Some of the most thrilling theater in New York this Fall, and certainly much of the weirdest, promises to be Off-Broadway. There are revivals Off-Broadway of Tony Kushner’s first play, one of María Irene Fornés most beloved, and Ntozake Shange’s big Broadway hit; new musicals with books by David Henry Hwang and Enda Walsh, a wild new 24-hour play, and a modern rewrite of Medea starring Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale. There are new plays by Harvey Fierstein, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Lucas Hnath Samuel D. Hunter, Martyna Majok, Richard Nelson, Jack Thorne (of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”), Mfoniso Udofia, and Meow Meow.
Like Broadway, Off-Broadway has its share of stars — among them this season, Peter Dinklage, Raúl Esparza, Jonathan Groff, Judith Ivey… and every star on Broadway, in caricature, thanks to the return of Forbidden Broadway. Unlike Broadway, Off-Broadway doesn’t come neatly packaged. (See my Broadway 2019-2020 Preview Guide.) Instead of 41 theaters within a few blocks of one another, there are hundreds of Off-Broadway theaters and theater companies spread out throughout the city.
So how to sort it all out?
The shows I just mentioned are being presented by the Public Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center, and some of the other theaters that have proven reliable season after season, presenting shows I’ve consistently found satisfying, or at least worthwhile.
That is why, below, I present the Off-Broadway Fall season largely by grouping the shows together with the theater that’s presenting or producing them. I order the list of theaters more or less according to 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.) There is an added advantage to looking at the Off-Broadway season this way: Most of these theaters offer memberships or subscriptions. (Keep in mind this preview just lists the first half of their 2019-2020 seasons. I’ll put together a Spring preview in January..)
After my favorite theaters, I list some individual shows from other venues that look particularly intriguing.
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. Again, 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 curious and hopeful. (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
From A Chorus Line to Hamilton, the Public has served as a kind of feeder theater for Broadway (Seawall/A Life and Girl From The North Country this season alone) but the downtown empire that Joe Papp created half a century ago is not successful because of its commercial aspirations, but largely in spite of them. It often takes artistic risks that many institutions its size avoid.
This staging of a 1997 Disney cartoon was the latest of the Public Works’ “pageants” involving hundreds of amateur performers who belong to community partner organizations from all five boroughs. My review.
An odd and hilarious fever dream imagining an American musical as created by theatermakers in a future dominant Chinese society, created by David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly, Yellow Face) and Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home; Violet; Caroline, or Change)
For Colored Girls
October 8 – November 24. Opens October 22nd.
A revival of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow is Enough,” an unlikely Tony-nominated hit on Broadway in 1976 that Shange (who died last October) called a “choreopoem.” It tells the stories of seven black women using poetry, song, and movement.
October 19 – November 17. Opens October 27
Richard Nelson, best-known for his multi-part, low key, in real time family sagas The Apple Family plays and The Gabriels:Election Year in the Life of One Family, brings us another one. In the kitchen belonging Rose Michael, a celebrated choreographer, she and those around her cook dinner, rehearse modern dances, eat and talk — about art, death, family, dance, politics, and the state of America. The seven-member cast includes Nelson regulars Jay O. Sanders and Maryann Plunkett.
√ A Bright Room Called Day
October 29 – December 8
A revival of this 1985 play by Tony Kushner, which was his first, and which he partially rewrites. Agnes, an actress in Weimar Germany, and her cadre of passionate, progressive friends, are torn between protest, escape, and survival as the world they knew crumbles around them. Her story is interrupted by an American woman enraged by the cruelty of the Reagan administration, and a new character, facing the once unthinkable rise of authoritarianism in modern America.
BROOKLYN ACADEMY OF MUSIC
BAM dates back to 1861, but for decades now it has been known for its avant-garde offerings in dance, music, opera, film, and, yes, theater, primarily in its Next Wave Festival presented annually in the Fall. The theater pieces — some are too sui generis to be called plays or musicals — have consisted largely of imports from Europe, and have short runs (sometimes just a day or two.) I list BAM high up this year because it’s under a new artistic director David Binder (indeed the first head of BAM with that title.) Binder is both a Tony-winning Broadway producer (a dozen shows starting with the 2004 revival of “Raisin in the Sun”) and an adventurous impresario — the original as well as the Broadway producer of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and producer of festivals featuring such groundbreaking theater artists as Anna Deavere Smith and Taylor Mac.
Ireland’s Michael Keegan-Dolan deconstructs the classic love story between a prince and a female who’s a swan by day and a human by night.
The Second Woman
An only-at-BAM kind of show. Over a period of 24 hours, one woman and 100 men preform repeat the same scene 100 times, with different results. It’s inspired by Cassavetes’ meta-theatrical 1977 film Opening Night. Stay as little or as long as you want.
What If They Went To Moscow
Based on Chekhov’s Three Sisters,but experimental with audience reactions to two different media. Two audiences in different BAM theaters watch the live performance of the show — one on stage, the other as a film — and then switch at intermission.
