While we wait impatiently for some real improvement in the temperature, theater companies are heating up the late winter with scores of new productions. A warning, though: maybe it’s just the mood we’ve been in, but everything that most appealed to us this week is pretty dark/serious. For that reason, we’ll start off with Ensemble Studio Theatre’s company of emerging playwrights, youngblood, which is having its annual “Asking For Trouble” series this week. Each playwright (10 of them) drew a cast and director randomly and had a short time to create a nine-minute play with them; the results are at the Kraine this week, and even if some of the plays are dark, as some undoubtedly will be, it will at least be uplifting to see new playwrights having their work produced.

The Kraine Theater // 85 E. 4th St. // Thurs.-Sat. 7pm // Call 212-247-4982 for tickets

We were instantly intrigued, in a morbid sort of way, by the synopsis of The Ledge, which Jack Hanley based on a story by Lawrence Sargent Hall about a fisherman who dies while trying to pull his son and nephew from icy North Atlantic waters; the whole thing is recounted by him from beyond the grave. The tagline: What chance does a man have for salvation when he lives as a man? Good question. Mike Houston stars in what promises to be a riveting production.

Dixon Place // 658 Bowery // Fri.-Sat. 8pm through Apr. 8 // Call 212-219-0736 for tickets

2006_03_arts_mercy.jpgThe Flea Theatre has something of a specialty in dark comedy, and it stays true to that with Mercy on the Doorstep, by Gip Hoppe. It’s about an alcoholic widow whose stepdaughter is a born-again fanatic; the two have to somehow come to terms with each other because circumstances force them to stay in the same house together. From the official description it doesn’t sound like they do too badly at this, so maybe we do have some uplift in the picks this week; but these characters have a lot of troubles to overcome.

Flea Theater // 41 White St. // Tues.-Sat. 7pm, Sat. also 3pm // Tickets via Theatermania

Looking to international affairs, where there’s always a high proportion of serious, often depressing subjects to treat, Walk the Mountain is a one-woman play by and starring Jude Narita, who brings to life the stories she gathered through talks with Cambodian and Vietnamese women. The tales center on the effects of the American war (i.e., what we refer to in shorthand as “Vietnam”) and include characters such as “doctor working in the jungle hospitals, a freedom fighter imprisoned in a tiger cage, a mother searching for her sons, and an immigrant in America who dreams of flying,” with whom Narita puts faces to the people who were intentionally left anonymous while we were fighting in their country.

59E59 Theaters // 59 E. 59th St. // Through Apr. 9, Tues.-Sat. 8:15pm, Sun. 3:15pm // Tickets via Ticket Central

2006_03_arts_livingroom.jpgFinally, the Gothamist pick of the week is Bathsheba Doran’s Living Room in Africa, the latest production from Edge Theater. The title tells most of it: Marie and Mark are a British couple who’ve moved to southeast Africa to open an art gallery in order to “bring hope” (apparently unaware that Africans are the world’s most hopeful people). What actually happens is that though the action doesn’t move from their roomy, light-filled living room, the tough reality of Africa – the disease, the poverty – keep intruding and interfering with their comfortable lives, wrecking their relationships and their senses of themselves. Maduka Steady in particular gives a strong performance as Anthony, the contractor they hire to build the gallery who is desperate to leave Africa. Doran doesn’t offer any easy answers; you’re bound to leave the theater brooding over what you’ve seen and arguing with yourself and others over what the characters did and should have done, and to us that sort of effect is one of the best a play can have.

Beckett Theater // 410 W. 42nd St. // Through Apr. 15, Mon., Wed.-Sat. 8pm, Sat. also 2pm, Sun. 7pm // Tickets via Ticket Central