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Best of the Season

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While HVSF brushes the cobwebs from Shakespeare, some prefer the work of living playwrights. Vassar College provides with its vital, unpredictable, and chaotic Powerhouse Summer Theater (June 27-August 3). Produced with New York Stage and Film, this showcase of new and seasoned voices, now in its 24th year, offers benefits for all involved: Playwrights can watch productions in their larval stage and keep polishing. Actors can strengthen characters before a premiere. And adventurous audiences can brag about seeing a future gem in its unpolished form. Powerhouse veteran John Patrick Shanley brought “Doubt,” a searing meditation on faith, morality, and that elastic concept we call truth, to Powerhouse in 2004 as a raw first reading; it would go on to win the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

This year, Powerhouse serves a program equally as beguiling and challenging as it is full of theatrical heavyweights, for those who pine for Manhattan-caliber celebrities. A leading voice of Manhattan’s Downtown scene of the `80s and `90s, playwright Eric Bogosian will debut a new play, “1+1,” starring Josh Hamilton and Kelly Garner and directed by Mark Brokaw (who directed the premier production of Paul Vogel's Putizer-prize winning play "How I Learned to Drive"). Slavish fans of the Tony-winning musical and youth romp “Spring Awakening” will flock to see “Nero,” a new musical by “Awakening” singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik and playwright Steven Sater. Playwright-activist Eve Ensler (“The Vagina Monologues”) will present a new work for the stage, “OPC,” certain to ask tough questions and double as a call-to-arms. And one of the original writers on “Saturday Night Live,” Alan Zweibel, will premiere a new one-man show “The History of Me.” His previous works include Billy Crystal’s schmaltz-and-horseradish “700 Sundays,” as well as “Bunny Bunny,” a bittersweet tribute to friend and collaborator, the late Gilda Radner. Powerhouse golden boy John Patrick Shanley returns with a reading of his latest, "Veronica." (845) 437-5902; www.powerhouse.vassar.edu

Connoisseurs of art photography and dance will find nirvana at the first summer season at Mount Tremper Arts, a 100-seat performance and exhibition space dedicated to classic and contemporary expressions of these artistic forms. Nestled among the Catskills in northwestern Ulster County, this fledgling project, cofounded by Mathew Pokoik and Aynsley Vandenbroucke, promises to be a summer arts colony for bohemians. In addition to exhibitions, there will be artist talks, workshops, and post-performance gatherings. Evidence of the eclectic range of Mount Tremper Arts: The summer calendar offers dance music by ethno-fusion musicians and DJs, as well as a photography exhibition of work by 20th-century American stalwart Walker Evans.

The Mount Tremper Arts season bows on July 19 with an opening night party showcasing multimedia pieces for adventurous tastes. The photography exhibition titled “Signs” showcases the work of Evans and the contemporary photographer Stephen Shore, and has a heady premise. From the organization brochure: “‘Signs’ investigates language within photography, the interplay between word and image, and the appropriation of found objects.” Whether that come-on puzzles or invigorates you, there’s more on July 19: an installation by jill sigman/thinkdance with dj Joro Boro, and the music of Golem, intriguingly described as klezmer/punk. Ambition of this caliber should bring Mount Tremper Arts deserved fans. The seven-week festival runs through August 31. (845) 688-9893; www.mttremperarts.com

You’re a latter-day hippie, born too late for the 1969 mudslide/love-in known as the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. But Max Yasgur’s rolling farmland will always remain hallowed ground. Happily bucking the trend of McMansions and malls that pockmark Sullivan County, the original site of Woodstock has become Bethel Woods, an amphitheater that is fast becoming the jewel of the Lower Catskills. Its bland, generic billboard ads notwithstanding, Bethel Woods presents a summer season of rock music that pays homage to the spirit of Woodstock while extending beyond its boundaries with other genres. People who avoided the brown acid the first time around will be cheered by the lineup, as will young acolytes craving their own summer memories.

Rock legends at Bethel Woods include the indomitable remains of trailer-trash virtuosos Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Outlaws (June 20), followed on August 12 by their musical big brothers, The Allman Brothers Band. Ringo Starr plays on June 21, joined by His All Starr Band (a grab bag of artists including Men at Work’s Colin Hay, Billy Squier, Edgar Winter, and Gary Wright). On July 13, enjoy ‘70s party-band-cum-mystics Steve Miller Band and Woodstock alumnus and Sheffield soul pioneer Joe Cocker, who survived a cameo in last year’s mind-numbing Across the Universe. On August 30, those of us who savor a guilty pleasure can indulge in three, with the line up of arena rockers Journey, former sirens Heart, and the irrepressible Cheap Trick. For the faithful, jazz-rock avatars and warped storytellers Steely Dan venture outside the protective bubble of the studio again, something they once vowed never to do (July 10). The most blatant nostalgia act on the bill, designed to cash in on the Woodstock mythos, is August 3rd’s Hippiefest 2008, featuring once-vital `60s and `70s acts. Among them: English blues-rock legends Eric Burdon & The Animals, Jack Bruce of supergroup Cream, and The Turtles, featuring Flo & Eddie, evergreen jesters who can probably wring the right amount of rueful laughs from this dubious outing. Also on the bill are original mope-folkie Melanie, Beatles protégés Badfinger, and Terry Sylvester, a member of The Hollies. Pay your respects and bring along a teenager for a lesson in musical history.

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