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Take it outside 

Putting plays in bars, parks and johns

The great thing about theater is that it doesn't have to take place in a theater. Theater can happen anywhere you can put actors and someone to watch them, and Atlanta troupes should capitalize on their "portability."

Granted, outdoor theater often evokes the stereotype of white-faced mimes or hirsute political science majors accosting innocent bystanders with their craft. And though "Shakespeare in the Park" isn't exactly innovative, the Georgia Shakespeare Festival should offer a sharp example of it with A Midsummer Night's Dream May 13-16 in Piedmont Park. The festival revives its 2000 production, including nearly the entire original cast and Rochelle Barker's moonscape set, which should look especially dramatic with Lake Clara Meer behind it.

The most exciting "environmental" shows, however, make the real world part of the drama. A new local troupe called The Collective is heading straight for the crapper -- literally -- to do the big-business satire Downsize. Chris Welzenbach's play originated at Chicago's Walkabout Theatre and takes place in an actual men's room, where five workers at a big corporation try to manipulate an impending round of layoffs.

Downsize director Steven Westdahl says the play can be held in any bathroom as long as it has at least two urinals and one stall. He plans to open on May 7 at a water closet to be announced later, and hopes to "tour" the show at various restaurant, bar and theater restrooms around town. With a 45-minute running time, Downsize can play several times a night to about a dozen people at a time, who stand for the show's duration. Seating, of course, is limited.

The Neo-Futurists' Drinking and Writing plays at Dad's Garage Top Shelf space through March 27, but the show was written and frequently performed in actual bars. The play debuted at a watering hole in the company's native Chicago and has played taverns in Colorado, Minnesota and Iowa. Dad's will simulate the experience by remaking the small theater into a working bar, at which writer-performers Sean Benjamin, Diana Slickman and Steve Mosqueda sit on barstools to reflect on the relationship between alcohol and famous American authors. Audience members are free to drink and mingle like barflies.

Clever locations transform plays into "event" shows, which can intrigue the curious without blowing a theater's budget.

Common tongue

Leave it to theaters in the 'burbs, where international communities are growing, to come up with a plan to tap into new audiences. Aurora Theatre's current staging of the Spanish fairy tale Life is a Dream and Theatre in the Square's world premiere of the children's play The Library Dragon this summer will each primarily run in English. But both shows will be staged in Spanish Sundays and Saturdays, respectively.

Other multilingual productions on tap include Atlanta's Theatre du Reve, which has produced French-language theater in Atlanta for eight years. This year they present Vive La Fontaine April 13-25 at 7 Stages in conjunction with Francophonie 2004, a celebration of the French-speaking world. The company's adaptation of the fables of La Fontaine features live music and puppetry to make it a sumptuous experience even if you don't know French.

Rick Miller's one-man show MacHomer (playing April 1-2 at the Ferst Center for the Arts) takes place in English, but in a highly particular idiom. Miller performs Macbeth by interpreting the roles with 50 voices from "The Simpsons," casting Homer and Marge, of course, as the Macbeths.

Judging from interviews, Miller is an exceptional mimic who can switch characters in a single breath -- for instance, he presents the murder of Banquo with Ned Flanders as the victim and Apu and Otto the bus driver as the killers. Replete with Simpsons-isms like "D'oh!" and with a run time about as long as two back-to-back episodes, MacHomer promises to be an excellent mishmash of classic and pop culture, in which the Bard takes a back seat.

If you've never seen "The Simpsons," MacHomer might as well be in a foreign tongue. But MacHomer's cult popularity proves that's not a problem. Apparently hit TV shows are the universal language.

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