Lin-Manuel Miranda, eating a banana, posed in front of a succinct summary of the 2014-2015 season at the Public Theater – including (fifth from the top) “Hamilton,” an original hip-hop musical created by and starring Miranda, who will portray the American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.
It’s one of the most anticipated Off Broadway shows – along with…
– Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” directed by Robert Falls at the Brooklyn Academy of Music starting in February.
– “Scenes From a Marriage,” starting in September at the New York Theatre Workshop, based on Ingmar Bergman’s compelling TV series.
– Stage adaptations of Jonathan Lethem’s “The Fortress of Solitude” (The Public Theater) and James Dickey’s “Deliverance” (59E59), and a comic behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film noir classic “Double Indemnity” (Vineyard.)
– New plays by Ayad Akhtar, Katori Hall, Samuel Hunter, Suzan Lori-Parks, Bruce Norris, Sam Shepard
And yes, some familiar faces from movies and television as well as the stage.
If only the entire Off-Broadway season could be summed up as simply as that poster for the Public Theater. Broadway is much easier – 40 theaters, about 40 new shows a year. Off-Broadway is more chaotic,
more spread out, more numerous (some 200 theaters/theater companies, depending on how you count) less publicized. As most serious theatergoers will tell you, Off Broadway also has far richer, more adventurous and more diverse offerings, at a lower price. (Dozens of shows from September 9th to 28th will charge just $20 if you get tickets 20 minutes before the show begins as part of the 20at20 promotion.
Once again, I find the best way to preview what’s coming up Off-Broadway is to group the shows within the producing theaters that are presenting them, ranked roughly in order starting with my favorite theaters (determined by such factors as their recent track record, the promise of the new season, and by the overall experience I’ve had with the theater.) All offer season subscriptions or memberships. Of course, there is never a guarantee, and some terrific shows pop up in unlikely places.
416 W. 42nd St. Twitter: @PHNYC
One of the plays from last year’s season, Annie Baker’s “The Flick,” won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, but this theater consistently over the past few years has had some of the most original and most satisfying works of theater.
August 22 – October 12
Writer and director Robert O’Hara presents “a kaleidoscope of sketches that interconnect to portray growing up gay and black”
October 17 – November 30
“Called to a life of religious service, Shelley is the devoted manager of a Bronx soup kitchen, but lately her heart’s not quite in it. Enter Emma: an idealistic but confused young volunteer, whose recklessness pushes Shelley to the breaking point.”
Written by Heidi Schreck and directed by Kim Fagan, the play features a four-member cast that includes Bobby Moreno, who was so amazing in The Year of the Rooster.
November 21 – January 4
“Eddie manages an Italian chain restaurant in Pocatello—a small, unexceptional American city that is slowly being paved over with strip malls and franchises.”
Written by Samuel Hunter, whose past efforts (e.g. The Whale) I have loved, this play features a nine-member cast including T.R. Knight.
Placebo by Melissa James Gibson
Iowa, a musical by Jenny Schwartz and Todd Almond
The Qualms by Bruce Norris
425 Lafayette Street. Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY
Public Works’ The Winter’s Tale
September 5 – 7, 2014
With music and lyrics by Todd Almond, conceived and directed by Lear deBessonet, this Shakespeare in Central Park is presented as a happening, with a blend of professional performers like Lindsay Mendez and some 200 regular New Yorkers up on the stage.
September 9 – October 11, 2014
Created and starring Bridget Everett, who “barrels through life tip-toeing toward disaster, wine bottle by wine bottle and man by man.” It features original songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (the team that brought us Hairspray and Smash), as well as Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Matt Ray
September 30 – November 2, 2014
Jonathan Lethem’s coming-of-age novel about 1970s Brooklyn is adapted by songwriter Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) and bookwriter Itamar Moses, and features an 18-member cast that includes Kyle Beltran, Adam Chanler-Berat, and André De Shields.
October 14 – November 16, 2014
Suzan-Lori Parks (Top Dog/Underdog) has written three plays set during the Civil War presented in a single performance. In Part 1, “A Measure of Man,” Hero, a slave who is accustomed to his master’s lies, must now decide whether to join him on the Confederate battlefield in exchange for a promise of freedom. Part 2, “The Battle in the Wilderness” follows Hero and the Colonel as they lead a captured Union solider toward the Confederate lines as the cannons approach. Finally, in Part 3, “The Union of My Confederate Parts,” the loved ones Hero left behind question whether to escape or wait for his return.
