Right now we feel like the bear climbing the mountain of previews, knowing that in a couple weeks we'll reach the top and see a whole slew of shows opening (at least, that’s how we like to sing the mountain-climbing bear song). We can hardly wait for later in March when everything’s in full swing, but there’s more than enough to keep us awash in Playbills…er, hand-folded programs…for now.

2006_03_arts_eatfest.jpgIt feels like the fall EATFest just ended, but somehow it’s already time for the spring installation. Not that we’re complaining – Ensemble Artists Theatre’s lineups almost always include some surprising and delightful new short pieces. This time around, you can see Gregory Fletcher’s “My Sister the Cow” in Series A; Marc Castle’s “Mr. Company” in Series B; and Bekah Brunstetter’s “Mom, Stoned” in Series C, plus two or three more along with them. It’s a great way to jumpstart your theatergoing or get out of a rut.

Theatre 5 // 311 W. 43rd St., 5th floor // Through Mar. 26; schedule varies, see the website for details // Call 212-247-2429 for ticket reservations

Speaking of festivals, a winner from Edinburgh’s fringe in 2004 and a production in the Ice Factory festival that same year is barging back onto the Ohio Theatre’s stage. Fatboy, by John Clancy, is “a live-action Punch and Judy show” that brutally satirizes American gluttony – the country’s lust for food, possessions, and power – with a plot and cast that are appropriately overboard. If you’re in the mood for morbid laughter, you could hardly do better than this.

Ohio Theater // 66 Wooster St. // Through Mar. 25, Wed.-Sat. 8pm, Sun. 7pm (no show 3/8) // Tickets via Smarttix.

When you see a comprehensive listing of shows that are on at any given time, it’s hard not to wonder how so many theater companies survive, but we know it’s far worse on the music scene. Grant James Varjas’ 33 to Nothing depicts one of the possible results of that overconcentration: a rock band that’s never made it is about to break up as its members age and confront the realities of “grown-up” life. That makes it sound kind of depressing, but it’s apparently heartwarming and funny (Varjas also wrote the accompanying songs, which we gather are upbeat) – most likely it just depends on your point of view.

Bottle Factory Theater // 195 E. 3rd St. // Through April 8, shows Wed.-Sat. 8pm // Tickets via Smarttix.

2006_03_arts_phenomenon.jpgThis week’s Gothamist pick, Phenomenon, is a trip back 25 years and across the country to Washington State, where Mt. St. Helens is about to blow, but the people living at its base are dealing with so many other issues in their romantic, family, and inner lives (plus the intersection of all those lives) that they hardly notice. Gordon Cox’s play is staged imaginatively by Alyse Rothman and her Nerve Ensemble and features some great acting, particularly from Rebecca Hart and Michael Lopez as a pair running a diner. A real live geologist provided consultant help on aspects of the production (though not, we’re guessing, the bits in which a dancer embodies the mountain’s internal activity), but more than scientific fact, it was the authenticity and clarity of human emotion on display that grabbed us and made us forget the present.

HERE Arts Center // 145 Sixth Ave. // Through Mar. 25, Thurs.-Mon. 8:30pm // Tickets via Smarttix. Photo of Michael Urie and Julie Jesneck by David Evans Morris.