Vanessa Redgrave paired with Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) in a play he’s written? A new musical by David Byrne of Talking Heads fame about ex-dictator spouse Imelda Marcos, famous for her shoes? New works by the dangerously talented playwrights Annie Baker, Amy Herzog, Richard Greenberg, Richard Nelson and Rajiv Joseph? The return of Sondheim and Guare and Lanford Wilson?
Broadway is easy – 40 theaters, about 40 new shows a year with clear-cut opening dates, mostly in November and April, striking logos, high-powered publicists and marketers.
Off-Broadway is more chaotic, more spread out, more numerous (some 200 theaters, depending on how you count) less publicized – and, most serious theatergoers will tell you, far richer. It is also less expensive.
One thing Off-Broadway offers that Broadway does not* are residential theaters that nurture theater artists and new work. The best way I can think of to preview shows opening Off-Broadway this season is to present the offerings within each of these theaters, starting with the ones I like the most and that have the best track record lately.
I’ll be filling in and updating in the days ahead.
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Playwrights Horizons, which offered some of the most satisfying theater in New York during Fall 2012, with Detroit, The Whale and Great God Pan, presents three more shows in Spring 2013 that sound just as promising
Annie Baker, best known as the playwright of “Circle Mirror Transformation” and an adaptation of Uncle Vanya at Soho Rep, has authored this play about three underpaid employees in a run-down movie theatre in central Massachusetts. Her usual collaborator Sam Gold directs.
March 22 – May 12
Tanya Barfield’s play about a white couple deciding to adopt a child from Africa
Far From Heaven
May 18 – June 30
The ubiquitous playwright and musical book writer Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out; two shows on Broadway this season: Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Assembled Parties) and the composer-lyricist team of Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (Grey Gardens) present a musical adaptation of the Todd Haynes film about a secretly gay married man in the 1950s.
Begun with a focus on the work of a single playwright each season, Signature has expanded this season, thanks to its new building. And thanks to corporate underwriting, all tickets for the initial runs are $25.
Dance and the Railroad
One of the first plays that David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) wrote – and the first of his I ever saw – looks at two Chinese workers who struggle through poverty and hunger to reconnect with the traditions of their homeland.
February 12 – March 31
Tina Landau directs theatrical clowns Bill Irwin and David Shine in their first collaboration since Broadway’s “Fool Moon”
The Mound Builders
February 26-April 7
Jo Bonney directs this new production of Lanford Wilson’s 1975 Obie-winning about a team of archeologists who descend on an Illionis town to unearth the mysteries of its ancient Indian civilization.
Taking advantage of the relatively fallow period right after the holidays, the Public has presented this festival of new, mostly experimental theater from around the world for nine years. This year’s dozen offerings include Brooklyn-based The Debate Society’s Blood Play and a new work from Belarus Free Theatre, h Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker
February 26-March 17
Kwame Kwei-Armah directs Dominique Morisseau’s play, set in 1967 Detroit, about a brother and sister who turn their basement into an after-hours joint full of Motown music
March 1-March 31
Writer-director Guillermo Calderón play, newly translated into English, tells the story of Anton Chekhov’s widow, the actress Olga Knipper, who arrives in a dimly lit rehearsal room in St. Petersburg in the winter of 1905.
Here Lies Love
This world premiere musical by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim tells the story of Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos, directed by Alex Timbers (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson; Peter and the Starcatcher)
Old-Fashioned Prostitutes (A True Romance)
April 30-June 2, 2013
A theater piece written, directed by designed by Richard Foreman, the Godfather of the American Avant-Garde who some (me) consider an acquired taste, presents snapshots from an enigmatic fairy-tale in which Suzie, the elusive coquette, brings Samuel to his knee
May 28-June 23
Matt Sax and Eric Rosen present a musical about a fallen city in the not-so-distant future where revolution is in the air.
