Live theater is supposed to exist only for the moment, but some of the biggest hits Off-Broadway are returning for the Spring 2015 season. Two of them, “Fun Home” and “Hand to God” are opening on Broadway. But Theater for a New Audience will be showing An Octoroon, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ inspired adaptation of a famous 19th century racial melodrama, which I saw at SoHo Rep, and Second Stage will present Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Between Riverside and Crazy, which I tried four times to see at the Atlantic without success – this time I’m determined to get in.
Other good bets, because of the track record of the production or of the artists involved:
The Iceman Cometh, the production or the play by Eugene O’Neill 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
Hamilton, written and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, and directed by Thomas Kail — the same team that brought us “In The Heights” — will be at the Public Theater January 20 to March 22. This new musical uses hip-hop to tell the story of the “political mastermind” who began life as a “bastard orphan.”
Others that are sure to draw an audience:
Into The Woods, by the Fiasco Theater, at the Roundabout’s Laura Pel Theater, which is in previews now, opens January 22, and is set to run through March 22. Decidedly lower budget than the current Hollywood film – ten actors, none of them movie stars; one piano — that is Fiasco’s trademark, and the charm of its previous productions.
A Month in the Country by Ivan Turgenev, at the Classic Stage Company from January 9 to February 22, is likely to draw audiences who 1. like Russian classics, and/or are 2. fans of Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) or Taylor Schilling (Orange Is The New Black) – not necessarily in that order. It is just one of CSC’s seasons offerings spiced with a celebrity.
There is no guarantee that any of these shows will prove as satisfying as expected — sometimes raised expectations can be counterproductive. But time and time again, Off-Broadway has proven to offer rich, adventurous and diverse offerings. The trick is in finding the gems among the some 200 theaters/theater companies (depending on how you count), almost all of whom are far less publicized than anything on Broadway.
As in the past, 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, some terrific shows pop up as one-offs from commercial producers, not non-profit theaters, and in other 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, including the Fall season’s Bootycandy.
Placebo by Melissa James Gibson
A new play about a woman working on “a placebo-controlled study of a new female arousal drug.”
Iowa, a musical by Jenny Schwartz and Todd Almond
A musical play about a mother who finds her “soul-mate” on Facebook, and he lives in Iowa. So she uproots her life, and that of her teenage daughter.
The Qualms by Bruce Norris
By the same writer-director team that brought us the Pulitzer-winning Clybourne Park, this play introduces a couple into “an alcohol-fueled party for swingers, only to find themselves at odds with the idea of free love and, suddenly, each other.”
THE PUBLIC THEATER
425 Lafayette Street. Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY
The Public Theater has been having a great year, with such premieres as Straight White Men and Fortress of Solitude.
January 6, 2015 – February 20, 2015
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 This is one of those Off-Broadway shows that’s getting an encore presentation; it was at the Public in the Fall. A warning: Audience participation.
January 20 – March 22
Written and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, it includes a diverse cast of some two dozen talented performers, enough of whom are Broadway veterans (Brian d’Arcy James, Ariana DeBose, Christopher Jackson, Leslie Odom Jr, John Rua, Ephraim Sykes) to make one believe the talk they are aiming for Broadway.
February 27 – April 5
Written and starring Cush Jumbo (The River, Julius Caesar), this solo show featuring jazz and ragtime interweaves a story of an ambitious young woman in modern times with the life of the Josephine Baker, the first African-American performer to rise to international prominence.
March 24 to April 26
A play by Tracey Scott Wilson about a man who grew up in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood but i now a Harvard-educated lawyer, and his interactions with his rich best friend now in recovery, and a white girlfriend.
April 21 – May 10
Lemon Anderson (County of Kings) tells the story of a group of inmates leading to the 1971 Attica prison riot.
May 14 – June 13
The Elevator Repair Service reads verbatim the first chapter of Faulkner’s novel, just as they read verbatim Fitzgerald’s entire novel The Great Gatsby (Gatz) and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (The Select.) This is another one of those productions that is offering an encore performance; it was originally presented at the New York Theater Workshop.
NEW YORK THEATER WORKSHOP
79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79
Fall offerings included Scenes From A Marriage and The Invisible Hand, two of the season’s most intriguing productions.
February 4 to March 22
A hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this play by David Greig tells the story of a survivor’s search for compassion, peace and understanding in the wake of unthinkable violence.
Framed with the story of the pilgrimage Dael Orlandersmith took to the cemetery where Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison are buried, she offers a semi-autobiographical exploration of the family we are born into and the family we choose.
108 East 15th Street Twitter: @VineyardTheatre
January 30 – March 22
This musical directed by Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, Hedwig) and based on characters created by husband and wife authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, tells the story of a hardware store clerk who meets “Brooklyn’s most celebrated superhero” and together they try to save Brooklyn. Its impressive cast includes Nick Cordero (the best thing about Bullets Over Broadway), Matt Doyle and Ann Harada.
Gloria by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY (CSC)
136 East 13th Street Twitter: @ClassicStage
January 9 –
Peter Dinklage and Taylor Schilling star in Turgenev’s play about unrequited love.
