Genocide, suicide, murder, deportation, terror, kidnapping, mass explosion – those are some of the bleak subjects of the Off-Broadway shows I’m most looking forward to this season, listed below. They sound the most intriguing and original, not necessarily because of their subject matter — although many touch on the hot button issues of the day. But the track records of their creative teams are what largely offer the promise of satisfying or at least worthwhile theater,*
Admittedly,a few of those listed below sound downright strange — in refreshing contrast to the largely familiar season on Broadway.
The 20 I pick below are just a fraction of the total number of shows opening Off-Broadway (and I don’t include any Off-Off Broadway), but it is the precise number of shows scheduled to open during the same period on Broadway. For a more comprehensive look at New York theater, check out my monthly calendar of New York theater openings, posted at the beginning of each month.
(I’ve already put together my complete January calendar of openings that includes these two show Im looking forward to.)
January 11 – March 5. Opens January 29
The latest comic melodrama written by and starring Charles Busch tells the story of one woman’s tumultuous passage from convent girl to glittering cabaret chanteuse to infamous madam of a string of brothels.
January 12 – February 23. Opens January 30
Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale star in writer-director Simon Stone’s rewrite of the Euripides tragedy. Anna (the Medea character), once a successful doctor, returns from a stint in a psychiatric hospital. Willing to forgive her husband’s affair with a younger woman, she wants a fresh start with him and their children.
Where We Stand (WP Theater)
January 31 – March 1. Opens February 11.
In a town running low on compassion, an exile seeks forgiveness, forcing the community to decide between mercy or justice.
A solo play written by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, who also stars in it, alternating with David Ryan Smith
Anatomy of a Suicide (Atlantic)
February 1 – March 15. Opens February 18
Winner of the 2018 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the play by Alice Birch (Revolt, She Said, Revolt Again) explores three generations of women whose stories unfold simultaneously onstage. Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz (Marys Seacole).
Cambodian Rock Band (Signature)
February 4 – March 8. Opens February 24.
This play by Lauren Yee that won the 2019 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award (for which I served on the jury) tells the story of the survivor of the Khmer Rouge bloodbath by toggling back and forth in time between his youth as a member of a rock band in Cambodia, and the present day when his grown daughter has traveled back to Cambodia from America to help prosecute one of Cambodia’s most infamous war criminals. A live band plays contemporary Dengue Fever hits and classic Cambodian oldies.
The Headlands (Lincoln Center)
February 8 to March 22. Opens February 24.
In this contemporary noir by Christopher Chen (the trickster playwright of “Caught”), Henry (Aaron Yoo) is an amateur sleuth and true crime aficionado who sets out to solve the ultimate case: the unsolved murder of his father.
We’re Gonna Die (2nd Stage)
February 4 – March 15. Opens February 25
Written by Young Jean Lee (Straight White Men) and choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly, the show stars Janelle McDermoth in a kind of existential cabaret that hopes to demonstrate that “being alive is about more than just awaiting the inevitable.”
Dana H. (Vineyard)
February 11 – March 22
An unusual work of documentary theater by Lucas Hnath in collaboration with Steven Cosson of The Civilians about a chaplain of a psych ward who was captured and held captive by one of the patients for five months.The victim was Hnath’s mother, Dana Higginbotham, and Hnat had Cosson tape-record an interview with his mother. Hnath edited the tape, and now Deirdre O’Connor lip-syncs the words while the actual tape plays.
Coal Country (Public)
February 18 – March 29. Opens March 3
a new play with music by wife-and-husband team Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen (The Exonerated) is based on frst-person accounts of the explosion of the Upper Big Branch mine in 2019,
The Perplexed (MTC’s City Center Stage 1)
February 11 – March 29 Opens March 3
Richard Greenberg, whose “Take Me Out” is being revived on Broadway this season, tells the story of two families, whose lives have been tumultuously intertwined for decades, as they gather in the massive library of a Fifth Avenue apartment to celebrate the nuptials of their children. Nothing goes smoothly
Unknown Soldier (Playwrights Horizons)
February 14-March 29. Opens March 9
In this musical co-written by the late and much missed Michael Friedman, a woman sets out on a journey to unearth the secrets of her family’s past when she discovers in her grandmother’s home a mysterious photograph of an anonymous soldier, tucked away in a box of keepsakes.
72 Miles to Go (Roundabout’s Laura Pels)
February 13 – May 3. Opens March 10.
Seventy-two miles. That’s the space between a recently deported mother in Nogales, Mexico and her husband and children in Tucson, Arizona.
Written by Hilary Bettis, who was a writer for the FX series “The Americans”
Intimate Apparel (Lincoln Center Theater)
February 27 to May 3. Opens March 23
An opera based on Lynn Nottage’s play about the life and loves of Esther, a lonely, single African-American woman in early 20th century New York who makes her living sewing beautiful corsets and ladies’ undergarments.
Sanctuary City (New York Theatre Workshop)
March 4 – April 12. Opens March 24
Much anticipated (and much delayed) play by Martyna Majak, who was the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for Cost of Living, about two teenagers, life-long friends, in post-9/11 America.
Wolf Play (Ma-Yi at Soho Rep)
March 17 – April 19.
Hansol Jung, the inventive playwright of Wild Goose Dreams, looks at queer parenting and adoption thwrough the fanciful story of a young South Korean boy—represented onstage as a puppet operated by a “wolf”—who is “re-homed” via a website chat room.
March 25 – April 19
Claire Foy and Matt Smith (Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip from The Crown) reunite in this hilarious and bracing look at love in the time of climate change, which sold out its critically acclaimed run at London’s Old Vic. Playwright Duncan Macmillan (People, Places & Things) carefully crafts the highs and lows of modern relationships into an emotional rollercoaster of humor and tenderness, sorrow and rage
The Vagrant Trilogy (The Public)
March 17 – April 26. Opens April 1
A single epic story by Mona Mansour told in three parts. In 1967, Adham, a Palestinian Wordsworth scholar, goes to London with his new wife to deliver a lecture. When war breaks out at home, he must decide in an instant what to do – a choice that will affect the rest of his life. The two parts that follow explore alternate realities based on that decision. Each part in the trilogy speaks to the others, together painting a rare and moving picture of Palestinian displacement and a refugee’s life of permanent impermanence.
The Jungle (St. Ann’s Warehouse)
April 2 – May 10
An encore presentation not to be missed of the refugee camp that became much its own self-sufficient city, until it was razed by the authorities. My review of the last production in New York York.
The Visitor (Public)
March 24 – May 10. Opens April 15
Next to Normal team Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, with Kwame Kwei-Armah ) turn the independent film into a musical that tells the story of a widowed college professor who discovers two young undocumented immigrants living in his New York apartment, a drummer and a jewelry maker. He regains his sense of purpose when he realizes that they must fight to stay in the U.S.
Selling Kabul (Playwrights Horizons)
March 27 – May 10
Written by Sylvia Khoury (Power Strip). Taroon once served as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Now the Americans — and their promises of safety — have withdrawn, and he spends his days in hiding, a target of the increasingly powerful Taliban
*This doesn’t mean these shows will live up to their promise, of course; that’s what reviews are for.
Off-Broadway theaters are often cagey about when their shows officially open. This matters principally to critics, since the costs aren’t usually lower during the preview period. The opening dates will be filled in as I learn them