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TV stars shine at Williamstown Theatre Fest

Wendie Malick, Ginnifer Goodwin, Sarah Paulson, and Allison Janney are among the famous faces heating up this summer’s Williamstown Theatre Festival, Massachusetts’ classy, hip — and inexpensive — stage series

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Summer seems to be the worst season for major theater in New York City, with shows shuttering left and right post-Tony Awards and only the decades-long warhorses continuing to pack ’em in. (Seriously, how many times can you and your out-of-town guests see Chicago or Phantom?) So why not take a little trip to Massachusetts, where you can see some truly fine performers — Broadway vets and TV stars alike — strutting their stuff?

The Williamstown Theatre Festival stages close to a dozen productions every summer, rehearsed and performed in a relatively short window of time, at fairly reasonable prices (a top ticket of $57 is much less wallet-busting than $111 for Broadway). And when you consider the fact that luminaries like Gwyneth Paltrow, Bebe Neuwirth, Calista Flockhart, Elizabeth Banks (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), and 2007 Tony winner Frank Langella have all passed through, that’s a certified bargain. Here are some of the productions you can still catch:

Blithe Spirit
Noël Coward’s classic comedy features a bevy of familiar faces, including Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me), Jessica Hecht (Friends), Michael Boatman (Spin City), and Tony winner Adriane Lenox. (July 18?29, 413-597-3400)

Party Come Here
Much of the creative team behind this summer’s surprise Broadway hit Xanadu (who would have guessed?) stage a farcical, brand-new musical set in Rio and featuring Hunter Foster (Urinetown), Kate Reinders (Wicked) and Malcolm Gets (Caroline in the City). (July 25?Aug. 5, 413-597-3400)

The Corn is Green
It’s been immortalized on screens large (with Bette Davis) and small (with Katharine Hepburn); this time, newly minted Emmy nominee Kate Burton (Grey’s Anatomy‘s Ellis Grey) takes on steely, small-town schoolteacher Miss Moffat in Emlyn Williams’ distinguished drama. It also happens to star her very own son, Morgan Ritchie, in the pivotal role of her troubled pupil, and Big Love‘s wonderful Ginnifer Goodwin as young seductress Bessie Watty — far removed from her sweet, winsome Margene on the HBO polygamy dramedy. (Aug. 1?12, 413-597-3400)

Crimes of the Heart
Beth Henley’s award-winning, Southern-fried sister drama gets a new berth, courtesy of the redoubtable Kathleen Turner, in her newfound role as director. The exceptional cast includes Sarah Paulson (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Jennifer Dundas (Desperate Housewives) and Jill Clayburgh’s prodigious offspring, up-and-coming stage star Lily Rabe. (Aug. 8-19, 413-597-4300)

The Autumn Garden
This classic play by Lillian Hellman, which she reportedly believed to be her strongest, about seven friends confronting middle age at a Mexican resort, features Mamie Gummer (who plays the younger version of real-life mom Meryl Streep in Evening) and Emmy winner Allison Janney, who can currently be seen at the multiplex, playing monstrous mom Prudy Pingleton in Hairspray. (Aug. 15?26, 413-597-3400)