Just a couple of plays are opening on Broadway this month — “Choir Boy,” and “True West” — and a handful Off-Broadway, but January is one of the most robust months for theater in New York, thanks in large measure to the January theater festivals.
Together these festivals offer more than 100 shows; most are experimental, often hybrids that redefine what theater is, and are difficult to describe; many run for only one or two performances
Below is a selective list of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway and festival offerings in January, organized chronologically by opening date (or, for a festival show and some Off-Off Broadway, the first performance), with each title linked to a relevant website. Color key: Broadway: Red. Off Broadway: Black or Blue.. Off Off Broadway: Green. January theater festival: Orange. Immersive: Magenta
Below that, links to the home pages of five of the festivals.
(I’ve created the immersive category more as incentive for the adventurous rather than a warning, although such a show often means lots of standing, and some unusual interaction that some might find uncomfortable.)
This latest piece by “Peer reviewed rapper” illuminates the neuroscience of human experience, from sensations to hallucinations. I’ve seen his rap guides to religion and to climate chaos; they were packed with information.
HEAR WORD! Naija Woman Talk True (Under the Radar)
The show celebrates women who have broken the culture of silence, challenged the status quo, and moved beyond barriers to achieve solutions.
Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein (Under the Radar)
The gothic classic, combine with a biography of its author Mary Shelley, told through the company’s signature handmade shadow puppetry, and makeshift cinematic techniques
written and directed by Palestinian artist Amir Nizar Zuabi (“Oh My Sweet Land”) the play tells the story of an ordinary man in a small West Bank Village who is determined to go to the moon, creating chaos within his family as he builds a space rocket in his shed.
Two shows focusing on the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock and the controversial performance artist Chris Burden.
Tania El Khoury’s As Far As My Fingers Take Me (Under the Radar) immersive
An encounter through a gallery wall between a refugee and one audience member at a time. The refugee will mark the audience member’s arm by drawing on it.
[50/50] old school animation (Under the Radar)
A ghost story that “flirts with the horrific and dips into the surreal. “
The Cold Record (Under the Radar) immersive
A one-man show from the Rude Mechs. “The story of a 12-year old boy who tries to set the record for leaving school the most days with a fever and in the process falls in love with the school nurse and breaks his heart on the punk rock.”
Minor Character (Under the Radar)
This kaleidoscopic adaptation of Uncle Vanya collages a century’s worth of English translations into one sprawling, intimate, quietly disastrous evening.
Dueted: What Holds Head (Exponential Festival) immersive
A site-specific, interactive performance on intimacy, fidelity, and desire, comprised of a sequence of one-on-one experiences between a single attendee and a performer.
A bilingual cross-border multimedia opera about the enigmatic general, legendary bandit, and hero of the Mexican Revolution. Created by Austin, TX based composer Graham Reynolds, librettists Lagartijas Tiradas al Sol of Mexico City, director Shawn Sides of Rude Mech, two vocalists and six instrumentalists.
Philip Venable’s operatic adaptation of Sarah Kane’s final play, with 28 fragmented episodes to reveal an individual’s struggle to come to terms with their own psychosis. A production from the Royal Opera.
Real (The Tank)
This play by Brazilian playwright Rodrigo Nogueira, tells two stories that eventually intertwine of two people living in New York 85 years apart — a working mother in 2019 who takes up an instrument she used to play and reassesses her life, and a gay immigrant composer in 1934 who in the process of writing a fugue starts to feel he’s meant to live somebody else’s life.
Ink (Under the Radar)
A mash-up of an art history lecture, personal essay, and electronic music concert, this piece is a love letter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it is performed
Opera-Theater composed by Ellen Reid about a traumatized mother and daughter who attempt to escape the past by retreating into a single room.
Blue Ridge (Atlantic)
In this play by Abby Rosebrock set in Southern Appalachia, Marin Ireland portrays a progressive high-school teacher with a rage problem 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.
Choir Boy (MTC’s Samuel Friedman)
Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney (best known for the Oscar-winning movie “Moonlight”) and transferring from MTC’s Off-Broadway theater:
For half a century, the Charles R. Drew Prep School for Boys has been dedicated to the education of strong, ethical black men. Jeremy Pope reprises the role he had in the Off-Broadway production as a gay youth whose appointment as head of the school’s legendary gospel choir sparks tension.
