The past couple weeks have been a little slower than usual in Theatreland, with fewer openings, numerous closings, and performances on limited schedules. This week, as we all get back up to speed, there’s already quite a lot to choose from.

2006_01_arts_neuro.gifTwo unusual and intriguing festivals start on Thursday. Untitled Theater Company #61 is presenting the NEUROfest, which has theatre artists of all stripes performing pieces that revolve around neurological conditions like Tourette’s Syndrome (Welcome To Tourettaville! is a “family musical” that was co-written by a 7-year-old with Tourette’s), Capgras’ Syndrome (the play Impostors features a man who believes his parents have been replaced by duplicates), amnesia and aphasia (dealt with in Strangers and Linguish, respectively, both plays by Edward Einhorn, the artistic director of Untitled Theater Co. #61), among others. We were especially excited to hear that Nancy Walsh will be performing Don Nigro’s Cincinnati; we saw her when it ran a couple years ago at the 79th St. Theatre Lab and were blown away. It’s only one night (Jan. 16), but well worth organizing your plans around.

The other big festival is Culturemart 2006 at HERE, which showcases artists from the residency program. There are plenty of goodies to suit all kinds of theatre-shoppers: the opener is Teatro Slovak, a piece by Richard Caliban featuring Slovakian actors in a cabaret collage; then comes Sleepy Hollow, a sophisticated shadow-puppet version of the story done by Drama of Works. That's just the beginning; Culturemart continues for a few weeks, and there’s such a wide variety of interesting stuff that we’d recommend you just go to HERE on any given day and catch what’s on – chances are good you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

On a smaller scale but still festival-like is The Young Company’s Moliere Cycle at Classic Stage Company, in which members of Columbia’s theatre MFA program are performing Scapin, Tartuffe, and The Misanthrope in repertory. Normally we don’t look all that much at student productions, but this one looks especially polished and irresistible (Moliere’s wit and light touch are good for winter doldrums). Plus, it’s always tempting to go and wonder who among the actors we’ll be seeing professionally soon – this cast is part of the future.

Moliere would have had a field day with reality TV, we imagine. In Fish Bowl, Simona Berman and Andrew Thomas Pitkin give their own take on the phenomenon that refuses to die, pitting six contestants against each other for a large cash prize and a larger dose of chaos. It certainly looks to be on the dark side of satire, but anymore that seems like just about the only suitable approach to “reality” programming.

Finally, the Vortex Theater Company is hosting the US premiere of The Northern Quarter, by Dutch playwright Alex van Warmerdam. The play was originally written in the ’80’s and sounds both amusing and disturbing. It’s about a grown man who lives with his overbearing, loving but restrictive parents, and his sort of bizarre dreams of escape and life on the outside, on his own. Van Warmerdam might be Dutch, but we’d guess that the anxieties and frustrations he expresses here will be quite familiar to many in the audience. It’s yet another thing we love about theater – the way it allows us to see how people we’d ordinarily never meet or talk to express the same things that preoccupy us. In these picks and beyond, there’s plenty to choose from, so all we can say is, just get a ticket and see where it takes you!

Details after the jump...

2006_01_arts_moliere.gifAll NEUROfest shows are at Theater 5, 311 W. 43rd St. See the website for details about scheduling. Tickets via Theatermania.

Culturemart 2006 is at HERE, 145 Sixth Ave. See the official website for scheduling. Tickets via Smarttix.

The Moliere Cycle starts tonight at Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St. The three plays are running until Jan. 15; see the website for the schedule. Tickets via TicketCentral http://www.ticketcentral.com/showdetails.asp?showid=677

Fish Bowl is at the Michael Weller Theatre, 311 W. 43rd St. 6th Floor. It opens Sat. 1/7 and shows through Jan 22, Mon. & Wed.-Sun. 8pm, Sun. 3pm.

The Northern Quarter is at the Sanford Meisner Theatre, 164 11th Ave., opening Sat. 1/7 and going until Jan. 22. Tickets via Theatermania.