Below is an attempt to answer the question: What’s coming up Off-Broadway? Long-running favorites are reopening, there is exciting new work by a slew of much-heralded American playwrights — Lynn Nottage has three separate shows! Jocelyn Bioh, two! Annie Baker, Samuel D. Hunter, David Lindsay-Abaire, Martyna Majok, Dominique Morisseau — and many more — all have new work set to debut! So why not a companion guide to the Broadway 2021-2022 season? Off Broadway theater is just as thrilling, if not more so — and less expensive.
Offering a preview of Off Broadway has always been complicated (it has many more offerings than Broadway, with shorter runs, and is far more diffuse), and doing so now is all the more difficult given the different approaches and timelines that the theaters are taking in response to the lifting of pandemic-era restrictions. You can see some in-person Off Broadway shows right away (if you can get tickets) — Ann Dowd playing all the roles in “An Enemy of the People” at Park Avenue Armory; one of Nottage’s shows, at Signature. Some theaters aren’t reopening until the Fall, apparently on hiatus until then. (Others moved full throttle during the pandemic into digital theater, such as the Public.) But even among those theaters that have announced full forthcoming seasons, many haven’t yet listed specific dates for their shows.
For this preview guide, I am presenting the Off-Broadway 2021-2022 season largely by grouping shows together with the theater that’s presenting or producing them, listing the theaters alphabetically. These dozen or so theaters have proven reliable season after season, presenting shows I’ve consistently found satisfying, or at least worthwhile. This is a season still in formation. It will be further filled in and periodically updated.
In the photos above, top row, left to right: Lynn Nottage, Ann Dowd, Annie Baker. middle row: “Jersey Boys,” Edie Falco (who’s starring with Blair Brown and Marin Ireland in a show at MTC), Gbenga Akinnagbe (who’s in “Merry Wive”s at the Public); bottom row: Dominique Morisseau, Justin Vivian Bond (who’s at St Ann’s Warehouse) and “Stomp”
Almost all of the listings below are of in-person, live theater. It’s unclear which (if any) of these Off Broadway non-profits will continue their digital theater offerings.
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
The Last of the Love Letters
Written by Ngozi Anyanwu, directed by Patricia McGregor
August 26 – September 26, 2021
Linda Gross Theater
Two people contemplate the thing they love the most and whether
to stick it out or to leave it behind
Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
music by Jeanine Tesori
based on the play by David Lindsay-Abaire
choreographed by Danny Mefford
directed by Jessica Stone
November 5 – December 26, 2021
Kim is a bright and funny Jersey teen, who happens to look like a 72-year-old lady. And yet her aging disease may be the least of her problems. Forced to maneuver family secrets, borderline personalities, and possible felony charges, Kim is determined to find happiness in a world where not even time is on her side.
written, featuring and directed by Clare Barron
January 12 – February 13, 2022
Atlantic Stage 2 | 330 West 16th St.
Penny flirts at a morbid anatomy museum. Kyle tells stories of dismemberment. Sally turns you on with tea and biscuits, and Shareen prepares a mysterious potion. A study in kink, trauma, pleasure, and revenge…
by Sanaz Toossi
directed by Knud Adams
February 3 – March 13, 2022
Linda Gross Theater
“English Only” is the mantra that rules one classroom in Iran, where four adult students are preparing for the TOEFL — the Test of English as a Foreign Language
book by Joshua Harmon & Sarah Silverman
lyrics by Adam Schlesinger & Sarah Silverman
music by Adam Schlesinger
choreographed by Byron Easley
directed by Anne Kauffman
April 30 – June 19, 2022
Linda Gross Theater
Meet Sarah. She’s funny. She’s dirty. She’s 10. And she’s got a secret that you’ll never guess (unless you read the title). Based on Sarah Silverman’s memoir
Three buildings in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, including BAM Harvey at 651 Fulton St. Twitter: @BAM_Brooklyn. 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. Much excitement greeted the appointment as artistic director of David Binder, who 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. But he took office in late 2019, just a few months before the pandemic.
What to Send Up When It Goes Down
Now through July 11
Aleshea Harris’ new work is a play, a ritual, and a home-going celebration that bears witness to the physical and spiritual deaths of Black people as a result of racist violence. Setting out to disrupt the pervasiveness of anti-Blackness and acknowledge the inherent value of Black people. (See also Playwrights Horizons.)
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.
Begins January 13, opens January 27
An opera based on Lynn Nottage’s play about the life and loves of Esther, a lonely, single African-American woman who makes her living sewing beautiful corsets and ladies’ undergarments in the New York of 1905
511 West 52nd Street. Twitter: @mcctheater
Manhattan Class Company was founded in 1986 by Bernard Telsey (whose day job is a go-to casting director), Robert LuPone and Will Canter. They built their first permanent home in Hell’s Kitchen in 2019, which was shut down by the pandemic little more than a year later. Although they experimented with digital theater, their 2021-2022 season is all in-person. There are no specific dates yet.
This play by Jocelyn Bioh, directed by Saheem Ali, is set in the burgeoning Nigerian film industry in the 1990s, pitting an aspiring ingénue against a veteran leading lady, while sparks fly with Nollywood’s biggest heartthrob
Written and performed by Van Huges and Nick Blaemire, this new musical tells the true story of a stray dog and the top secret Russian scientist who sent her to space during the Cold War.
Here She Is, Boys
In this play by Anna Noguiera, Jeff and Judy have a conversation while waiting outside the stage door of If/Then to get an autograph from the star, that will change the course of their decades-long friendship.
After one boy dies by suicide, Mr. Isaiah struggles to figure out how to save the Black and Brown boys he teaches , in this new play by Donja R. Love
The 21st edition of Uncensored will feature New York City teens taking over MCC’s main stage to speak their truth.
