Off-Broadway in the Fall promises a homoerotic dystopia (“A Clockwork Orange”); a revival of Harvey Fierstein’s breakthrough play starring Michael Urie (“Torch Song”); bio-dramas about a transgender etiquette teacher (Charm) and Public Theater founder Joe Papp (“Illyria”), as well as a debate among Thomas Jefferson, Dickens and Tolstoy about religion (“Discord.”) There are hip makeovers of Shakespeare, Sophocles and Jane Austen; an immersive visit to a Korean pop music factory by the same theater that developed The Great Comet; and plays by Julia Cho, Caryl Churchill, Amy Herzog,Rajiv Joseph, Sarah Ruhl, Simon Stephens, John Patrick Stanley, Anna Ziegler (two!), and Stephen Adly Guirgis (three!)
Unlike Broadway (See my Broadway 2017-2018 Preview Guide), Off-Broadway is full of theaters/theater companies that present whole seasons of original or originally interpreted work. That’s why my Off-Broadway preview below largely groups shows according to the theaters that are producing them, most of which offer subscriptions and/or memberships. I list the 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 my overall experience interacting with them as theatergoer and as critic.)
I’ve put a red check mark — √ — besides a handful of shows opening in the Fall about which I’m especially excited, or intrigued, or at least notably hopeful.
(The asterisk *, explained more fully at the bottom, indicates those theatrical empires that have both Broadway and Off Broadway venues.)
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.
August 18, 2017 – October 01, 2017 Opens September 12.
A play by Sarah Ruhl: “Playing Peter Pan at her hometown children’s theater is one of Ann’s fondest, most formative memories. Now, 50 years later, Neverland calls again, casting her and her siblings back to this faraway dreamscape where the refusal to grow up confronts the inevitability of growing old.”
September 06, 2017 – October 22, 2017
A play by Max Posner, directed by David Cromer: “Ida Armstrong is broke, lonely, and fading fast. And she’s spending all of her children’s money, forcing her son to assume the unwanted role of The Treasurer: an arrangement that becomes untenable the more he questions his devotion to her.”
425 Lafayette Street and in Central Park. Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY
Having originated both Hamilton and Fun Home, the Public is on a roll, the latest of many in the successful downtown empire that Joe Papp created half a century ago. (One of the plays this season is about Papp!) 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.
September 2 – September 5.
It’s now a Labor Day weekend tradition, to stage a Shakespeare play as a spectacular employing some 200 professional and amateur actors at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Shaina Taub has composed the songs for this musical version of Shakespeare’s tale “of faithful friends, feuding families and lovers in disguise.”
September 17 – November 5, 2017
The innovative avant-garde theater company Elevator Repair Service adapts Shakespeare’s play about “impossible moral choices in 17th century Vienna” using athletic theatricality and Marx-Brothers-inspired slapstick.
Tiny Beautiful Things
September 19 to November 12.
Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) plays Sugar, an anonymous online advice columnist in a Vardalos’ stage adaptation of the book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed. Directed by Thomas Kail (Hamilton.) This an encore presentation. My review of the play when it was presented last year.
October 3 to November 19. Opens October 24.
Playwright Luis Alfaro has set this Greek tragedy in South Central LA and recast the hero as “a troubled Latino whose dreams of controlling his own destiny soar above the barbed wire of the prison where he’s spent his life.”
October 17 – December 3, 2017
Julia Cho’s new play about a teacher who compels her 18-year-old student to attend her office hours to discuss his violently obscene work.”The isolated young student in her office has learned one thing above all else: that for the powerless, the ability to terrify others is powerful indeed.”
October 22 – November 26
Richard Nelson (the Apple Family plays and the Gabriels) directs his play about the 1958 fight by Public Theater founder Joseph Papp over free Shakespeare productions in Central Park.
November 26 – December 17
The Public Theater’s Mobile Unit production of Shakespeare’s play, directed by Lee Sunday Evans
79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79
NYTW got much attention two years ago for presenting David Bowie’s musical “Lazarus,” and last year for its “Othello” with movie stars Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo. Its fare has ranged from the innovative and tuneful — “Hadestown” — to the cutting edge and incomprehensible — “Fondly, Collette Richland”
September 6, 2017—October 15, 2017
Written by Amy Herzog and directed by Anne Kauffman. “During a rain-drenched summer in New York City, an indefatigable single mother navigates the mundane, shattering and sublime aspects of caring for a chronically sick child.” Stars Carrie Coon.
November 15, 2017—December 31, 2017
A musical about having only 100 days to live.
Three exciting-sounding new plays for which NYTW has not provided the dates as of yet:
An Ordinary Muslim, by Hammaad Chaudry, directed by Jo Bonney
Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Rachel Chavkin
The House That Will Not Stand by Marcus Gardley, directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
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 $30.
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 second season under new artistic director Paige Evans, who headed Lincoln Center’s LCT3. Signature’s founding artistic director James Houghton died in August, 2016. This season looks more exciting in the Spring.
