The new season’s Off-Broadway offerings are various, intriguing, and sometimes hard to describe — an absurdist kitchen-sink comedy about a dysfunctional family with a transgender son; a musical about First Ladies and their daughters; an all-female Shakespeare and an all-new evening of Tennessee Williams; a new work by an old rock star.
Off-Broadway has a knack for creating its own rock stars. They don’t necessarily sing, or even act. Some are playwrights or directors.
Take Danai Gurira.
She is best known for her role as Michonne on The Walking Dead. But she is also a playwright, who will be debuting two different plays Off-Broadway this season -Familiar at Playwright Horizons and Eclipsed at The Public Theater, which will star Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
Or take Ivo van Hove, the experimental theater director from Belgium who made a splash last year with both Scenes from A Marriage and Angels in America.
He’s making his Broadway debut with two different plays by Arthur Miller, “A View from The Bridge” in the Fall and “The Crucible” in the Spring. October marks the centennial of Miller’s birth, so there are two more revivals of Miller’s work Off-Broadway.
But van Hove is also directing Juliette Binoche in a new adaptation of Antigone at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and directing Lazarus, written by Enda Walsh and David Bowie (that rock star I mentioned) at New York Theatre Workshop.
It’s short-sighted to treat Off-Broadway in the same way as Broadway — as a collection of individual potential hits or misses. (See my Broadway Fall 2015 Preview Guide.) Off-Broadway is more spread out, more numerous (some 200 theaters/theater companies, or five times the number of Broadway houses), less publicized. As most serious theatergoers will tell you, Off Broadway has far richer, more adventurous and more diverse offerings, at a lower price. It is also in some ways more connected.
I organize my Off-Broadway preview below by the theaters in which they are being produced, in order of my preference for these 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.)
416 W. 42nd St. Twitter: @PHNYC
Annie Baker’s “The Flick” is one of six plays that originated at Playwrights Horizons that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It offers new plays and musicals that are consistently satisfying, or at least intriguing.
August 28 – October 11; opens September 17
In this play by Lucas Hnath, Pastor Paul, who has built a megachurch, ” is about to preach a sermon that will shake the foundation of his congregation’s beliefs.” Although it’s a straight play, it includes a gospel choir.
October 16 – November 29; opens November 8.
Written by Taylor Mac, the gender-bending theater star of many talents, this comic and dramatic exercise in what Mac calls “absurd realism” features the extraordinary Kristine Nielsen (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) as a mother who sees herself as liberated from an oppressive marriage. Her son Isaac, returning from military service, sees her as abusive towards his father (Daniel Oreskes) who’s had a stroke. “Hir” is pronounced “here” and is the pronoun preferred by Isaac’s transgender sibling Max, portrayed by Tom Phelan (The Fosters),
November 20 – January 3, 2016; opens December 14
The inimitable Lois Smith stars in Jordan Harrison’s play.”It’s the age of artificial intelligence, and 86-year-old Marjorie — a jumble of disparate, fading memories — has a handsome new companion who’s programmed to feed the story of her life back to her.”
Antlia Pneumatica by Anne Washburn
Indian Summer by Gregory S. Moss
THE PUBLIC THEATER
425 Lafayette Street. Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY
Having originated both Hamilton and Fun Home, the Public is on a roll
Public Works’ The Odyssey
Director Lear deBessonet and lyricist/composer Todd Almond team up for the third time, to reimagine the Greek epic with professional actors and some 200 community members.
September 22-November 1
In this play written by Robert O’Hara, whose Bootycandy I found outrageously entertaining, uncomfortable and profound, the O’Mallerys have gathered in their local park to share some barbecue and stage an intervention with a family member in a spiral of drugs and recklessness.
September 29 – November 8
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) stars in the play by Danai Gurira (co-author of In the Continuum and Michonne on AMC’s “The Walking Dead”.) Amid the chaos of the Liberian Civil War, the captive wives of a rebel officer band together to form a fragile community – until the balance of their lives is upset by the arrival of a new girl. Directed by South African-born Liesl Tommy (Appropriate, Informed Consent)
First Daughter Suite
October 6-November 15
Michael John LaChiusa (Giant, The Wild Party) has created a musical of mothers and daughters who’ve lived in the White House: Patricia Nixon and daughters Tricia and Julie, Roselyn and Amy Carter, Betty and Susan Ford, Patti Davis and mom Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush and daughter-in-law Laura. Casting so far includes Marty Testa, Rachel Bay Jones, Theresa McCarthy, Betsy Morgan, Isabel Santiago, Carly Tamer, and Barbara Walsh.
Before Your Very Eyes
October 17 – November 29
Gob Squad created this unique piece with New Yorkers 8-14 years old. From behind the safety of one-way mirrors, the audience witness seven lives lived in fast forward—from angst-ridden teens to hunched geriatrics.
The Comedy of Errors
Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, this production of Shakespeare’s comedy will tour the five boroughs followed by a limited three-week engagement at The Public as part of The Mobile Shakespeare Unit,
Under the Radar Festival, 12th edition
January 6-17, 2016
Cutting-edge theater from around the U.S. and the world.
NEW YORK THEATER WORKSHOP
79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79
September 11 to October 18; opens September 28
“When Mr. and Mrs. “Fritz” Fitzhubert are summoned through a wee little secret door in their living room, they enter into a phantasmagorical world of Alpen hotels, mysterious employees, perilous hikes, and ancient deities, that will leave their lives forever altered.” A collaboration between the Elevator Repair Service (The Gatz) and their first living writer, playwright Sibyl Kempson.
