Summer starts this month, and we could celebrate with some lighter theater. Yet the most promising productions playing here are heavy; they look into our deepest selves and guide us toward introspection about the way we treat ourselves and others. For those who love all the creativity involved in theater, those arts and sciences will still shine brightly throughout these shows. That’s why we’re betting these five productions, listed in order of closing date, are worth your theatergoing time and money this month.
The Color Purple
Hollywood Pantages Theatre, through June 17
Some people have horrific lives yet manage to hold on to their dignity and beliefs—perhaps none in theater more so than Celie. Horrifically abused through childhood, married as a young teen to a brute and, most painful to her, separated from her beloved younger sister, Celie survives and eventually thrives. Director and scenic designer John Doyle (Sweeney Todd, Company) re-creates his Tony-winning work in this musical based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-winning novel and the 1985 film, adapted for the stage by Marsha Norman, with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. For ages 12 and up.
6233 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood (800-982-2787). Tue–Fri at 8pm; Sat at 2, 8pm; Sun at 1, 6:30pm. $35–$145.
Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, June 1–10
Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, June 15–24
Leo Frank was an educated Jewish New Yorker who came to Georgia and became a factory supervisor in 1913. When a too-young factory worker is found raped and murdered, the opportunity to convict, imprison and execute Frank brings bigoted Southerners the vilest of pleasure. A real-life topic for a musical? Yes, and a brilliant one, with book by Alfred Uhry and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Our source of light here? This production stars the stellar Jeff Skowron, reprising the role of Leo Frank.
Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr, Cerritos (714-589-2770). Thu at 7:30pm; Fri at 8pm; Sat at 2, 8pm; Sun at 2pm. $40–$85. • Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Redondo Beach (714-589-2770). Fri at 8pm; Sat at 2, 8pm; Sun at 2pm. $45–$105.
Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, June 5–July 8
As one part of playwright Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit trilogy, this play follows four Motor City employees of an auto manufacturing plant in 2008. This factory is not too big to fail, which leaves each worker to struggle with moral ambivalences that compete with financial needs, allegiances and possibly a bit of romance. And so it leaves the audience members wondering, “What would I have done?” Patricia McGregor directs Amari Cheatom, Caroline Stefanie Clay, Kelly McCreary and D.B. Woodside.
10886 Le Conte Ave (310-208-5454). Tue–Fri at 8pm; Sat at 3, 8pm; Sun at 2, 7pm. $10–$90.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
The Bristol Old Vic production at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, June 8–July 1
Perhaps the most famous midcentury American play, Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical four-act explores a day in the life of the theatrically iconic James and Mary Tyrone in their Connecticut seaside home with their two adult sons. It’s no vacation. The most subtle of recriminations and the least subtle of chemical addictions set the story on knife’s edge. Here, Brits at the top of their fields take on the masterpiece, as Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal) directs Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune) and Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread).
9390 N Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills (310-746-4000). Tue–Fri at 8pm; Sat, Sun at 2, 8pm. $60–$75.
Ahmanson Theatre, June 19–July 29
Locals love to claim their own, and although playwright Stephen Karam hails from Pennsylvania, his career seems to have launched from Los Angeles, where he won Blank Theatre Company’s Nationwide Young Playwrights Festival in 1997, ’98 and ’99. So we proudly salute our adopted son Karam, as his 2016 Tony-winning play arrives in town. It centers on a seemingly average dysfunctional family, as fear drives each member. But intriguingly, their fears manifest onstage. The audience needn’t fear: Joe Mantello (Wicked) directs, and Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell reprise their Broadway performances.
135 N Grand Ave (213-972-4400). Tue–Fri at 8pm; Sat at 2, 8pm; Sun at 1, 6:30 pm (No perf Wed July 4, additional perf Thu, July 5 at 2pm). $30–$130.