Nikolai and the Others
April 4-June 16
Richard Nelson, who is best known for his series of in-real-time plays that open on the date that they were set (“Sorry” which opened on Election Day 2012 was the last one) has authored a play about a 1948 gathering that includes choreographer George Balanchine, composer Igor Stravinsky, conductor Serge Koussevitsky, painter/set designer Sergey Sudeikin and composer Nikolai Nabokov. Nikolai and the Others is directed by David Cromer
Claire Tow Theater, new cutting-edge (and far less expensive) on a newly created top floor.
Luck of the Irish
January 28-March 10
Kirsten Greenidge’s play about an upwardly mobile African-American couple that pays a struggling Irish family to “ghost-buy” a house for them in 1950s Boston
February 12 – March 31
Amy Herzog, beloved playwright for “After the Revolution” and “4,000 Miles” offers this “chilling, Hitchcockian, look at the limits of trust, truth…” when a young married American couple move from the Midwest to Paris. Anne Kauffman directs.
The North Pool
May 1-June 9
Rajiv Joseph, who had his Broadway debut with “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” starring Robin Williams, returns to a New York stage with his thriller about a high school principal and a Middle Eastern-born transfer student who engage in a politically and emotionally charged game of cat and mouse.
February 8 – May 5
Michael Wilson will direct Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson as the Jewish immigrant and the Protestant nurse he loves in Lanford Wilson’s Pulitzer-Prize winning comedy.
Water By The Spoonful
now through January 27
Quiara Alegría Hudes’ 2012 Pulitzer-Prize winning play tells the story of Elliot’s return home to Philadelphia to reconnect with his Puerto Rican family after his time spent serving in Iraq
The Last Five Years
March 7-April 21
Jason Robert Brown’s musical about a relationship has had a thriving life in regional theater since it debuted Off-Broadway in 2002. Now it returns with Betsy Wolfe and Adam Kantor as the couple.
A new production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s tale of anguished, unquestioning love will feature Melissa Errico, Judy Kuhn and Ryan Silverman in romantic triangle about an ugly, broken woman who pursues a handsome soldier who is already in love with another woman.
Caucasian Chalk Circle
Begins May 2
A new score and Christopher Lloyd add to this Bertolt Brecht parable about a simple maid who in the midst of a revolution, cannot help but come to the aid of a poor defenseless infant.
January 10 – February 17
Lyle Kessler whose “Orphans” is being revived for a starry Broadway production with Shia LaBoeuf and Alex Baldwin, has authored this “incendiary black comedy” about three students, a professor, and a stranger who come together in a college dormitory, a production of The Amoralists
At the Cherry Lane Theater
February 15 – March 31
Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) follows up his playwriting debut with “The Revisionist” about a science fiction writer with writer’s block who travels to Poland to stay with his 73-year-old cousin, played by Vanessa Redgrave. Daniel Oreskes is also in the cast.
at The Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St
Jan 31-March 10
David Cromer (Our Town, Tribes) directs this play by Paul Downs Colaizzo about a group of college friends torn asunder by “sexual politics, raw ambition, and class warfare.” The cast includes Matt Lauria (Luke from Friday Night Lights TV series), Zosia Mamet, the 24-year-old daughter of Lindsay Crouse and David Mamet; as well as Evan Jonigkeit, who redeemed his performance as the junkie in “High” with a wonderful performance as the gentleman caller in Horton Foote’s “Harrison TX.”
Reasons to Be Happy
May 16-June 23
Neil LaBute writes and directs a new play that serves as a companion piece to his Broadway play “Reasons to Be Pretty.” It begins three years after a contentious break-up, with Steph and Greg wondering if they can make a fresh go of it, even though she’s now married to somebody else.
MTC THEATER* At City Center
Edie Falco stars in Liz Flahive’s play about a kindergarten teacher who leaves her family.
*Just to complicate matters, several of the resident theaters also present shows on Broadway – Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theater Company (MTC), and the Roundabout Theater Company. Their Broadway offerings are listed in my Broadway Spring 2013 Guide
For a more comprehensive list of current Off-Broadway fare, check out the websites of the Off-Broadway League and the Off-Broadway Alliance
Off-Broadway theaters, by definition, have anywhere from 99 to 499 seats. If a theater has more seats than that, it’s a Broadway house. If it has fewer, it’s Off-Off Broadway.