November 7 – December 7, 2014
Young Jean Lee, an innovative downtown playwrights, “defies expectations with a conventionally structured take on the classic American father-son drama….When Ed (Austin Pendleton) and his three adult sons come together to celebrate Christmas, they enjoy cheerful trash-talking, pranks, and takeout Chinese. Then they confront a problem that even being a happy family can’t solve….what is the value of being a straight white man?”
January 20 – March 22
Written and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, and directed by Thomas Kail — the same team that brought us “In The Heights” — this new musical uses hip-hop to tell the story of the “political mastermind” who began life as a “bastard orphan.”
79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79
Scenes From A Marriage
September 12 – October 26
Innovative Flemish director Ivo van Hove (who is also directing “Angels in America” in BAM this season) directs McCarter Theater artistic director Emily Mann’s adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s popular 1974 TV mini-series that traces a complicated (which is to say, normal) marriage. “Audience members will move from room to room to experience an intimate look into the marriage of Johan and Marianne.”
The Invisible Hand
November 19 – January 4
Ayad Akhtar, whose play Disgraced won the Pulitzer Prize and is opening on Broadway this season, pens a play about an American stockbroker who is kidnapped and tortured in a remote area of Pakistan, and negotiates to save his life.
108 East 15th Street Twitter: @VineyardTheatre
October 1 – November 9
That’s film director Billy Wilder and novelist Raymond Chandler: The play, written by Mike Bencivenga and directed by Garry Marshall (Happy Days, etc.), is about their contentious collaboration on the noir film based on Chandler’s novel, “Double Indemnity”
The four-member cast includes Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell in “Mad Men”) as Wilder and Larry Pine as Chandler.
January – February
This musical directed by Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, Hedwig) is about a hardware store clerk who meets “Brooklyn’s most celebrated superhero” and together they try to save Brooklyn
Gloria by Branden Jacobs-Jenkin
CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY (CSC)
This revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s least known musical, written after their success with Oklahoma and Carousel, follows the life of a physician named Joe Taylor, Jr.
January 9 –
Peter Dinklage and Taylor Schilling star in Turgenev’s play about unrequited love.
September 4 – October 5
As part of the second annual Theater: Village Festival – whose theme this year is “E Pluribus” – this play conceived by Theater Mitu’s Artistic Director Rubén Polendo (a native of Juarez) is based on hundreds of interviews, is meant to “an artistic and emotional map” of the Northern Mexican city.
November 6 – December 13
Keith Josef Adkins, a playwright best-known as the founding artistic director of New Black Fest, writes about a pariah named Mary in a small black community in rural Appalachia — pitbull country – who is viewed suspiciously when a pitbull is killed on the Fourth of July.
Shesh Yak Written by Laith Nakli; Directed by Bruce McCarty
Everything You Touch Written by Sheila Callaghan; Directed by Jessica Kubzansky
The Undeniable Sound of Right Now Written by Laura Eason; Directed by Kirsten Kelly
Hamlet in Bed Written by Michael Laurence; Directed by Lisa Peterson
Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait Written and Directed by Daniel Talbott
at The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
October 21 – December 14
Richard Chamberlain, Holly Hunter and Bill Pullman star in this revival of David Rabe’s “savagely comic” look at a family torn apart by the Vietnam War.
Cynthia Nixon makes her directorial debut with this tense workplace thriller starring Dianne Wiest and Tonya Pinkins as co-workers. Written by Joel Drake Johnson, the play “examines the realities of so-called “post-racial” America.
By Jesse Eisenberg.
Address: The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street. Twitter: @mcctheater
September 4–October 12, 2014
Neil LaBute’s play about “Karen and Steve, glamorous movie stars with one thing in common: desperation.”
October 29 – December 7
Simon Stephens (who adapted The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) writes about
a group of highly-articulate 17-year-old British private school students preparing for their A-Level mock exams, while hormones rage.
The shows at Lincoln Center’s Off-Broadway venues are inexpensive (especially at the Claire Tow theater, where initial-run tickets cost $20) and often rewarding: Disgraced, the Pulitzer Prize winning play that is opening on Broadway October 23, began here.
October 4 – November 16
The play by Kimber Lee “moves fluidly through time as the family of Tray, a spirited 18 year-old whose life is cut short, navigate their grief and find hope together.”
