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Off Broadway Fall 2018 Preview Guide

Off-Broadway in the Fall promises a new musical with book by Conor McPherson and music by Bob Dylan (“Girl from the North Country”); Glenn Close  as Joan of Arc’s mother (“Mother of the Maid”); Christine Lahti as Gloria Steinem (“Gloria: A Life”); a shadow cast of deaf actors signing in ASL while another cast is speaking in English (“I Was Most Alive With You”); real-life siblings Tyne Daly and Tim Daly as bickering siblings, on stage together in New York for the first time. (“Downstairs”)

There are new plays by Madeleine George, Donja R.Love, Craig Lucas, Martyna Majok, Theresa Rebeck, Heidi Schreck, Jen Silverman, Tom Stoppard, Sharr White; two old plays and a new musical by Lynn Nottage; a marathon production complete with dinner of two of Samuel D. Hunter’s Idaho plays; revivals of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” and Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” There is a re-creation of a refugee camp, plays about Korean, Sikh and Arab immigrants to the U.S., American slaves, African porters.

How to sort it all out?

One way is to group the shows under the theater that’s presenting or producing them. Unlike Broadway,  Off-Broadway is more than a collection of individual potential hits or misses. (See my Broadway 2018-2019 Season Preview Guide.)  It’s marked by theaters/theater companies that present whole seasons of original or originally interpreted work.

That is why the list of shows below is grouped primarily by 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 the overall experience I’ve had with the theater as theatergoer and critic.) I include underneath that a list of other highlights.

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 the four 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. (I’ll only know if I was right to be interested once I see them.)

THE PUBLIC THEATER

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.

The Gospel at Colonus

September 4-9

Set in the context of a black Pentecostal service, an exuberant re-telling of Sophocles’ classic Oedipus at Colonus. Book, original lyrics and direction by Lee Breuer. Original music, adapted lyrics and music direction by Bob Telson. FREE

√ Girl from the North Country

September 11 – November 18. Opens October 1

Playwright Conor McPherson transforms Bob Dylan’s songbook to tell the story of a down-on-its-luck community on the brink of change in Duluth, Minnesota in 1934.

Mother of the Maid

September 25 – December 2. Opens October 17

Glenn Close plays Joan of Arc’s mother in this drama by Jane Anderson (“Olive Kitteridge”)

Eve’s Song

October 21 – December 2. Opens November 7.

In this play by Patricia Ione Lloyd directed by Jo Bonney, Deborah is trying to keep things normal at home in the aftermath of a messy divorce and a daughter coming out as queer. But as black people continue to be killed beyond their four walls, the outside finds its way in.

Wild Goose Dreams

October 30 – December 9. Opens November 14.

In Hansol Jung’s play, directed by Leigh Silverman, Minsung is a “goose father,” a South Korean man whose wife and daughter have moved to America for a better life. Deeply lonely, he escapes onto the internet and meets Nanhee, a young defector forced to leave her family behind in North Korea. Is connection possible?

 

ST. ANN’s WAREHOUSE

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  The two Fall shows this season both sound unmissable.

 

 Oklahoma

 September 27 – November 11. Opening October 7

Director Daniel Fish’s 75th anniversary production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s landmark musical upends the sunny romance between a farmer and a cowpoke with what has always been just below the surface. The cast includes Rebecca Naomi Jones, Mary Testa, and Ali Stroker.

The Jungle

December 4 – January 13, 2019

Meet the hopeful, resilient residents of the Jungle – a sprawling refugee camp in Calais, France. Take a seat inside the bustling Afghan Café to experience how, with minimal resources in a cold, inhospitable environment, refugees and volunteers built a warm, self-governing society out of nothing

 

NEW YORK THEATER WORKSHOP

79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79

NYTW has gotten much attention over the past few years for presenting David Bowie’s musical “Lazarus,”    “Othello” with movie stars Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo, and “Mary Jane.” Its fare has ranged from the innovative and tuneful — “Hadestown” — to the cutting edge and incomprehensible — “Fondly, Collette Richland”

In the new season, there are no dates listed yet for four of the six shows.  Most are likely to be in Spring 2019, and, just from what we know about them (which isn’t much), they sound extremely promising.

What The Constitution Means To Me

September 12, 2018—October 21

Fifteen-year-old Heidi Schreck put herself through college by giving speeches about the U.S. Constitution. Now, the Obie Award winner resurrects her teenage self in order to trace the document’s profound impact on women’s bodies—including her own. Oliver Butler directs.

