOSO occupies Duke's Smith Warehouse space (684-4444, www.dukeperformances.org).
ALONZO KING'S LINES BALLET COMPANY contributes to the Following Monk festival (see "Duke Performances"), and notes the influence of the composer's works in Following the Subtle Current Upstream and The Moroccan Project during its Sept. 27 performance at Duke's Reynolds Theater (684-4444, dukeperformances.org). That same weekend, Taiwan's CLOUD GATE DANCE THEATER stages Wild Cursive, an extension of a work performed at the 2003 American Dance Festival. UNC's Memorial Hall sees its meditation on how words dance in Chinese calligraphy, Sept. 28-29 (843-3333, carolinaperformingarts.org).
In the beginning, there was only one catch. But then Joseph Heller's CATCH-22 became a best-selling novel and a 1970 Mike Nichols film. The annual tours of London's Aquila Theatre have become something of a regional fixture in recent years; we see their take on '60s American counterculture Oct. 9 in Stewart Theater (515-1100, www.ncsu.edu/centerstage).
Which one were you in high school, Raleigh Ensemble Players asks: The jock? The prep? The beauty? The brain? The rebel? The believer? The loner? The freak? The first act of theatrical documentary columbinus takes testimony from present-day high-schoolers across the country about the social factors that turn school into a psychological war zone. Then the second act examines what happened differently—and just the same—at Colorado's Columbine High School, before and during the massacre there in 1999. The questioning begins Oct. 11-27 (832-9607, realtheatre.org).
Though Robert Battle and Nicholas Leichter are perennial guest instructors at the American Dance Festival, their choreography—and self-named companies—go their own ways when it comes to matters of style and vision. Battle's BATTLEWORKS DANCE COMPANY's Oct. 19 performance at Reynolds Theater should add balletic—and percussive—movement to Duke's Following Monk festival (684-4444, dukeperformances.org). On Oct. 25, we get to see nicholasleichterdance's working-class interpretation of The Rite of Spring, whose "Afro-Cuban-influenced moves spoke about finding strength in community" (The New York Times) in its February premiere (515-1100, www.ncsu.edu/centerstage).
Was Heinrich von Kleist, a late Romantic whose work is cited as a precursor to Ibsen, modernism and post-modernism, "the original suicidal artist"? Explore the claim while experiencing Jody McAuliffe's "surreal dreamplay" adaptation of her own novella, MY LOVELY SUICIDES. Dana Marks directs a top-flight cast that includes Alessandra Colaianni, Tom Marriott and Gregor McElvogue in this Little Green Pig season opener, Nov. 1-17. The location of this Manbites Dog "Other Voices" co-production remains TBA (682-3343, littlegreenpig.com).
Playwright Carson Kreitzer says THE LOVE SONG OF J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER is about "the truth as I know it: elusive, multi-faceted, changing under observation. Also, capable of great explosion." Over the two acts of this "winding, poetic meditation on passion, morality, science and betrayal" (City Pages), the man known as the father of the atomic bomb is pursued by an unlikely inquisitor: Lilith, the disputed first woman, from Jewish mythology. Emily Ranii returns home to direct the last Burning Coal production prior to its January debut in the Murphey School building. It runs Nov. 1-18 at Kennedy Theatre (834-4001, burningcoal.org).
Noted regional theater writer and actor Nicole Quenelle joins both hands theatre company when it produces her new play, holding pattern, Nov. 8-17, at Manbites Dog Theater. Its subject? "One sharpened pencil, 100 tiny troll men and a whole sack of nuts conspire to stop The Girl Who Blows Bubbles..." in "a fantastical tale of the astonishingly difficult endeavor to tell one's own story." Yep, that mix of whimsy and advanced psychological analysis sounds like both hands, all right (682-3343, www.myspace.com/bothhandstheatre).
Before there was hip hop, there was Melvin Van Peebles. AIN'T SUPPOSED TO DIE A NATURAL DEATH shook Broadway's rafters, in an original 1971 production whose musicality and gritty street truth presaged the major social and artistic movement of the following decade. The 2004 restaging by the Classical Theatre of Harlem shook things up again. We catch it, during the company's weeklong residency at Duke, Nov. 9-10 in Reynolds Theater (684-4444, www.dukeperformances.org).