October 30 – November 3
Irish theater company Dead Centre, inspired by Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, who died at the age of 11, creates a play about a boy searching for his father
User Not Found
A site-specific work that invites you to be a voyeur, and asks the question: What happens to your digital life after you’re gone?
The End of Eddy
A stage adaptation of the autobiographical novel by Édouard Louis, written when he was 21 years old, about being bullied for being gay. Part of a series of events celebrating Édouard Louis in collaboration with St. Ann’s Warehouse (See below.)
Barber Shop Chronicles
Dec 3 – 8
Nigerian-British playwright Inua Ellams weaves a rich tapestry of unfiltered stories about father-son relationships and black masculinity, set to an Afrobeat score, and set in barbershops in six different cities (none of them in the U.S.)
In Many Hands
Dec 11 – 15
Exploring our relationship to touch, New Zealand-bred artist Kate McIntosh does away with the stage and performers, convening a small group of spectators for an intimate shared adventure through the particularities and nuances of our tactile sense
A Very Meow Meow Holiday Show
Using satire and music, the performer known as Meow Meow meditates on the perils, pleasures, and actual point of the season
Jan 12 – Feb 23
(Technically not in the Fall season, but hard to omit) Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale star in writer-director Simon Stone’s rewrite of the Euripides tragedy.
LINCOLN CENTER THEATER*
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. The two offerings this Fall look especially exciting.
October 5 – November 17. Opens October 21.
In this new play by Sylvia Khoury, Yasmin, a young Syrian refugee, spends her days tethered to an electric power strip in a Greek refugee camp, discovering that she must forget everything she values in order to survive.
November 14 to January 19. Opens December 9.
Samuel D. Hunter’s new play takes place in the fictional town of Greater Clements, Idaho, a mining community where properties are being purchased by wealthy out-of-state people, forcing out lifelong residents. Judith Ivey portray Maggie, ready to shut down her family-run Mine Tour and Museum, when an old friend pays a visit. Although I’ve never been to Idaho, I’ve liked every Hunter play I’ve ever seen, from Whale to Lewiston/Clarkston.
NEW YORK THEATER WORKSHOP
79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79
NYTW has gotten much attention this past year for presenting three shows that (eventually) moved to Broadway, Heidi Schreck’s “What The Constitution Means To Me,” the multi-Tony winning “Hadestown” and now “Slave Play” — quite a roll.
In the new season, the precise dates of the runs for each show roll out slowly.
Runboyrun & In Old Age
September 4, 2019—October 13, 2019
The latest two chapters from Mfoniso Udofia nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, about a Nigerian-American family. (Sojourners and Her Portmanteau from the cycle were seen at NYTW in 2017). The two dramas are performed as a single evening of work,
November 25, 2019—January 12, 2020
The same team that turned the movie “Once” into a beloved musical have now hope the reaction will be the same for their new musical based on a movie. With a book by Enda Walsh, “Sing Street” takes us to Dublin in 1985 and focuses on 16-year-old Conor and his schoolmates, who turn to music to escape troubles at home and impress a mysterious girl. Rebecca Taichman (Indecent) will direct.
On the Korean island of Man-Jae, three elderly haenyeos—sea women—spend their dying days diving into the ocean to harvest seafood. Across the globe on the island of Manhattan, a Korean-Canadian playwright, twice an immigrant, spends her days wrestling with the expectation that she write “authentic” stories about her identity.
What are we willing to sacrifice for somebody we love? This is a new play by Martyna Majok, Putlizer winning playwright of “Cost of Living.,” who in such dramas as Ironbound and “queens” has given a voice to the new immigrant. NYTW has put this play on its schedule twice before. Let’s hope it’ll be ready this time, though surely not until the Spring.
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.
Opens September 16
From the brawny castles of 16th Century France, to the rugged plains of 1960s Idaho, to the strapping fortresses of 1920s India, all hail the remarkable stories of Great Men! — and their whiny, witchy, vapid, veng
Heroes of the Fourth Turning
September 13 – October 27
Set in Wyoming a week after the deadly 2017 Charlottesville riot, the new play sees four young conservatives reunite for a backyard barbecue in Wyoming. Written by Will Arbery (“Plano”)
The Thin Place
“November 22” (dates unclear)
Lucas Hnath’s play transforms the theater into an intimate séance, c
Cofounded in 1985 by David Mamet and William H. Macy, this theater entered in a whole new realm of achievement in my eyes with the acclaimed musical The Band’s Visit
A new play by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 & 2), directed by Lee Sunday Evans. Friends gather for a book group, anxious to prove their intellectual worth, but that anxiety gets the better of any actual discussion as emotional truths come pouring out
√ Halfway Bitches Go Straight To Heaven
November 14- December 22
Stephen Adly Guirgis (“Between Riverside and Crazy“) explores the harrowing, humorous, and heartbreaking inner workings of a women’s halfway house in New York City, helmed by John Ortiz (LAByrinth Artistic Director) in his off-Broadway directing debut.
