Off Broadway this season, David Henry Hwang is telling the story of Bruce Lee in Kung Fu. Frank Langella plays King Lear. Actress Linda Lavin and playwright Nicky Silver pair up again, as they did hilariously in The Lyons, for a new comedy, Too Much Sun. Caryl Churchill offers 57 scenes in 110 minutes with 16 actors playing more than 100 characters in Love and Information, her play critiquing modern society’s information overload.
Churchill’s play is especially apt for Off-Broadway. Every season, there’s always an overload of choices Off-Broadway. In the next few months, we can choose between musicals about middle-aged sex and about climate change, plays about war and a family falling apart and about a Satanic sock puppet, new works of theater starring Cherry Jones, Jessica Hecht, Nina Arianda, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Charles Busch, two new plays by the last two recipients of the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, Quiara Alegría Hudes and Ayad Akhtar.
Are there must-sees? I’ll tell you — once I see them.
Broadway is much easier – 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, and usually a familiar or a familiar story, or both.
Off-Broadway is more chaotic, more spread out, more numerous (some 200 theaters/theater companies, depending on how you count) less publicized – and, most serious theatergoers will tell you, Off Broadway has far richer and more diverse offerings.It is also less expensive. (48 shows Off-Broadway will charge just $20 from January 21 to February 9 as part of the annual 20at20 promotion.)
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, have the best track record lately, and treat theatergoers well. One advantage of these theaters is that you can become a member/subscribe.
Of course, there is never a guarantee, and some terrific shows pop up in unlikely places.
416 W. 42nd St.
February 7 – March 23
Jessica Hecht, who created one of my favorite magical stage moments of 2013 in The Assembled Parties, stars with Dominic Fumusa in Sarah Ruehl’s new play about two actors with a history thrown together as romantic leads in a forgotten 1930s melodrama.
Your Mother’s Copy of the Kama Sutra
March 28 – May 11
In Kirk Lynn’s new play directed by Ann Kauffman, Carla agrees to marry Reggie on one condition: to break down any walls between them, they’ll reenact their individual sexual histories with one another
Fly By Night: A New Musical
May 16 – June 29
Set during the blackout of 1965, a melancholy sandwich-maker encounters two entrancing sisters in this darkly comic rock fable.
Begun with a focus on the work of a single playwright each season, Signature has expanded , thanks to its new building. And thanks to corporate underwriting, all tickets for the initial runs are $25.
Cole Horibe (So You Think You Can Dance) stars as Bruce Lee in David Henry Hwang’s new theater piece blending dance, Chinese opera, martial arts and drama to depict Lee’s journey from troubled Hong Kong youth to martial arts legend.
The Open House
February 11 – March 23
A new play by Will Eno that hints at being about a family.
February – March
This new play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins focuses on family confrontation in an old Arkansas plantation after the death of the patriarch and the discovery of a gruesome relic and a surprise visitor.
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 ten years. This year’s 16 offerings include shows performed (with English super-titles) in Spanish, Japanese, Dutch (two!), French, and German, but mostly English. Roger Guenveur Smith, who previously had a one-man show about Huey Newton, now presents Rodney King (remember: “Can we all get along?)
Antony and Cleopatra
February 18-March 17
William Shakespeare’s play edited and directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company transposes the action to 18th century Saint-Domingue on the eve of revolution.
Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 and 3)
March 14-March 23
Suzan-Lori Parks presents a three-part play about a slave during the Civil War. PART 1 introduces us to Hero, a slave who must choose whether or not to join his master on the Confederate battlefield. In PART 2, a band of rebel soldiers test Hero’s loyalty as the cannons approach. PART 3 finds Hero’s loved ones anxiously awaiting his return
A Second Chance
March 18-April 13
A musical about a recent widower and a divorcée who meet in mid-life, not trusting that they can find love again.
The Civilians’ The Great Immensity
April 8-April 27, 2013
A musical about climate change might sound…well-meaning…if it were in hands other than among the most exciting theater artists in town — writer and director Steve Cosson and Michael Friedman (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson), the leading lights of The Civilians theater company, which has a track record of socially-conscious, theatrically thrilling “investigations.” Phyllis uncovers a mysterious plot surrounding the upcoming international climate summit in Auckland. As the days count down to the Auckland Summit, Phyllis must decipher the plan and possibly stop it in time.
Claire Tow Theater is Lincoln Center’s cutting-edge venue, where tickets are routinely $20.
Stop Hitting Yourself
January 15 to February 23
The Austin-based theater collective Rude Mechs describes its show as part Pygmalion, part Busby Berkley, part self-help lexicon, borrowing from the plots of 1930’s musicals to dig deep into the contemporary conservative dilemma.
The City of Conversation
April 10 – June 22
Anthony Giardina’s play, directed by Douglas Hughes, follows a political hostess from the Carter Administration up through the Obama Presidency. This is at the larger (but still Off-Broadway) Mitzi Newhouse.
The Who and The What
May 31- July 13
Ayad Akhtar, who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his first play Disgraced, returns to Lincoln Center’s Clare Tow Center for this play about Zarina, an outspoken writer who clashes with her traditional father and sister over her book about women and Islam.
Love and Information
February 4 – March 23
Caryl Churchill returns for her seventh American premiere at New York Theatre Workshop with a theatrical kaleidoscope exploring more than a hundred characters as they try to make sense of what they find out, in this play that was first produced at the Royal Court Theatre in 2012.
