Off Broadway Spring 2019 Preview Guide

Below is a selection from an Off-Broadway season full of starry faces like Daveed Diggs, Jake Gyllenhaal, Isabelle Huppert, Uzo Adubi et al,  in plays by Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Martyna Majok, Anna Deavere Smith,  Lydia Diamond, Enda Walsh, Donald Margulies, Halley Feiffer, Luis Alfaro, John Guare, Florian Zeller et al; and musicals by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal), Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) and Dave Malloy (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.) It can feel overwhelming

To make the sorting more manageable, the shows are largely grouped together by the theater that’s presenting or producing them, in order of my preference for those theaters (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.) After my favorite theaters, I list some individual shows from other theaters.

Some might argue there is little distinction anymore between Broadway and Off-Broadway, especially in a season when so many downtown darlings are moving to Broadway, such as Taylor Mac,Tarell Alvin McCraney, Dominique Morisseau, Anais Mitchell (See Spring 2019 Broadway Preview Guide: A Season of Theater Geniuses Making Their Broadway Debuts)  

Yet, Off-Broadway remains less expensive  and, frankly, potentially more rewarding. It’s also more sprawling — not quite possible to present all the riches of a season in a single post.

I’ve put a red check mark —  — besides a few shows about which I’m especially excited or intrigued. (I’ll only know if my excitement was justified once I see them.)

Click on the theater’s name for more information about the theater, and on the show title for more about the individual production.

(Also check out my monthly calendar of openings)

THE PUBLIC THEATER

425 Lafayette Street and in Central Park. Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY

The Public is on a roll once again, and not just because it originated Hamilton.  , The successful downtown empire that Joe Papp created half a century ago offers a eclectic, inclusive mix of challenging and entertaining theater. Truth is, I could put a check mark next to nearly every one of its offerings in the Spring.

Under the Radar Festival

January 3- 13

The 15th annual festival presents 21 artists from nine countries. See details of this and several of the January theater festivals in my January 2019 New York Theater Openings

  Sea Wall/A Life

February 1 – March 31. Opens February 14.

Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal appear separately in a pair of plays, Sturridge in Simon Stephen’s “Sea Wall,” a monologue about love and the human need to know the unknowable, and Gyllenhaal in “A Life,” and Gyllenhaal in Nick Payne’s A Life, a meditation on how we say goodbye to those we love most.

White Noise

March 5 – April 14. Opens March 20.

Daveed Diggs (Hamilton) returns Off-Broadway in a new play by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis. Long-time friends and lovers Leo, Misha, Ralph, and Dawn are educated, progressive, cosmopolitan, and woke. But when a racially motivated incident with the cops leaves Leo shaken, he decides extreme measures must be taken for self-preservation.

Ain’t No Mo’

March 12 – April 21. Opens March 27.

In this satire by Jordan E. Cooper that began at the Fire This Time Festival, African-Americans leave en masse a country plagued with injustice.

Socrates

April 2 – May 19.

A new drama about the Greek philosopher written by Tim Blake Nelson and directed by Doug Hughes. Michael Stuhlbarg portrays Socrates.

Mobile Unit: The Tempest

April 29 – May 19

Mojada

July 2 – August 11

Luis Alfaro, whose “Oedipus El Rey” bowled me over, returns with the New York premiere of his drama inspired by the Ancient Greek story of Medea

PARK AVENUE ARMORY

Everything I’ve seen at the Park Avenue Armory in the past couple of seasons has been spectacular, from A Room in India to The Damned to The Head and the Load, and this season looks to continue the feast. The theater they present is largely European, cutting-edge, often hybrids, and they sometimes 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.

 

Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley in The Lehman Trilogy

  THE LEHMAN TRILOGY

March 22–April 20, 2019. Opens March 27

Italian playwright Stefano Massini’s play, adapted by Ben Power and directed by Sam Mendes (The Ferryman!) stars acclaimed actors Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, and Ben Miles and the Lehman brothers and their sons and grandsons over nearly two centuries, climaxing with the end of the firm that bore their name in the crash of 2008.

