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Theater: The stage heats up the winter

At least one of February's "must-see" shows will be produced outside the bounds of the "Faith" festival, however. "Breathe," due from Richmond Triangle Players starting on Feb. 2, takes several challenging subjects — lesbian parenthood, the sexuality of priests — and wraps them up in a rousing, feel-good musical that promises to be a high-spirited celebration of life.

Perhaps as a celebration of a turnaround in the economy, the next several months will feature a surprising number of splashy musicals, seldom seen in recent years because of their cost. Barksdale's gospel musical "Crowns" kicks off the trend with its premiere Jan. 28. Then April is awash with the things, with "The Civil War" at Theatre VCU (April 7-24), the classic "Fiddler on the Roof" at the University of Richmond (April 14-17), and kid-friendly "Seussical: The Musical" at Theatre IV (opening April 22). Each of these will appeal to theatergoers who like their shows big, bold and eager-to-please.

In contrast, the Firehouse Theatre Project has possibly the edgiest show with "Volume of Smoke" by Clay McLeod Chapman, opening Feb. 24. Chapman is a homegrown talent now living in New York who has garnered nationwide acclaim with his disturbing, dark, but unquestionably imaginative short stories. "Smoke" is his first full-length play and will offer Chapman's skewed view of a real-life tragedy, the 1811 Richmond Theatre fire. If "Smoke" doesn't heat up your winter, nothing will. — David Timberline

David Timberline is a former member of the American Theatre Critics Association who has been writing reviews for Style Weekly under the pseudonym D.L. Hintz since 1998. He worked as a stagehand and assistant electrician for the theater department at Duke University before moving to Richmond, where he worked backstage for several Theatre IV productions in the mid-80s.

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