A grim adult-take on the classic fairy tale, by French heater-maker Joël Pommerat
Feb 12 – March 23
Alexandra Silber, whom I loved in She Loves Me and may wind up being the “discovery” of the season, will star in Victor Lodato and Polly Pen’s musical about a women whose husband is away at war.
Too Much Sun
May – June
Linda Lavin stars in this play by Nicky Silver directed by Mark Brokaw (the same team that created The Lyons), about Audrey Langham – a celebrated actress – who unravels completely while preparing for a new production of Medea, and descends on her married daughter, who is not happy to see her.
ROUNDABOUT* LAURA PELS THEATER
Dinner With Friends
January 17 – April 13
A revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Donald Margulies, directed by Pam MacKinnon (…Virginia Woolf?, Clybourne Park), about two couples drifting apart. Heather Burns,Marin Hinkle, Darren Pettie and Jeremy Shamos star.
Cutie and Bear
“available only to subscribers and donors”
Bekah Brunstetter’s new play about the relationship between a married man and a broke young woman
The Happiest Song Plays Last
February 11 – March 23
This is the concluding play in the trilogy written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, who received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the second in the series, Water by the Spoonful. Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Happiest Song focuses again on cousins Elliot and Yaz, who have long searched for their place in the community, and now discover the joy in coming home again and the comfort of family, both by blood and by love. It features the music of Nelson Gonzalez.
Sex With Strangers
Written by Linda Eason and directed by David Schwimmer, the play follows star sex blogger and memoirist Ethan as he tracks down his idol, the gifted but obscure novelist Olivia, discovering they both crave what the other possesses.
January 10 – February 16
Justin Vivian Bond stars in this anti-just-about-everything farce by Bertolt Brecht as innocent dockworker Galy Gay in British Colonial India who is enlisted into Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, “dismantled like a car” and reassembled into the ultimate fighting machine.
David Ives (Venus in Fur) adapts Jean-François Regnard‘s comedy about Eraste, who stands to inherit his uncle’s vast fortune, but his uncle refuses to die, and indeed plans to wed Eraste’s fiance! Eraste enlists a servant Crispin for help.
January 29 – March 16
Ken Urban’s play focuses on a husband grieving the loss of his wife who hires a dying woman to deliver a message to her in the afterlife. Soon after, sure enough, he begins receiving letters from his dead spouse.
Ode to Joy
February 12 – March 30
This play written and directed by Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Dying Gaul) tells the story of love, heartbreak, addiction, and illness through the eyes of Adele, an audacious painter and her destructive relations with Mala and Bill, her two lover
April 16 – May 31
In this play by Samuel D. Hunter (The Whale), Bryan returns to the newspaper he started but abandoned four years ago, and things have changed. His former lover is filled with rage, his new coworker is filled with incessant adoration, and his paper is filled with personal ads.
Hand to God
February 19 – March 20
In Robert Askins’ comedy, a foul-mouthed sock puppet named Tyrone teaches the students at the Christian Puppet Ministry about dark urges. This was a hit at Ensemble Studio Theatre several seasons ago.
The Village Bike
May 21 – June 28
Maggie Gyllenhaal will start in this play by Penelope Skinner, directed by Sam Gold, about a pregnant woman whose husband is ignoring her needs. So she buys a used bike that takes her further than she ever expected she’d go.
MTC THEATER* At City Center
Tales From Red Vienna
February 26 – April 27
Nina Arianda (Venus in Fur) and Kathleen Chalfant (Wit) star in this play by David Grimm, directed by Kate Whoriskey, about a woman who has lost her husband in World War I, and with him, her financial security, so she turns to the oldest profession
When We Were Young and Unafraid
May 22 – August 10
Cherry Jones stars in this play by Sarah Treem, directed by Pam MacKinnon, as a woman who has founded an underground women’s shelter in the early 1970s, with unintended consequences.
410 West 42nd St.
This is a theater company that resides in Theatre Row, the non-profit building that normally rents out to commercial Off-Broadway productions. Scott Elliott is the founding artistic director.
January 14 – March 8
Thomas Bradshaw’s new play presents three families in a well-manicured, multi-racial American town when secrets and sexual desires suddenly explode.
April 13 – June 1
Sharr White (The Other Place, Snow Geese has written a new play about Emma (Megan Mullally) who 20 years ago walked out on her husband, cowboy-poet Ulysses (Nick Offerman), in the middle of the night. Now, hearing he’s in dire straits, she tracks him down in the wilds of Colorado
OTHER (POTENTIAL) HIGHLIGHTS
The Tribute Artist (Primary Stages at 59E59, January 21 – March 16, 2014) In his new play, Charles Busch portrays an out-of-work female impersonator who takes on the identity of the landlady of his Greenwich Village townhouse when she dies in her sleep.
Sartre’s No Exit at the Pearl Theatre Company from Feb. 25
Between Riverside and Crazy… by Stephen Adly Guirgis is about an ex-cop and recent widower and his ex-con son’s struggle to hold on to their rent-stabilized apartment. (May, Atlantic Theater Company)
*THE ASTERISK: Off-Broadway AND Broadway
*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 2014 Preview Guide
What Is Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway?
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.
NEW YORK THEATER CALENDAR BY OPENING DATES
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information about Off-Broadway, go to OffBroadway.com, which is put together by The League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers. This should not be confused with the Off-Broadway Alliance, which is a separate organization (though they should probably merge, no?)