March 27 –
Directed by Austin Pendleton, starring Peter Sarsgaar
May 29 –
Starring Chris Noth
A trilogy by Charles L. Mee
freely adapted from the works of EURIPIDES
June 15, 22 & 29, 2015
RATTLESTICK PLAYWRIGHTS THEATER
Address: 224 Waverly Place (though frequently also at the Cherry Lane)
Rattlestick’s 20th anniversary season began in the summer with The Long Shrift, James Franco’s debut as a stage director, and Phoenix, co-starring Julia Stiles. and picked up with plays that reflect an interest in the world around us.
Shesh Yak Written by Laith Nakli; Directed by Bruce McCarty
January 15 – February 22
In the spring of 2011, five weeks into the civil uprising in Syria, we find Jameel, a 40-year-old Syrian-American writer in his New York apartment waiting for a houseguest to arrive from
Everything You Touch Written by Sheila Callaghan; Directed by Jessica Kubzansky
January 28th-March 29th, 2015
A look at the fashion world in two different eras, the 1970s and now.
The Undeniable Sound of Right Now Written by Laura Eason; Directed by Kirsten Kelly
March 18-May 3, 2015
It’s 1992. Hank is struggling to keep his legendary rock club going amid changing times and changing tastes.
Hamlet in Bed Written by Michael Laurence; Directed by Lisa Peterson
May 14-June 18, 2015
Michael is a neurotic actor and adoptee obsessed with two things- finding his real mother, and playing the famous Gloomy Dane.
Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait Written and Directed by Daniel Talbott
In a not so distant future where children have never known a world without war, resources are vanishing and what’s left is controlled by minuscule factions
The New Group
at The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
January 27 – March 22, 2015
Cynthia Nixon makes her directorial debut with this tense workplace thriller starring Dianne Wiest and Tonya Pinkins as once-friendly co-workers who are driven apart by their white boss. Written by Joel Drake Johnson, the play “examines the realities of so-called “post-racial” America.
Jesse Eisenberg writes and stars in another play, this one about a man who sets out to win back his grade school crush after he finds out she is marrying a banker.
Address: The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street. Twitter: @mcctheater
February 4 – March 15
Jennifer Haley explores modern digital life, her central character a young female detective
by Robert Askins (playwright of Hand to God), directed by Alex Timbers.
A couple’s new commitment to “Christian Domestic Discipline” upends their lives.
Lincoln Center Theater*
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 opened on Broadway in the Fall, began here.
January 31 to March 15
In Nick Jones new play, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Josephine, a stay-at-home mom and struggling writer, is offered an unusual deal for her memoir: she has to make her life exciting enough to publish. As mysterious and even sinister events start happening to her, Josephine has to decide how far she is willing to go to make her life into art.
February 5 to April 26
In this new play by Bathsheba Doran, directed by Sam Gold, Tony Shalhoub and Diane Lane play the parents of a college-age daughter whom they try to convince to end a romantic relationship.
ROUNDABOUT* LAURA PELS THEATER
January 22 to March 22
January 24 – April 19
In Jeff Augustin’s play, a young immigrant mother from Haiti is determined to forge a better life in America for her unborn son
MTC THEATER* At City Center
131 West 55th Street
The World of Extreme Happiness by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig
February 3 to March 29
Unwanted from the moment she’s born, Sunny is determined to escape her life in rural China and forge a new identity in the city.
The Swing of the Sea by Richard Greenberg
Greenberg’s 11th play with MTC is about the sons and lover or deceased patriarch who reunite for one evening of “secrets, passions and ghosts.”
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
Big Love by Charles Mee
February 3 – March15, 2015
Fifty brides flee their fifty grooms and seek refuge in an Italian villa in this modern re-making of one of the world’s oldest plays, The Danaids by Aeschylus
The Liquid Plain by Naomi Wallace
February 17 – March 29, 2015
On the docks of late 18th century Rhode Island, two runaway slaves plan a desperate and daring run to freedom.
What I Did Last Summer by A.R. Gurney
May – June
With her husband overseas near the end of World War II, Grace fights to save the splintering bonds of her family by taking her teenage son and daughter to spend the summer on Lake Erie.
OTHER (POTENTIAL) HIGHLIGHTS
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:
59E59 – The Road to Damascus (about an African Pope), The Woodsman (The untold story of The Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz) — actually, the whole season looks good
The Atlantic – Posterity, by Doug Wright; Guards of the Taj by Rajiv Joseph
Irish Repertory Theater – revival of Da by Hugh Leonard
Primary Stages – Lives of the Saints, new one-acts by David Ives
Second Stage Theatre – Between Riverside and Crazy
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 Spring 2015 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.
There are some terrific Off-Off Broadway theaters, sometimes confused for Off-Broadway. These include (but are not limited to) The Flea, Labyrinth Theater, and LaMaMa ETC. (And just to confuse things further, some Off-Broadway theaters have Off-Off Broadway spaces; and LaMaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theater has 299 seats, making it Off-Broadway, though the rest of LaMaMa’s theaters are 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
New York Theater Opening Night Calendar
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?)