August 22 – October 1, 2017
Suzan Lori Park’s first of two plays based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Christine Lahti portrays an abortionist trying to free her son from prison
August 29 – October 8, 2017
Hester La Negrita is a penniless mother of five condemned by the men who love her.
October 3 – November 12
The first of this season’s plays at the Signature by Stephen Adly Guirgis: “Angel Cruz is a 30-year-old bicycle messenger awaiting trial for the death of the leader of a religious cult. Inside Rikers Island, a terrified Angel is befriended by a charismatic serial killer named Lucius Jenkins. Lucius has found God.” Directed by Mark Brokaw.
August 23 – October 8, 2017
A play by Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) about nine months that changed the lives of a family.
November 10 – December 24
Set in Russia over the course of 90 years, Rajiv Joseph’s new play traces the stories of seven men and women connected by history, myth and conspiracy theories.
The theater company takes up residence this season at the Cherry Lane in the West Village
September 19 – October 22, 2017
Three historical figures who wrote their own version of the gospels debate religion, literature and marriage.
November 7 – December 15, 2017
Kate Hamill (Bedlam’s Sense and Sensibility) adapts and stars in this playful adaptation of Jane Austen’s tale of outspoken Elizabeth Bennet and the aloof Mr. Darcy.
October 7 to November 19. Opens October 23.
A play by Zoe Kazan “set in the wake of total environmental disaster, when the human population has retreated underground”
November 1 to January 7, 2018. Opens November 20.
Sarah DeLappe’s play about a teenager girls soccer team is being encored in a new venue. My old review of The Wolves.
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, which went on to Broadway and Tony love. The Roundabout’s “Underground” series discovers new playwriting talent, with tickets priced at $25.
September 28 – December 24, 2017. Opens October 24.
A new play by Anna Ziegler about two tennis greats who are facing off in the match of their lives
September 15 – November 19, 2017. Opens October 5.
Jiréh Breon Holder’s play takes place in Nashville in 1961, when 20-year-old Bowzie Brandon gives up a college scholarship to join the Freedom Riders.
Address: The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street.
August 31 – October 8. Opens September 18
A play by Philip Dawkin. “When Mama Darleena Andrews– a 67-year-old, black, transgender woman — takes it upon herself to teach an etiquette class at Chicago’s LGBTQ community center, the idealistic teachings of Emily Post clash with the very real life challenges of identity, poverty and prejudice faced by her students. Inspired by the true story of Miss Gloria Allen
School Girls, Or The African Mean Girls Play
136 East 13th Street Twitter: @ClassicStage
Its 50th anniversary season is heavy on Shakespeare in the Fall, but in the Spring branches out to Tennessee Williams as well as an original play by Terrence McNally about Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russe,and the first major New York revival of Carmen Jones, Oscar Hammerstein’s adaptation of the opera by Bizet with an all African-American cast.
September 13-October 22
Shakespeare’s comedy, with music by Stephen Schwartz, set in the Jazz Age.
November 5 – 19
This play geared to children is “inspired by the plays and language of Shakespeare.” By Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, which uses puppetry and live music,
November 29-January 6
Second Stage will launch its first Broadway season at the Helen Hayes in Spring 2018, the fourth “non-profit” to produce theater both on and Off Broadway. I’m hoping this will encourage them to become literally more inviting to independent New York critics.
Michael Urie stars in the play that made its author and first star Harvey Fierstein famous, in a production directed by Moisés Kaufman. “It’s 1979 in New York City and Arnold Beckoff is on a quest for love, purpose and family.”
131 West 55th Street Twitter: @MTC_NYC
The theater has recovered from the public criticism of a couple of seasons ago that it lacks diversity in its offerings, but this “club” is still not especially welcoming to non-subscribers or independent professional critics.
September 19 – November 26. Opens October 24.
John Patrick Shanley directs his new romantic comedy about a habitually widowed woman (Sherie Rene Scott) who pays a visit to her second-rate lawyer (Jason Alexander), intending to settle her latest husband’s affairs.
October 31 – December 3
Anna Ziegler (Photograph 51) explores the issue of consent on campus. “At a raucous party during their freshman year at Princeton, Tom and Amber connect in ways that seem innocent enough at first. But as things progress, they find themselves in murky territory.”
September 5 – October 7, 2017
The world-conquering success of Korean pop music is the subject of this new immersive theatre piece in the theater that developed “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” The show, about a new record label on the eve of its launch, is put together by the theater companies Ma-Yi and the Woodshed Collective, the latter of which did an amazing show called Empire Travel Agency, a kind of on-the-town spy-murder mystery.
September 2 – January 6, 2018. Opens September 25
A stage adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel, best-known for the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film, about a teenage hoodlum in the near future who is arrested, and brainwashed to be submissive by the authorities.
Chloe Sevigny stars in In Seth Zvi Rosenfeld’s play as a strung-out, free-wheeling single mom whose son Pnut and his Haitian best friend Massive wrestle with their obligation to join rioters in Washington Square Park in 1976 attacking any people of color they can find.
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 2017-2018 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.
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