The Spring 2018 season Off-Broadway promises some thrilling shows, as the preview guide below should make clear. There are new plays by superstar playwrights — Caryl Churchill (about revolution) Terrence McNally (about Nijinsky) Bruce Norris (about slavery), Adrienne Kennedy (about Jim Crow and Nazism), Lynn Nottage (about an elephant)…as well as New York premieres of plays by Tracy Letts, Martin McDonagh, Dominique Morisseau, and Aristophanes (in Greek!).
Idina Menzel, Will Swenson, Jeremy Irons, Jayne Houdyshell and some of the hottest Broadway directors, many of them women, are working Off-Broadway in Spring 2018.
Off-Broadway offers off-kilter, foreign, fresh, but also familiar. The playwright of “The Vagina Monologues” brings her recent memoir to the stage this season. The”Hedwig” composer brings back the 70s in a new musical (the second of two shows to have “Disco” in the title this season.) The “In The Heights” playwright creates a new musical for Daphne Rubin Vega as an undocumented immigrant. For its 25th anniversary, the Encores cobbles together a new musical that’s a collage of old ones.
Unlike Broadway, Off-Broadway is more than a collection of individual potential hits or misses. (See my Broadway Spring 2018 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 or presenting 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.)
Click 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. Go to my Broadway preview guide for the rest)
I’ve put a red check mark — √ — besides a few shows about which I’m especially excited, or intrigued, or at least notably hopeful. It was hard to narrow it down this season.
425 Lafayette Street. Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY
Having originated Hamilton, Fun Home,and, most recently, Latin History for Morons, 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. But it sounds hard to miss with any of the shows this season:
January 30 – March 25, 2018
Written by Sarah Burgess (Dry Powder), directed by Thomas Kail (Hamilton,) A comedy about a lobbyist named Kate who worries that her Congresswoman client is so high-minded it will ruin her career. But then for the first time Kate is faced with a choice that might change everything for her: back the system, or back what she believes in?
February 13 – April 1
Written by Bruce Norris (Clybourne Park), directed by Michael Greif (Dear Evan Hansen.) Set in the 18th century, this wild new work imagines America’s first laissez-faire capitalist, a young man inspired by a chance encounter with Adam Smith to put his faith in the free market. But his path to riches becomes inextricably entangled with that of an educated slave, a man who knows from experience that one person’s profit is another’s loss, in this parable about the true cost of inequality.
February 12 – March 25, 2018
Daniel Alexander Jones returns to Joe’s Pub as Jomama Jones, going on a painful personal journey set to pop, rock, soul and disco.
March 20 – May 6
Book and lyrics by Quiara Alegria Hudes (In The Heights, Water by the Spoonful), music & lyrics by Erin McKeown. Directed by Trip Cullman. Daphne Rubin-Vega is Beatriz, flawed mom to 16 year-old Olivia, and an undocumented immigrant on the verge of deportation. They take a road trip together.
March 27 – May 20, 2018
The play written by Lynn Nottage (Ruined, Sweat) tells the story of a magnificent elephant trapped in the clandestine international ivory market.
April 23 – May 13
June 19 – August 5
Written by Rinne Groff. Directed by Marisa Wolf. On Coney Island, in the aftermath of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, a disillusioned do-gooder named Kate meets Jaap Hooft, a charismatic European film-maker who sees in the devastation wrought by the storm an opportunity to make a work of art about another disaster that struck Coney Island some hundred years before: the 1911 fire that started in the amusement park known as Dreamland.
