Gem of the Ocean was the penultimate play August Wilson wrote for his epic "Pittsburgh Cycle," and it's the weirdest and most visionary of the lot. Set in 1904, it takes the cycle's most mysterious character, Aunt Ester Tyler, and gives her a starring role. Ester, a 284-year-old (!) "soul cleanser," guides a murderer named Citizen Barlow on a shamanic journey across the sea on the Gem of the Ocean — once a slave ship — to the "City of Bones," where he must confront his past — and transcend it. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is burning all around Ester's peaceful Hill District home, and a peculiarly violent sheriff is giving his trigger finger a workout.
Quiara Alegria Hudes came yea close to winning the Pulitzer for her previous play, Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue, and her musical In the Heights won a Tony for Best Musical after blowing minds for a season off-Broadway. 26 Miles is more personal than either work — a semiautobiographical tale of mother-daughter bonding on a long road trip across America. Yes, that sounds kind of awful — like something doomed to become a painful exercise in chick-flickdom or whatever its onstage equivalent might be — but reserve your judgment. Hudes is one hell of a quirky writer, and New Theatre is always prepared to milk a script for its every last wringable drop of novelty and weirdness. Check it out.
Creators of bantamweight AOR musical Married Alive return to reinvigorate a Christmas classic — only this iteration of the poem involves a big and terrifying homeless man breaking into a woman's apartment in the dead of night. Perverse? Sure. And no holiday needs a vivifying splash of perversity more than Christmas, and no theater needs it as badly as Actors' Playhouse. Here's hoping it gets rough. (Which it won't, 'cause there is a very good chance the homeless man in question isn't homeless at all, but instead a certain jolly, bearded elf in disguise... but you can never tell.)