 

EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED AND WOULD HAPPEN

June 3–9, 2019

Artist and composer Heiner Goebbels reenacts 100 years of history to show a world in strife through performance, sound, movement, and moving image

DRILL

June 20–July 21, 2019

Immersive, site-specific film installation Drill by Hito Steyerl that mounts new commissions by the Armory alongside pre-existing works in a dynamic installation exploring the world’s power structures, inequalities, and obscurities

In the Fall:

ANTIGONE

September 25–October 6, 2019

Japanese director Satoshi Miyagi’s multicultural adaptation of Antigone, which stages the classic Greek tragedy within a large river of water and incorporates traditions from Japanese Noh, Indonesian shadow play, and Buddhist philosophy

BLACK ARTISTS RETREAT 2019: SONIC IMAGINATION

October 11–12, 2019

Theaster Gates’ Black Artist Retreat, hosted for the first time outside of Chicago and designed to facilitate the exchange of ideas and innovation among black visual artists, recreating the kind of public-spirited dialogue associated with the civil rights movement of the sixties. As part of the weekend’s event, the public is invited to a roller skating celebration party in the Drill Hall amidst an installation of Gates’ seven-foot-tall disco-ball glacial sculptures, known as housebergs.

JUDGMENT DAY

December 5, 2019–January 11, 2020

 The world premiere of a new adaptation of Ödön von Horváth’s 1937 play Judgment Day, part moral fable, part sociopolitical comedy, part noirish thriller commissioned by the Armory and directed by Richard Jones
 

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”

Fall 2018 offered a surprise hit, What The Constitution Means To Me, and a controversial debut, Slave Play.  Based on their track records, the offerings in Spring 2019 sound extremely promising, though we’re still not yet told much about them.

Hurricane Diane

February 6, 2019—March 10, 2019. Opens February 24.

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

Opens May 6.

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

Opens July 15 (?)

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.

If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka

In the village of Affreakah-Amirrorkah, no one questions that Akim is the one true, perfect beauty — not even her jealous classmates. But they’ll be damned before they let her be the leading lady in this story. A decidedly contemporary riff on a West African fable by Tori Sampson

The Pain of My Belligerence

Halley Feiffer’s play about an eight year relationship between journalist Cat and devilishly charming Guy, which charts a rapidly changing America.

A Strange Loop

Michael R. Jackson’s musical about a black, gay writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical: a piece about a black, gay writer, working a day job he hates while writing his original musical

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

Blue Ridge

Opens January 7. Closes January 26.

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.

The Mother

February 20 – April 7. Opens March 11.

Isabelle Huppert stars in a play by Florian Zeller (The Father) as a woman suffering from clinical depression and grasping for stability after her grown children move on to build lives of their own.

 The Secret Life of Bees

May 12 – July 7. Opens June 13.

A musical adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s beloved novel,  with music by Duncan Sheik and book by Lynn Nottage, about two runaways in 1960s South Carolina, taken in by beekeeping sisters.

ST. ANN’s WAREHOUSE

Although, as with Park Ave Armory, St. Ann’s Warehouse primarily presents avant-garde European exports,  this Brooklyn theater climbed up in my preference thanks to Taylor Mac’s homegrown “  24-Decade History of Popular Music ,”  then nailed it with “The Jungle.” Its production of “Oklahoma!” is moving to Broadway.

 THE B-SIDE: “Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons”

March 4-24

The Wooster Group brings the 1965 LP to life, channeling the voices of the men performing work songs, blues, spirituals, preaching and toasts on the record via an in-ear receiver, and providing context via the book Wake Up Dead Man: Hard Labor and Southern Blues.

Grief is the Thing With Feathers

April 20 – May 12

Adapted and directed by Enda Walsh from a novel by Max Porter, the play tells the story of Crow visiting a family whose mother just died. “This sentimental bird is drawn to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him.” Stars Cillian Murphy.

IRISH REPERTORY THEATER

Listed here because it’s offering the “Sean O’Casey season”

The Shadow of a Gunman

January 30 – May 25, 2019

Juno and the Paycock

March 9 – May 25, 2019

The Plough and the Stars

April 20 – May 25, 2019

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.

God Said This

January 16 – February 15

In Leah Nanako Winkler’s play, five Kentuckians face mortality in very different ways.

Little Women

“May to June”

Kate Hamill’s take on Louise May Alcott’s novel

 

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. 

Mary’s Seacole

February 9 – March 24

In this new play by Jackie Sibblies Drury (Fairview), Mary (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) is an ambitious Jamaican woman determined to live a grand life; her adventures take her across oceans and eras, from a battlefield of the Crimean War to a contemporary nursing home, and many times and places in between.

