The Spring 2017 season Off-Broadway offers new plays by Annie Baker, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, David Mamet, Wallace Shawn, Sarah Ruhl; a new one-man show by John Leguizamo, “Latin History for Morons”; a Sondheim revival starring George Takei; an O’Neill revival starring Bobby Cannavale; a new musical about Joan of Arc by the team that brought us “Here Lies Love” about Imelda Marcos; and an all-female The Tempest. Matthew Perry is making his New York playwriting debut Off-Broadway.
Unlike Broadway, however, Off-Broadway is more than a collection of individual potential hits or misses. (See my Broadway 2016-2017 Preview Guide.) It’s marked by theaters/theater companies that present whole seasons of original or originally interpreted work. That’s why the Off-Broadway preview below largely groups shows according to the theaters that are producing them. I list those theaters in order of my preference for them (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.)
Clink on the theater’s name for more information about the theater, and on the show title for more about the individual production.
(The asterisk *, explained more fully at the bottom, indicates those theatrical empires that are both on and Off Broadway. Listed here are only their Off-Broadway offerings.)
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. The theater offers new plays and musicals that are consistently worthwhile, in an environment that feels dedicated both to the theater artists and the theatergoers.
February 17 – April 02
From the theater company The Debate Society: “Behold The Spectatorium: an audacious, visionary 12,000-seat theater designed for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 by Steele MacKaye, the now-forgotten theatrical impresario around whom this haunted, 40-year love story spins.”
March 17 – April 30
In Zayd Dohrn’s play, two families are forced to face the limits of their religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and prejudices, when Raif’s daughter falls for the son of a conservative Muslim family
May 19 – July 2
A musical written by Kirsten Childs and directed by Robert O’Hara about a young black woman in the late 19th century escaping her scandalous past and taking a train out West to meet her Buffalo Soldier. “On her journey, Bella will encounter the most colorful and lively characters ever to roam the Western plains.”
425 Lafayette Street. Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY
Having originated Hamilton, Fun Home, and the recent Sweat (which is moving to Broadway in March), the Public is on a roll, the latest of many in the successful downtown empire that Joe Papp created half a century ago. The Public is so popular these days that members have been complaining that their membership doesn’t guarantee tickets to the Public shows they want to see.
13th edition, January 4-15. Cutting-edge theater from around the U.S. and the world. Part of the Winter Theater Festivals of 2017
Feb 14 – April 2
A rock concert version of the French heroine by David Byrne, directed by Alex Timbers, the team that put together Here Lies Love.
Feb 23- April 2
At Joe’s Pub. Ethan Lipton tells the musical story of two human beings who buy an old spaceship, leaving the noise, pollution and overpriced rents of Earth for the vast beauty and treacherous terrain of the final frontier.
Feb 24 – April 9
Inspired by the near total absence of Latinos in his son’s American history class, John Leguizamo embarks on a frenzied search through 3,000 years of history to find a Latin hero for his son’s school project
March 24 – April 3
Martin Sherman’s new play stars Harvey Fierstein as Beau, a pianist expat living in London, who meets Rufus, an eccentric young lawyer, at the dawn of the internet dating revolution.
79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79
NYTW got much attention last year for presenting David Bowie’s musical “Lazarus.” and this Fall for its “Othello” with David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig. Its fare has ranged from the innovative and tuneful — “Hadestown” — to the cutting edge and incomprehensible — “Fondly, Collette Richland”
Jan 31 – March 5
In what’s becoming its signature activity, NYTW has physically transformed their theater once again, this time turning it into a giant storage facility. allowing audiences to roam and poke through the clutter.
Performed in repertory, these two chapters of Mfoniso Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, chronicle the triumphs and losses of the tenacious matriarch of a Nigerian family. Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. Here’s my review of Soujourners when it was produced by Playwrights Realms, in which I write “Given the promise of such an ambitious and potentially exciting project, one makes allowances for some of the awkwardness of this first production, which would have been more effective with a clearer and more streamlined unfolding of the essential story…”
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 relatively low — $30 now (up from $25.)
With the recent expansion of both their facilities and their mission, some longtime subscribers have had to adjust to the introduction of work by more untested playwrights. This is the first season under new artistic director Paige Evans, who headed Lincoln Center’s LCT3 Signature’s founding artistic director James Houghton died last August.
January 31 – March 12
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s new play is a modern version of Everyman, a famous morality play about Christian salvation from the 15th century. I have no idea what he’s doing with it, but he was very clever in a play called Octoroon, which was his take on an 19th century melodrama, and both provocative and thoughtful in his play Gloria
Feb 7 – March 19
Will Eno’s play “challenges the notion of what really matters and recognizes the importance of life’s simple pleasures.” The downtown playwright who made his Broadway debut recently with the abstruse The Realistic Joneses has his admirers; I’m not yet one of them.
April 4 – ?
April 25 – ?
A revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’ play based on the true story of Saartjie Baartman, who left her home in southern Africa for a better life, and became a star on the 19th century London freak show circuit for the size of her posterior.
Although it primarily presents avant-garde European exports, this Brooklyn theater climbs up in my preference thanks to Taylor Mac’s homegrown 24-Decade History of Popular Music late last year.
Jan 13- Feb 19
Donmar Warehouse’s all female staging of Shakespeare’s play, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and starring Harriet Walter. This is the last production of a splendidly theatrical trilogy by the same team, starting with Julius Caesar in 2013 and then Henry IV in 2015.
946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips
March 16 – April 9
“Kneehigh bring their full arsenal of live music, puppetry, dance and visual hi jinx to this brand new adaptation of the original novel by Michael Morpurgo (War Horse). Directed by Emma Rice, (now the Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe) 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips is the true story of British townsfolk and the African American soldiers sent to rehearse the Normandy invasion from their shores. Seen through the eyes of a little girl and her beloved cat, 946overturns everything we thought we knew about the D-Day landings.”