October 9 – December 28
In this new play by Sarah Ruhl, Celia Keenan-Bolger (The Glass Menagerie) portrays an American mother who lives with her Tibetan husband and their three-year-old son, whom Tibetan monks suddenly tell her is the reincarnation of an important Lama — and want to take him away for training.
ROUNDABOUT* LAURA PELS THEATER
September 4 – November 30
Rosemary Harris stars in a revival of Tom Stoppard’s play about a free-spirited English poet in India, and her sister 50 years later.
131 West 55th Street
They seem to have a water theme this season.
Opens November 11
Written by David Auburn and directed by Daniel Sullivan (the team that brought us Proof and The Columnist), this play focuses on two strangers who meet at a rundown lakeside rental.
By The Sea
Opens November 18
In Sharon Rothstein’s play, Hurricane Sandy has just ravaged the lifelong home in Staten Island of Marty and Mary Murphy, who are determined to rebuild; then their sons return home.
The World of Extreme Happiness by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig
The Swing of the Sea by Richard Greenberg
480 West 42nd Street. Twitter: @signaturetheatr
As the first New York theater to win the Regional Tony Award this year, the Signature now has some solid proof of what has been clear to its patrons for years. What has distinguished this theater is not only its track record, but its commitment to keep the price of all tickets for initial runs to $25. This used to be my favorite theater, and I’m hoping it will become so again, but despite the new recognition, the offerings have been uneven recently, and my interaction with the theater has not been positive.
This season’s “Residency One” playwrights are A.R. Gurney and Naomi Wallace
And I And Silence by Naomi Wallace
August 5 to September 14
Two women who met as teenagers in prison struggle to make ends meet in 1959.
The Wayside Motor Inn by A.R. Gurney
August 12, 2014 – September 28, 2014
Five stories told simultaneously in a motel room outside Boston.
A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) by Sam Shepard
A “dark, fragmented, modern-day take on Oedipus Rex” starring Stephen Rhea
Our Lady of Kibeho by Katori Hall
ln 1981, a village girl in Rwanda claims to see the Virgin Mary. Ostracized by her schoolmates and labeled disturbed, everyone refuses to believe, until the impossible starts happening again and aga
Big Love by Charles Mee
The Liquid Plain by Naomi Wallace
What I Did Last Summer by A.R. Gurney
OTHER (POTENTIAL) HIGHLIGHTS
The Iceman Cometh, the production with Nathan Lane and Bryan Dennehy that originally appeared to extreme acclaim at the Goodman in Chicago, will be at the Brooklyn Academy of Music February 5 to March 15, 2015 (which means I really should just put it in my Spring 2015 Preview Guide, but by then it will be sold out.)
Always worth checking out: Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival which focuses on avant-garde experimental and European works that are sometimes hard to categorize.
This year the 17 theater pieces include Ivan van Hove’s reimagining of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Samuel Beckett’s radio play Embers and Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of An Author.
There are worthwhile theaters I do not attend regularly enough to list as my favorites, with at least one production each this season that sound promising, or at least intriguing:
Barrow Street Theater – Waiting for Godot in Yiddish (with English subtitles)
Irish Repertory Theater – Port Authority by Conor McPherson
Second Stage Theatre – revival of Terence McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart; stage adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho
59E59 – James Dickey’s Deliverance, based on his acclaimed novel, adapted by Sean Tyler, October 10 – November 9
Lift, novelist Walter Mosley‘s first full length play, about two workers stuck in a skyscraper elevator. October 17-November 30
Then there are theaters that actively discourage my coverage:
The Atlantic – Found
There are also commercial shows put together by independent producers that appear in theaters for rent, such as:
Cherry Lane Theatre
Daryl Roth Theatre
Gym at Judson
Lucille Lortel Theatre
New World Stages
The Players Theatre
Snapple Theater Center
Theatre Row – The Acorn
Union Square Theater
*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 Fall 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.
Because there are so many shows Off-Off Broadway, and their runs are so limited, I will include them in my monthly theater preview posted near the beginning of each month.
NEW YORK THEATER CALENDAR BY OPENING DATES
FOR MORE INFORMATION
For more information about Off-Broadway, go to The League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers (aka The Off-Broadway League). This should not be confused with the Off-Broadway Alliance, which is a separate organization (though they should probably merge, no?)