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. But it feels hard to go wrong given the three playwrights on offer:
January 30 – March 11
Directed by Lila Neugebauer. A new production of Albee’s two-act play that incorporated his older, and seminal, The Zoo Story. In act one, Homelife, we meet Peter and his wife, who live a comfortable but vaguely unhappy bourgeois existence; in the second act, The Zoo Story, Peter is forever altered by an oddly persistent stranger in Central Park. Cast: Katie Finneran, Robert Sean Leonard,Paul Sparks
April 24 – June 3, 2018
By Dominique Morisseau (Skeleton Crew, Pipeline). Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Jitney.) In 1949, Detroit’s Blackbottom neighborhood is gentrifying. Blue, a troubled trumpeter and the owner of Paradise Club, is torn between remaining in Blackbottom with his loyal lover Pumpkin and leaving behind a traumatic past. But when the arrival of a mysterious woman stirs up tensions, the fate of Paradise Club hangs in the balance
May 1 – June 10, 2018
By Stephen Adly Giurgis (Between Riverside to Crazy, Jesus Hopped the A Train, The M-F With the Hat.) After the death of the beloved Sister Rose, a group of her former students return to their Harlem neighborhood to pay respects. But at the Funeral Home, there’s a problem—her dead body has been stolen
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.
December 15, 2017 – January 28, 2018
Playwright and director Robert O’Hara imagines a future world in which women are extinct and men can get pregnant.
January 11, 2018 – February 04, 2018
Created by the Mad Ones and directed by Lila Neugebauer, a comedy about the planning committee for Garrison High School’s ninth annual Miles For Mary Telethon in 1988.
March 16, 2018 – April 29, 2018
Written by Lindsey Ferrentino (“Ugly Lies The Bone“) and directed by Rebecca Taichman (“Indecent“) At a middle school in this seaside town, the unthinkable has happened, placing a bewildered community in the national spotlight. Stuck at home in a state of shocked limbo, Julie and Zander, two thirteen-year-olds, try to make sense of the chaos they witnessed, their awkward crushes, and an infinitely more complicated future. There’s a second Ferrentino play at the Roundabout.
April 13, 2018 – May 27, 2018
Written by Clare Barron,co-winner of the first Relentless Award. Directed and choreographed by Lee Sunday Evans. Somewhere in America, an army of pre-teen competitive dancers plots to take over the world. And if their new routine is good enough, they’ll claw their way to the top at the Boogie Down Grand Prix in Tampa Bay.
June 01, 2018 – July 15, 2018
Written by Jordan Harrison, directed by Pam McKinnon. When a tight-knit circle of comfortable married gays and lesbians see themselves through the eyes of their rakish transgender pal, it’s clear that the march toward progress is anything but unified
79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79
NYTW got much attention for presenting David Bowie’s musical “Lazarus.” and r 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”
February 7 – March 11
Written by Hammaad Chaudry his professional playwriting debut, and
directed by Jo Bonney. A Pakistani-British couple struggle to straddle the gap between the doctrines of their Muslim community and the demands of secular Western culture.
April 18-May 27, opening May 7
Written by Caryl Churchill (Love and Information, Cloud Nine), and directed by Rachel Chavkin (Great Comet, Hadestown) In 1647 England, power is shifting and, amid the chaos and confusion, revolutionaries across the country are dreaming of a new future. Anything by Caryl Churchill is worth seeing.
July 11 – August 12, opening July 30
By Marcus Gardley (X), directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz (Pipeline). In the heat of summer in 1813, Louisiana passed from France to the United States. On the eve of the transfer, in a house in mourning, freedom hangs in the balance for a steely widow and her three eligible daughters, all free women of color. Inspired by Federico García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba.
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 last year. This season’s offerings give us a sense of what’s happening politically overseas.
Written and directed by Enda Walsh. The lives of two men unravel quickly over the course of 90 minutes.Where are they? Who are they? What room is this, and what might be beyond the walls?
Also in January: The Irish Rep Theater is also mounting a 20th anniversary production of Walsh’s Disco Pigs.
Based on the memoir by Didier Eribon. Directed by Thomas Ostermeier. Philospher Didier Eribon, returning to his childhood home, discovers that the left-wing and liberal middle-class have abandoned the working-class, and workers are running into the arms of the right-wing National Front. How is this possible?