A “strange and tender love story” written and directed by Enda Walsh (best-known in New York for Once and Lazarus.)
(This is a good place to sing the praises of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which offers an eclectic mix of the arts, often cutting edge)
Jan 11 – Feb 12
The new play by Paolo Lazaro takes place in Puerto Rico, and “unmasks a community built on the law of respect that keeps getting washed away but refuses to drown.” The cast includes Dascha Polanco and Selenis Leyva, who play Dayanara Diaz and Gloria Mendoza, respectively, in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.
Feb 8-March 26
A new play by David Mamet. “A renowned psychiatrist is asked to testify on behalf of a young patient. When he refuses, his career, ethics and faith are thrown into question.”
May 24 – June 18
Clare Lizzimore’s dark comedy about a woman who has a good life, on the outside, but has a creepy feeling, and starts to have visions.
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.
Feb 23- May 7
A new play by Sarah Ruhl, author of “Two married couples discuss a younger acquaintance–a polyamorous woman who also hunts her own meat. Fascinated, they invite this mysterious woman and her two live-in boyfriends to a New Year’s Eve party, which alters the course of their lives.
Feb 11 – March 26
A comedy by Bryna Turner that follows Mary Woolley and her partner Jeannette Marks through 40 years in a New England seminary as they reform and revolutionize women’s education at the height of the suffrage movement.
ROUNDABOUT* LAURA PELS
The empire that is now Roundabout includes three Broadway theaters, and that’s where most of the attention is focused, mostly on star-studded revivals, especially musicals. But its fourth building houses two Off-Broadway theaters (one of them a tiny “Black Box” theater.) It is in its Off-Broadway facility that Stephen Karam’s The Humans originated.
Feb 2 – April 30
A new play by Steven Levenson (“The Language of Trees,” “The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin”) that tells the story of the bickering reunion of liberal Jewish studies professor Michael Fischer with his two sisters to celebrate their father’s 75th birthday shortly before 9/11.
Feb 7 – April 2
A play by Martin Zimmerman (Netflix’s Narcos) starring Marin Ireland as a liberal college professor inexplicably drawn to a weapon used in a senseless act of violence.
Meghan Kennedy’s play about an Italian immigrant family in 1960’s Brooklyn: “The Muscolinos have raised three proud and passionate daughters. But as the girls come of age in a rapidly changing world, their paths diverge—in drastic and devastating ways—from their parents’ deeply traditional values” — exacerbated by a plane crash.
Address: The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street. Twitter: @mcctheater
Jan 12 – Feb 19
In Anna Jordan’s play, Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), and Justice Smith (The Get Down) portray two brothers ignored by their mother, who are drawn into a world beyond what they know when their animal-loving neighbor Jenny takes an interest in their dog Taliban.
A play written by and starring Matthew Perry (Friends): “An alcoholic, an escort, a self-diagnosed neurotic and a well-intentioned simpleton walk into a bar… Broken and deeply flawed, they find their lives irreversibly entwined no matter how hard they try to break free of one another.” When this play debuted on the West End last year, in the words of Variety, “London critics weren’t kind.”
136 East 13th Street Twitter: @ClassicStage
January 11 – Feb 26
David Ives adapts Pierre Corneille’s 17th Century farce of mistaken identities and secrets, Le Menteur, directed by Michael Kahn.
April 6 –
George Takei stars in a revival of the musical by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman about a samurai and a fisherman who are caught up in the westernization of the East, at a time when Commodore Matthew Perry sailed to Japan on a U.S. mission to open trade relations at any cost.
January 31 – March 12
(The New Group at Signature) by Wallace Shawn with Matthew Broderick, Jill Eikenberry, John Epperson, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn, Claudia Shear, Annapurna Sriram, Michael Tucker. Shawn takes on theater itself with this acerbic and stealth political comedy about theater artists who have a reunion at their old hangout, the Talk House, to reminisce about the show they made a decade ago — except most are no longer theater artists. There’s been “a decline in the theatergoing impulse.”
(Park Avenue Armory) Bobby Cannavale stars as Yank in this 1921 play written by Eugene O’Neill.
Feb 2 – March 19
(Vineyard) The latest collaboration between John Kander and Greg Pierce. “Seventeen-year-old Luke returns to his small Kansas town after a wrenching one-year absence. As his friendship grows with the town misfit, Emily, his parents realize that in order to truly find their son, they must confront some unnerving truths about his disappearance.”
(2nd Stage Theater*) The latest play by Bruce Norris: “If you knew in advance exactly what was going to happen in your life, and how everything was going to turn out, and if you knew you couldn’t do anything to change it, would you still want to go on with your life? That is the question facing Bee who, much to Jay’s confusion, can click through different moments in her life with the touch of a remote control.
Feb 7 – April 2
(MTC at City Center*) Penelope Skinner’s play is about a successful woman whose pitch to change the way the world looks at women of a certain age winds up making her fight for her own relevance.
And this is surely Off-Off Broadway, but I can’t resist:
Feb 3 – 26
(Pipeline Theatre Company) Beardo, which takes place inSt. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenpoint, is a “Russian indie rock musical” with music by Dave Malloy ( Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.) “This New York premiere explodes the mad inner workings of Rasputin, the infamous mystic who sexed his way to the fall of the Russian monarchy.”
Other companies and theaters 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 2016-2017 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.
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 calendar (along with Broadway and Off Broadway openings) posted near the beginning of each month.
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?)
What’s Off-Broadway Dough? Does that mean there’s not much of it? pic.twitter.com/KHH1kApUzb
— New York Theater (@NewYorkTheater) September 4, 2016