511 West 52nd Street. Twitter: @mcctheater
They moved from downtown to midtown, but I don’t hold that against them.
The Wrong Man
September 18 – October 27
With book, music and lyrics by Ross Golan, direction by Thomas Kail (Hamilton), this musical is set in Reno, Nevada, and tells the story of Duran, a man just scraping by who is framed for a murder he didn’t commit,
September 18 – October 27
October 3 – November 10
Theresa Rebeck’s play about a talented by temperamental chef who scores a big mention in the press for his signature scallops, but, much to the frustration of his business partner, refuses to repeat himself for the masses. Cast includes Raul Esparza and Krysta Rodriguez
PARK AVENUE ARMORY
643 Park Avenue between 66th and 67th Streets. @ParkAveArmory
Although the Armory has been presenting theater for a decade, it only became must-see for me in the last few years, thanks to. A Room in India, The Damned and The Lehman Trilogy (which is transferring this season to Broadway.). The theater they present is largely European, cutting-edge, often hybrids, and they require patience and a willingness to be lost. 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. This year, for the first time, they have commissioned a play “from the ground up.”
September 25 – October 6
Acclaimed director Satoshi Miyagi creates a new vision of Sophocles’s fabled mythology through the prism of Japanese culture: Noh Theater, Indonesian shadow play, and Buddhist philosophy.
Black Artists Retreat
October 11th and 12th
Bridging the gap between fine art and social activism, Theaster Gates hosts his renowned Black Artists Retreat for the first time outside of Chicago
December 5 – January 11
Directed by Richard Jones (Hairy Ape) and adapted by Chris Shinn (“‘four”) rom Ödön von Horváth’s 1937 play, this productions marks the Armory’s first theatrical commission “from the ground-up” It explores morality and guilt in a small town.
THEATRE FOR A NEW AUDIENCE
Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn. @TheatreforaNewA
I’ve only recently become a regular visitor to this theater, which seems good timing, considering what’s in story during this, their 40th season
September 21 – October 6
This piece written by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne features actors Hayley Carmichael, Kathryn Hunter, and Marcello Magni, and pianist
Laurie Blundell in a combination performance, lecture and bioplay about experimental Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold, who was executed in 1940. The play asks: “Why theater? What is it for? What is it about?”
√ Fefu and Her Friends
November 16 – December 8
One of the most beloved and discussed plays of the Cuban-American dramatist María Irene Fornés, who died last October, tells the story of a group of intelligent, outgoing young women who have so internalized male views of their sex that they lash out indirectly in mysterious ways. The terrific production of Promenade at Encores has whetted my appetite to learn more about her work.
ST. ANN’s WAREHOUSE
Although it 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 and then “Oklahoma!” which transferred to Broadway.
History of Violence
November 13 – December 1
A German-language stage adaptation of Édouard Louis’s autobiographical novel about a traumatic event that began in desire. Louis is also the basis for BAM’s The End of Eddy.
December 4 -19
British storyteller and comedian Daniel Kitson’s latest solo piece
Forbidden Broadway The Next Generation (The Triad)
September 18 – November 30
After a five year absence, Gerard Alessandrini is back, roasting everything you’ve seen on Broadway since the last edition of Forbidden Broadway.
√ Novenas for a Lost Hospital (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater)
September 5- October 13. Opens September 19
A play by Cusi Cram starring Kathleen Chalfant that serves as an homage to the women nurses over the 161 year history of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village, which was at the epicenter of a cholera epidemic in the 19th century and the AIDS epidemic a century and a half later. The show features a prologue, in which theatergoers visit the garden of St. Johns in the Village, in the sight of the hospital site, now turned into condominiums, and an epilogue visiting he NYC AIDS Memorial Park.
Cyrano (The New Group at Daryl Roth)
October 11 – November 24
Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) stars in this musical version of Edmond Rostand’s tale of unrequited love and ghostwritten letters,
Little Shop of Horrors (West Side Theater)
A revival hard to argue given that its cast includes Jonathan Groff, Tammy Blanchard, Christian Borle,
A Celebration of Cole Porter (York Theater)
September 28 to November 3
Eleven performances each of “Fifty Million Frenchmen ,” The Decline and Fall of the Whole World As Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter” and “Panama Hattie”
√Bella Bella (Manhattan Theater Club)
October 21 – December 1. Opens October 22.
Harvey Fierstein stars as Bella Abzug in a solo-play he’s written set in 1976, on the eve of her bid to become New York State’s first female Senator,
Scotland, PA (Roundabout)
September 14 to December 8
A new musical adaptation of Billy Morrissette’s 2001 film riffing on Macbeth, set in a sleepy Pennsylvania town, involving the manager of a burger joint and his ambitious wife.
Other companies and theaters worth checking out:
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
The Players Theatre
Snapple Theater Center
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.
There are some terrific Off-Off Broadway theaters, sometimes confused for Off-Broadway. These include (but are not limited to)
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?)
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—-