Mandy Patinkin in Concert

October 10 – 28

Slave Play

The old South lives on at the MacGregor Plantation in this antebellum fever-dream written by Jeremy O. Harris and directed by Robert O’Hara.

Hurricane Diane

In this play by Madeleine George directed by Leigh Silverman,  Diane is a gardener who is actually the Greek god Dionysus, returning to the modern world to gather mortal followers and restore the Earth to its natural state.

√?Sanctuary City

There are few clues as to the particulars of this play, but it’s written by Martyna Majok, last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for “Cost of Living.,” who in such dramas as Ironbound and “queens” has given a voice to the new immigrant.   “DREAMers. Lovers. Life-long friends. Negotiating the promise of safety and the weight of responsibility, they’ll fight like hell to establish a place for themselves and each other in America”

√?Anna Deavere Smith project

No clue whatsoever as to its subject, but her one-woman shows about race riots in Crown Heights (“Fires in the Mirror”) and Los Angeles (“Twilight”), about health care (“Let Me Down Easy“), and about the school to prison pipeline (“Notes from the Field“) have made it clear that Anna Deavere Smith is one of our country’s greatest theater artists.

 

PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS

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.

I Was Most Alive With You

September 1 – October 14. Opens September 24.

Craig Lucas’s play, performed simultaneously in English and ASL by two casts, focuses on Ash, who Is thankful for the gifts of his family, his addiction, and his son’s Deafness. But on one fateful day, everything’s taken from him.

The Thanksgiving Play

Good intentions collide with absurd assumptions in Larissa FastHorse’s satire, as a troupe of terminally “woke” teaching artists scrambles to create a pageant that somehow manages to celebrate both Turkey Day and Native American Heritage Month.

Noura

A play written by and starring Heather Raffo as Noura, who eight years ago, fled her home in Iraq along with her husband and family. Today, she plans the perfect Christmas dinner to celebrate their new life in New York. But the arrival of a visitor stirs up long-buried memories.

 

PRIMARY STAGES

In their second year in their new location at the Cherry Lane in the West Village, Primary Stages has a promising season lined up.

Final Follies

September 12 – October 21

Three one-act plays by A.R. Gurney, who died last year at the age of 86.

Downstairs

November 7 – December 22, 2018

Real-life siblings Tyne Daly and Tim Daly perform together for the first time on the New York stage in Theresa Rebeck’s new play as siblings Irene and  who’s staying uncomfortably in Irene’s basement, which leads to the unearthing of some troubling history. (Rebeck is also represented on Broadway this season with Bernhardt/Hamlet.)

God Said This (January) – In Leah Nanako Winkler’s play, five Kentuckians face mortality in very different ways.

Little Women (May) – Kate Hamill’s take on Louise May Alcott

ATLANTIC THEATER

Cofounded in 1985 by David Mamet and William H. Macy, this theater entered in a whole new realm of achievement with the acclaimed musical The Band’s Visit

Fireflies

September 26 – November 11

Written by Donja R. Love, starring Kris Davis (magnificent in Sweat and The Royale, now on FX’s Atlanta.) When four little girls are bombed in a church, the marriage between Charles (Davis) and Olivia (Dewanda Wise)  is threatened – as this tragedy and years of civil unrest leave Olivia believing that “this world ain’t no place to raise a colored child.”

Blue Ridge

Marin Ireland stars in this play by Abby Rosebrock as aprogressive high-school teacher with a rage problem who retaliates against her unscrupulous boss and is sentenced to six months at a church-sponsored halfway house, where she attends to everyone’s recovery but her own.

These two are in the Fall. There is more coming in 2019, including in May: The Secret Life of Bees, book by Lynn Nottage, music by Duncan Sheik

PARK AVENUE ARMORY

Although the Armory has been presenting theater for a decade, it’s not been a regular stop for me. A Room in India convinced me it should be, and The Damned confirmed it. As with St Anne’s Warehouse, the theater they present is largely European, cutting-edge, often hybrids, and they require patience and an open mind. They also just have a handful of shows per season. But, offered in the vast expanse of the Armory’s Drill Hall, these aren’t just shows; they’re events.

The Head and the Load

December 4 – 15

The title is a play on the Ghanaian proverb, “the head and the load are the troubles of the neck. William Kentridge’s collaborative combination musical piece, performance art and art installation is about the nearly two million African porters and carriers used by the British, French, and Germans who bore the brunt of the casualties during the First World War in Africa and the historical significance of this story as yet left largely untold.