Devised collaboratively by a cast of seven actors, the play recounts their experiences as student leaders of the #RhodesMustFall protest movement, which called for the teardown of a colonialist monument on their University of Cape Town campus.
By Aristophanes, adapted and directed by Nikos Karathanos in Greek with English subtitles. Two Athenians, fed up with their city and the gods who rule over it, travel to the countryside to ask the birds to build them a new utopia.
I always love attending BAM. Theater is only one of their many offerings, and (similar to St Ann’s Warehouse), they are primarily European exports, either classical or avant-garde. But the three plays this Spring strike me as must-see, at least for me.
Directed by Gregory Doran for Royal Shakespeare Company, starring Antony Sher.
May 8 -27
by Eugene O’Neill, directed by Sir Richard Eye for Bristol Old Vic, starring Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville
June 6 – 16
.Friedrich Schiller,Directed and adapted by Lev Dodin, for Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg, Russia. Two young lovers meet their fate in German poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller’s tragedy of class warfare and courtly intrigue, first produced in 1787.
At this theater cofounded in 1985 by David Mamet and William H. Macy, whose recent achievements include acclaimed musical The Band’s Visit, this season’s offerings traverse the world, from Nigeria to England to China, and time-travel to 1970s New York nightlife.
Written by Ngozi Anyanwu in her Off-Broadway debut, directed by Awoye Timpo. A bestselling novelist returns to Nigeria to care for her ailing father, but before she can bury him, she must relearn the traditions she’s long forgotten.
January 10 – Feb 11
January 18 – March 4
Written by Martin McDonagh (The Beauty Queen of Lenane), directed by Matthew Dunster. A play about the second-best hangman in England hanging out in a pub on the day they’ve abolished hanging.
May 11- July 1
Music and lyrics by Stephen Trask (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)and Peter Yanowitz. Directed by Trip Cullman. The story of drifters and dreamers in the night world in 1979 New York of Studio 54 and Mudd Club
May 11 – July 1
May 23-June 17
Written by Lauren Yee. Directed by Taibi Mgar. San Franciscan sidewalk basketball star Manford Lum, talks his way onto a college team as they travel to Beijing in the era after th Cultural Revolution, forcing him to juggle international politics and his own personal history.
Although the Armory has been presenting theater for ten years, it’s not been a regular stop for me. A Room in India convinced me it should be. As with St Anne’s Warehouse and BAM, the theater they present is largely European, cutting-edge, often hybrids, and they require patience and an open mind. But, offered in the vast expanse of the Armory’s Drill Hall, these aren’t just shows; they’re events.
Federico García Lorca’s 1934 drama is reimagined by Australian director and dramatist Simon Stone, who transforms the tale of a provincial Spanish woman’s desperate desire to have a child into a parable of modern life
March 23–April 21, 2018
May 22–24, 2018
I can only quote the description: “a hyperstitial ‘concertscape’ imagined from the perspective of an alien intelligence that explores disorienting relationships between space and sound and mutates forms of live musical performance.”
June 7–July 1. 2018
Nick Cave’s hybrid installation, performance, gathering and dancing environment acts as an alternative platform for viewers to speak their minds through movement, work out frustrations, and celebrate independence as well as community.
July 17–28, 2018
Ivo van Hove in collaboration with Comédie-Française adapts Luchino Visconti’s film about the disintegration of the wealthy Essenbeck family and their steel dynasty during the seizure of power of the Nazis in 1933 in Germany. In French with English supertitles.
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 10 – March 25
Written by Martyna Majok (Ironbound, Cost of Living.) The lives of two generations of immigrant women collide in a basement apartment. When the choices they’ve made about their security, dignity, and desires come back to haunt them, they must ask: what cannot – and should not – be left behind?
Feb 15 – April 29
By Joshua Harmon (Significant Other). Directed by Daniel Aukin. The admissions officer and her husband the headmaster of The Hillcrest School are proud of their efforts to diversify the student body. But when their only son sets his sights on an Ivy League university, personal ambition collides with progressive values. Harmon has a second play, Skintight, at Roundabout.