November 18 – December 27; opens December 7
Directed by Ivo van Hove, starring Michael C. Hall and written by David Bowie and Enda Walsh, the musical is inspired by the 1963 novel The Man Who Fell to Earth about an alien who crash lands on our planet. Bowie, who portrayed the alien in a 1976 film, will be writing original songs.
480 West 42nd Street. Twitter: @signaturetheatr
As the first New York theater to win the Regional Tony Award, 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 season is special for two reasons — it’s the 25th anniversary season, and it’s the last one under founding artistic director James Houghton. Except for the Arthur Miller revival, however, the real excitement of this season comes in the Spring.
July 22 – September 6, 2015
The sixth collaboration between playwright Annie Baker and director Sam Gold, though in my review, I suggest not the best.
Love and Money
August 15 – October 4, 2015
A new comedy by A.R. Gurney, which I review here
October 27 – December 6, 2015
Arthur Miller’s play looks at Vichy, France at the height of World War II, when nine men and a boy are rounded up. As they disappear one by one, they battle over politics, philosophy and how to escape.
Night Is A Room
November 3 – December 13, 2015
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.
October 15 to January 3. Opens November 9
In this new play by Peter Parnell (QED), two gay couples who met at a parents group get to know one another and reveal the cracks in their marriages, and that of their straight friends. The cast includes Tammy Blanchard, Patrick Breen, John Benjamin Hickey
MTC AT CITY CENTER*
131 West 55th Street Twitter: @MTC_NYC
September 29 to ; opens October 20
Holland Taylor, Marylouise Burke, and Rachel Dratch. David Hyde Pierce directs
David Lindsay-Abaire’s new play about two rivals who vie for a choice room in an assisted living facility
Important Hats of the 20th Century
opens November 25
Written by Nick Jones (Orange is the New Black, Trevor) and directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel (Hand to God)
a cutthroat rivalry between milliners in 1930s New York.
January 19 to ; opens February 9
John Patrick Shanley’s new play, which he directs, stars Robert Sean Leonard, and
Timothée Chalamet as a brilliant, troubled young man from the Bronx at a New Hampshire private school.
ROUNDABOUT* LAURA PELS
September 10 to November 22. Opens October 13.
Female soldier Jess returns from war severely burned only to find her Floridian hometown in a state of decay. With the use of virtual reality video game therapy, she desperately tries to restore her relationships, home and all that was lost. Mamie Gummer stars
September 30 to; Opens October 25
A terrific cast including Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Joyce Van Patten and Sarah Steele star in the latest play by Stephen Karam (Sons of the Prophet). When Erik Blake (Birney) brings his Pennsylvania family to his daughter’s Manhattan apartment to celebrate Thanksgiving, strange things start happening.
Address: The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street. Twitter: @mcctheater
How can an Elvis impersonator become a winning drag queen in the Florida Panhandle? With an empty bank account and pregnant wife, Casey’s going to have to answer that question fast in this music-filled comedy written by Matthew Lopez (“The Whipping Man.”)
224 Waverly Place (though frequently also at the Cherry Lane) Twitter: @RattlestickNY
Hamlet in Bed
Michael Laurence and Annette O’Toole star in Laurence’s play about a neurotic actor and adoptee tracks down a woman who might be his birth mother and asks her to star with him in Hamlet.
CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY
September 10 to 27; opens September 17.
As part of CSC’s inaugural Greek Festival, Playwright Anne Washburn (Mr. Burns, a post-electric play) and director Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812) team up in this dynamic imagining of Euripides’ rarely-seen final play. A father is challenged to sacrifice his daughter in order to appease the gods.
Mother Courage and her Children
Tonya Pinkins stars in Bertolt Brecht’s most popular play as the indomitable Mother Courage,who follows one luckless army after another across a war-torn world in her canteen wagon. Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) has written a new score for the play.
OTHER (POTENTIAL) HIGHLIGHTS
Desire (59E59 )
Opens September 10
An evening of plays based on six short stories by Tennessee Williams, adapted by Elizabeth Egloff, Marcus Gardley, Rebecca Gilman, David Grimm, John Guare, and Beth Henley.
Steve, at The New Group, written by Mark Gerrard, directed by Cynthia Nixon, starring Mario Cantone (“As Steven, a failed Broadway chorus boy turned stay-at-home dad, celebrates yet another birthday, he finds himself filled with fear and uncertainty. Is Stephen, his partner of 14 years, cheating on him?”)
Gigantic, at Vineyard Theater, November 11 – December 20, 2015. A coming-of-age musical that takes places at Camp Overton, the number three weight-loss camp for teenagers in Southern Pennsylvania.
Always worth checking out: Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival which focuses on avant-garde experimental and European works. Of particular interest this year (as I mentioned earlier), a new version of Antigone directed by Ivo van Hove and starring Juliette Binoche.
Henry IV at St. Ann’s Warehouse, an all-female production by the same team that brought us the terrific all-female Julius Caesar.
Daddy Long Legs, Davenport Theatre.Based on the 1912 novel by Jean Webster, the musical tells the story of Jerusha Abbott, the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home and the mysterious benefactor who sends her to college to be a writer. Required to write him a letter once a month, Jerusha is never to know the benefactor’s identity—so she invents one for him: Daddy Long Legs.
Other companies worth checking out:
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), the Roundabout Theater Company., and starting this season, Second Stage Theatre, which has bought the Helen Hayes. Their Broadway offerings are listed in my Broadway Fall 2015 Preview Guide.
What Is Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway?
Off-Broadway theaters, by definition, have anywhere from 100 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.
Monthly Calendar of Openings
Because there are so many shows Off-Off Broadway, and their runs are so limited, I include them in my monthly theater preview (along with Broadway and Off Broadway openings) posted near the beginning of each month.
Here’s the preview guide for September, 2015.)
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?)