Six Latinx performers – Alvaro Gonzalez, John Gutierrez, Miguel Gutierrez, Xandra Ibarra, Nibia Pastrana Santiago, and Evelyn Sanchez Narvaez – map an elusive choreography of obsessive and perverse action within an unstable terrain of bodies, materials and sound….Clichéd Latin-American songs and the form of the telenovela are exploited to show how familiar structures contain absurdity that reveal and celebrate difference.
Evolution of a Sonero (Under the Radar)
The first full-length show by poet, singer, and actor Flaco Navaja, original member of the Universes and Def Poetry Jam cast
Chambre Noire (Under the Radar)
Life-sized puppets, broken songs and video-projections come together to illuminate the hallucinatory final moments of Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot Andy Warhol
Wendell & Pan (The Tank)
A play by Katelynn Kenney. Life’s hard when you’re 11, your only friend is the ghost of your 12-year-old dead aunt, your sister wishes she could be on the other side of her cellphone, your parents make every room frigid, and your sick grandpa wants you to kill him.
Minefield (Under The Radar)
Combining theater and film, Lola Arias brings together British and Argentinian veterans of the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas war to share their first-hand experience of the conflict and life since.
Tyler, 24, who his body on a nightly basis. But on a regular working night, things are about to spiral out of control leaving Tyler questioning whether living in the city is really worth the price of rent.
Mortality Machine (Sinking Ship Creations at Wildrence) immersive
This live-action roleplay makes each theatergoer the protagonist of the story, assigned an identity as a surviving family member of one of the five people who died in an illegal medical experiment five years earlier. The survivors have now gained access to the laboratory, and through interaction with “peculiar individuals who’ll help you tell your tale using dance and movement.
Behind the Sheet (EST)
Playwright Charly Evon Simpson confronts the history of a great medical breakthrough by telling the forgotten story of a community of enslaved black women who involuntarily enabled the discovery. In 1840s Alabama, Philomena assists a doctor – her owner – as he performs experimental surgeries on her fellow slave women, trying to find a treatment for the painful post-childbirth complications known as fistulas.
A Man for All Seasons (FPA at Theater Row)
A revival of the 1961 play by Robert Bolt: “As Sir Thomas More refuses to recognize Henry VIII’s divorce and ascendancy as Supreme Head of the new Church of England, A Man for All Seasons reveals the risk of speaking truth to power and the clash that follows when fierce political will collides with deep moral conviction.”
True West (Roundabout’s American Airlines)
Ethan Hawke stars opposite Paul Dano in a revival of Sam Shepard’s play about the clash between two brothers.
10th Annual 10-Minute Play Program (The Fire This Time)
The latest in Ping Chong’s brilliant, long-running documentary theater series, Undesirable Elements. Here, young New Yorkers in their own words, the challenges and joys of growing up in New York City.
Based on Emile Habibi’s novel The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist, The Pessoptimist is the story of a Palestinian who becomes an Israeli citizen in 1948 when Israel became a state.
“This hybrid puppet-video performance lazily examines stoic philosophy and is live scored by Lucy Hollier & co. with original animations from Unimercial Studios.” One of five short works presented together as part of Exponential Variety 2 at The Glove experimental art space in Bushwick.
God Said This (Primary Stages at Cherry Lane)
An award-winning play by Leah Nanako Winkler about five Kentuckians facing mortality in very different ways. “With her mom undergoing chemotherapy, Hiro, a NYC transplant, returns home to Kentucky after years away, struggling to let go of the demons she inherited.”
January Theater Festivals
For a complete list of Theater Festival offerings, check them out individually
Under the Radar
January 3 – 13
The Public Theater’s festival is the oldest (at 15) and largest, and tilts towards international productions.
January 4 – 13
“Fifty-nine performances of sixteen performance works from seventeen artists over ten days at twelve venues in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx.“ It’s primarily dance.
January 4 – February 3
Spread out over nine venues in Brooklyn, the festival is “dedicated to New York City-based emerging artists working in experimental performance.”
January 5 – 13
In its seventh season, it is presenting 12 works of opera-theater
The Fire This Time Festival
January 21 – February 2
The festival marks its tenth year of providing “rising playwrights of African and African American descent a platform to write and develop new work.”