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 1 – Ap 22
Written by Lindsey Ferrentino (Ugly Lies The Bone). Directed by Scott Ellis (She Loves Me.) After their father’s death, two unhinged siblings reunite with Amy, their movie-loving sister who has Down syndrome. An unexpected turn reveals the moment that changed their lives…and the fact that Amy may be the only one who knows her own mind.
March 8 – May 6
Bobbie killed Casey in the middle of a cornfield in Milton, Nebraska. Two years later, Milton’s residents are ready to tell you their side(s) of the story.
May 31 – August 26
Written by Joshua Harmon. Idina Menzel stars in a play by Joshua Harmon as a woman who discovers her fashion-designer father is wrapped up in his West Village townhouse with a 20-year-old who may or not be gay, but is the same age as his gay grandson.
Address: The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street. Twitter: @mcctheaterl
Feb 1-Mar 11, 2018
Written by JC Lee. Directed by LIesl Tommy (Eclipsed.) Jayne Houdyshell (The Humans) portray a celebrated author and veteran feminist warrior who may have met her match in a promising young writer (Pascale Armand from Eclipsed) who is quickly becoming the leading cultural critic on race, class, and gender for a new generation — and far more conversant in social media.
Ap 5 – May 13
Written by Lucy Thurber (Insurgents), directed by Jackson Gay
Two gifted students from the South Bronx are competing for a life-changing scholarship at an elite northeast university when they are unexpectedly confronted with their shared past during a campus visit.
Reasons To Be Pretty Happy
Aug 16 – Sep 23
Written by Neil LaBute. Directed by Leigh Silverman.fter five years in New York, Greg and Steph return to their blue-collar hometown for their 20th high school reunion and to a dramatic encounter with Kent and Carly, the friends they left behind. The third play that uses these characters — preceded by Reasons to be Pretty, and Reasons to Be Happy
This is the first year the theater is programming the Helen Hayes on Broadway. Here are the two that are being presented in their Off-Broadway house a few blocks away:
January 9 – February 25
Written by Tracy Letts (August: Osage County). Directed by Lila Neugebauer (The Wolves, Signature Plays). A seemingly ordinary accountant from Ohio has experienced pain and joy, success and failure — forgotten moments adding up to a memorable life.
January 17-February 25, 2018
Terrence McNally explores the rich history of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev’s itinerant Russian ballet company. Surrounded by great talents of art, design, and music, the tempestuous relationship between Diaghilev and dancer Vaslav Nijinsky revolutionizes dance forever.
Feb 7 – 11
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the concert series, this new musical features Bob Martin, as his beloved Man in Chair character from The Drowsy Chaperone, plays an opinionated Encores! subscriber who leads the audience on a guided (and sometimes mis-guided) tour of his favorite scenes and songs from musicals he’s always wanted to see at City Center: All American, George M!, Greenwillow, Jamaica,Mack & Mabel, Milk and Honey, Sail Away, and Wildcat.
January 16 – March 25
Directed by Diane Paulus and starring Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues) in a play based on her memoir: While working with women suffering from the ravages of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ensler was stunned by a life-threatening diagnosis.
He Brought Her Heart Back In A Box (TFANA at Polonsky)
January 18 – February 11
Adrienne Kennedy’s first new play in a decade is set in Georgia and New York City in 1941, and “braids together the indignities of Jim Crow, rising Nazism, sexual hypocrisy, Christopher Marlowe, and the lingering shadow of a terrible crime.”
January 23 – March 11, 2018
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 in Broadway theaters they own – Lincoln Center (Vivian Beaumont Theater), Manhattan Theater Company or MTC (the Samuel J. Friedman), the Roundabout Theater Company (American Airlines, Stephen Sondheim, Studio 54), and starting this season, Second Stage Theatre, which has bought the Helen Hayes. Their Broadway offerings are listed in my Broadway 2017-2018 Season 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—-