SECOND STAGE*

Last season, this 40-year-old theater became the fourth “non-profit” to produce theater both on and Off Broadway.

Days of Rage

October 9 – November 25

Steven Levenson (who wrote the book for Dear Evan Hansen) writes about five young idealists in the middle of a country divided, in October, 1969, who admit a mysterious newcomer to their collective, and the delicate balance they’ve achieved begins to topple. It stars Mike Faist (late of Dear Evan Hansen), Tavi Gevinson, J. Alphonse Nicholson

LINCOLN CENTER THEATER*

@LCTheater

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. I’m hoping that someday they will be literally more inviting to independent New York theater critics.

Plot Points in Our Sexual Development

October 6 – November 18. Opens October 22

In this play by Miranda Rose Hall, Theo (Jax Jackson) and Cecily (Marianne Rendon) want to be honest about their sexual histories, but what happens when telling the truth jeopardizes everything?

The Hard Problem

October 25 – January 6, 2019. Opens November 19

In this new play by Tom Stoppard, directed by Jack O’Brien, Hilary (Adelaide Clemens) is a young psychology researcher who’s faced with a public quandary – what is consciousness – and a private sorrow.

 

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.

Apologia

September 27 – December. 16

Stockard Channing in a powerhouse performance as a woman facing the repercussions of her past, in this play by Alexi Kaye Campbell

Usual Girls

October 11 – December 9

In Ming Peiffer’s play, a boy threatens to tell on the girls for swearing on an elementary school playground, unless one of them kisses him. But just before lips can touch, Kyeoung tackles the boy to the ground. The victory is short-lived. Over the coming years, Kyeoung’s stories get stranger, funnier, more harrowing.

Merrily We Roll Along January) Fiasco Theater reimagines Stephen Sondheim’s musical about a trio of showbiz friends who fall apart and come together over 20 years, going backwards in time.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties (MCC)

Opens September 12

In Jen Silverman’s play, meet five different women named Betty: one rich, one lonely, one charismatic, one lovelorn, and one who keeps working on her truck. Oh, and one has decided to stage a production of a play. The cast features Dana Delany, Lea DeLaria, Adina Verson, Ana Villafañe, Chaunté Wayans.

The True (The New Group)

Opens September 20

Edie Falco stars as Dorothea “Polly” Noonan, the blunt, profane, decades-long defender of Albany’s Democratic Party machine in Sharr White’s play. Co-starring Michael McKean as Albany’s embattled “mayor for life.”

The Bachae (BAM)

October 3-7

Euripides’ cautionary parable of hubris and fear of the unknown thrashes to new life in the hands of Anne Bogart, the renowned SITI Company.

Lewiston/Clarkston (Rattlestick)

October 10 – December 2.

Samuel D. Hunter’s two plays focus on two modern-day descendants of the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Each night “the plays will be performed together, in an intimate space for a small audience of only 51 guests who will gather to watch, to share a catered meal between the two productions, and to consider as a community our place in the ongoing American experiment.”

 

 Gloria A Life (Daryl Roth Theater)

Opens October 18

Christine Lahti portrays Gloria Steinem in a new play by Emily Mann directed by Diane Paulus.

India Pale Ale (MTC)

Oct 2 – Nov 18. Opens October 23

In this play by Jaclyn Backhaus, a tight-knit Punjabi community in a small Wisconsin town gathers to celebrate the wedding of a traditional family’s only son, just as their strong-willed daughter announces her plans to move away and open a bar. This comedy of generations clashing was the recipient of the 2018 Horton Foote Prize  for Promising New American Play.

Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine (Signature)

Nov 19- Dec 30

A revival of a satire by Lynn Nottage: After her husband steals her fortune, successful African-American publicist Undine must move back into her childhood home in the Brooklyn projects,

Other companies and theaters worth checking out:

Ars Nova

Classic Stage Company

Mint Theater

Mayi Theater Company

 

There are also commercial shows put together by independent producers that are presented in theaters for rent, such as:

Cherry Lane Theatre
Daryl Roth Theatre
Gym at Judson
Lucille Lortel Theatre
New World Stages
Orpheum Theater
The Players Theatre
Snapple Theater Center
Theatre Row
Union Square Theater
Westside Theatre

*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.

There are some terrific Off-Off Broadway theaters, sometimes confused for Off-Broadway. These include (but are not limited to)

 The Flea

Labyrinth Theater

 LaMaMa ETC.

New theaters and theater companies crop up all the time.

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?)

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About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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