Nantucket Sleigh Ride

February 21 to May 5

In a new play by John Guare, John Larroquette portrays a playwright turned New York stockbroker, who ventures from Manhattan to Nantucket island one day on a surreal errand. “He gets mixed up with a giant lobster, Roman Polanski, a pornography ring, Walt Disney, stranded children, a murder, and Jorge Luis Borges…”

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 $35.

Merrily We Roll Along

January 12 – April 7. Opens February 19.

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.

Something Clean

May 4 – June 30. Opens May 30.

Playwright Selina Fillinger’s new drama slips into the jagged cracks of a sex crime’s aftermath—the guilt, the grief, and the ways we grapple with the unthinkable.

 Toni Stone

May 23 – August 11. Opens June 20

Uzo Adubi stars as the first woman to go pro in the Negro Leagues, in this play by Lydia Diamond directed by Pam McKinnon, based on a true story.

MANHATTAN THEATER CLUB*

This looks like a good lineup, but It’s hard to embrace a theater completely when you don’t get to see many of its plays.

The Cake

February 12 – March 31. Opens March 5

In what sounds like a recent Supreme Court case, Debra Jo Rupp portrays a baker in North Carolina who refuses to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The difference — one of the brides is the daughter of a dear friend, now deceased. The play is by Bekah Brunstetter (who writes for the TV series This Is Us.)

Continuity

May 7 – June 9. Opens May 21

Though the description doesn’t tell us very much —  a comedy “in six takes where storytelling and science collide…” — it is written by Beth Wohl (playwright of the odd but satisfying Small Mouth Sounds) and directed by Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812).

Long Lost

May 14 – June 30.  Opens June 4.

A play by Donald Margulies (Dinner with Friends) directed by Daniel Sullivan. “When troubled Billy appears out-of-the-blue in his estranged brother David’s Wall Street office, he soon tries to re-insert himself into the comfortable life David has built with his philanthropist wife and college-age son. What does Billy really want?”

 

SECOND STAGE*

This 40-year-old theater has became the fourth “non-profit” to produce theater both on and Off Broadway.

Superhero

January 31 – March 24.Opens February 28.

A musical, with music and lyrics by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and a book by John Logan (Red), about “a fractured family, the mysterious stranger in apartment 4-B, and an unexpected hero…”

Dying City

“Begins May 2019”

Christopher Shinn’s play is set in a spare Manhattan apartment, where a young widow receives an unexpected visit from the twin brother of her deceased husband. Dying City explores the human fallout of global events, including the Iraq War and the terrorist attacks of 9/11, through the interwoven stories of three characters

 

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish moves to Stage 42, opening February 21st.

Alice By Heart (MCC).
January 30 to March 10. Opens February 26
Two friends who escape in the cherished story of Alice in Wonderland during the London Blitz of World War II. The musical is by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, the team that came up with Spring Awakening.

Fleabag (Soho Playhouse)
February 28 – April 7
The play by Phoebe Waller-Bridge that inspired the BBC television series currently being shown on Amazon Prime.

Daddy (Vineyard/New Group at Signature)
February 12- March 24. Opens March 5.
In the second Off-Broadway play by Jeremy O. Harris (who gained some notoriety with his Slave Play in the fall), Alan Cumming plays Andre, an older white art collector who befriends Franklin, young black artist on the verge of his first show. Their bond creates a battle of wills with Franklin’s mother.

Diary of One Who Disappeared (BAM) April 4-6
In 1917, Czech composer Leoš Janáček became obsessed with a married woman 40 years his junior. In the throes of despair, he penned more than 700 love letters and a haunting 22-part song cycle called Diary of One Who Disappeared, about a village boy who falls in love with a Romany girl. Director Ivo van Hove, in collaboration with Flemish opera company Muziektheater Transparant, brings his trademark physicality and stripped-down aesthetic to bear on Janáček’s opera.

Octet (Signature)
April 30 – June 9
Dave Malloy, composer and conceiver of Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812, is not through experimenting.  His new musical is scored for an  a cappella chamber choir and explores high-tech addiction, his libretto inspired by Internet comment boards, scientific debates, religious texts and Sufi poetry.

 

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 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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Author: 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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