131 West 55th Street Twitter: @MTC_NYC
Begins October 12. Opens November 3
A new play by Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) tells the story of 50 years in one woman’s life , starring Blair Brown, Edie Falco and Marin Ireland.
Prayer for the French Republic
Begins January 11, opens February 1, 2022
This play by Joshua Harmon (Significant Other) directed by David Cromer, follows five generations of a French Jewish family, including a Jewish couple in Paris desperately awaits news of their missing family in 1944.
Begins April 26, opens May 17 2022
This play by Anchuli Felicia King, directed by Danya Taymor revolves around an Asian-American lawyer suing the Chinese government, hiring her sister to be her translator. Can they put aside their past differences to speak the same language?
79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79
NYTW got much attention the year before the pandemic for presenting three shows that (eventually) moved to Broadway, Heidi Schreck’s “What The Constitution Means To Me,” the multi-Tony winning “Hadestown” and “Slave Play”.
From Whitney White, a filmed theatrical experience that asks us to examine how Black women are perceived and how we interact with the Black feminine.
August 4 – August 29
A new play by Martyna Majok. DREAMers. Love(r)s. 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.
September 8 – October 10. Opens September 21.
Sweatshop Overlord by Kristina Wong
Kristina Wong reflects on her work during the pandemic of sewing masks out of old bedsheets and bra straps on her Hello Kitty sewing machine, and then leading the Auntie Sewing Squad, a work-from-home sweatshop of hundreds of volunteers.
In this new play by Aleshea Harris (Is God Is), twelve-year-old Sadie calls on generations of matriarchal ancestors to find the truth about her mother while the denizens of Sugarland rise each day to holler for the dead—conscripted soldiers lost to a greedy war—in a ritual reclamation of timeless grief.
A musical by Somi Kakoma based on the life of Miriam Makeba, the South African-born singer, songwriter, actress, and civil rights activist
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 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, and their size permitted them to be among the first to return to in-person theater, with what they call their Social Distance Hall series:
Enemy of the People
Now through August 8, 2021
Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale) portrays multiple characters in Robert Icke’s adaptation of Ibsen’s play about a scientist in a small town finds that the local waters have been contaminated and demands the shut-down of the resort that is the economic engine of the town. The audience will be seated at tables and will be invited to vote as a group at critical moments of the story—and the majority vote will determine the play’s direction at each juncture.
416 W. 42nd St. Twitter: @PHNYC
Annie Baker’s “The Flick” is one of seven 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.
November 17, 2021 – December 23, 2021
In this play by Sylvia Khoury, Taroon once served as an interpreter for the US 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
Tambo & Sons
January 12, 2022 – February 20, 2022
Two characters are trapped in a minstrel show, in this play by Dave Harris
What To Send Up When It Goes Down
Sept 24 – Oct 17, 2021
Aleshea Harris’s play Is also a ritual, and a home-going celebration that bears witness to the physical and spiritual deaths of Black people as a result of racist violence, setting out to disrupt the pervasiveness of anti-blackness and acknowledge the resilience of Black people throughout history.(Will this move forward even though it’s playing through July at Brooklyn Academy of Music? Stay tuned.)
Wish You Were Here
April 13, 2022 – May 22, 2022
Sanaz Toossi chronicles a decade of life during war in Iran, as best friends forever become friends long lost, scattered and searching for home.
June 02, 2022 – July 10, 2022
Written by Will Arbery and directed by Sam Gold, the play takes place in a small city in Texas, a woman with Down syndrome named Ginny and her half-brother Christopher are unmoored in the wake of their mother’s death.
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 the most recent pre-pandemic) 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.
The Public has been actively involved in digital theater during the pandemic, creating such landmark work as the Zoom dramas “What Do We Need To Talk About?” and “The Line.” and the audio drama “Shadow/Land”. It is sure the announce a robust schedule of in-person theater for the season, but has not done so yet.
July 6 – September 18
Jocelyn Bioh’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, directed by Saheem Ali, is set in South Harlem, amidst a vibrant and eclectic community of West African immigrants.
Music by Tom Kitt
Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Book by Kwame Kwei-Armah & Brian Yorkey
Choreography by Lorin Latarro
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
October 7 – November 21, 2021; Opening Night: November 4
Based on the film by Thomas McCarthy: Widowed and living alone, Walter is a college professor whose life has lost a sense of purpose. When Tarek, a vivacious drummer, and Zainab, an iron-willed jewelry maker, enter his life in the most unexpected circumstances, Walter is swept up into their struggle to stay in an America that they have made their home, but seeks to cast them out.
By Erika Dickerson-Despenza
Directed by Candis C. Jones
November 2 – December 5, 2021; Opening Night: November 17
Afro-surrealist play about three generations of Black women living through the current water crisis in Flint, Michigan. This is the play that won for Dickerson-Despenza the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize
PLAYS FOR THE PLAGUE YEAR
By Suzan-Lori Parks
Directed by Niegel Smith
On March 13, 2020, as theaters shut their doors and so many of us went into lockdown, celebrated playwright Suzan-Lori Parks picked up her pen and set out to write a play every day. What emerged is a chronicle of our collective experience throughout the troubling days and nights that followed.
ALTAR NO. 1 – ATEN
Digital Album by Daniel Alexander Jones
Weekly Installments to be Released Beginning September 22
UNDER THE RADAR FESTIVAL
January 12-23, 2022
OUT OF TIME
By Jaclyn Backhaus, Sam Chanse, Mia Chung, Naomi Iizuka, and Anna Ouyang Moench
Commissioned and Produced by NAATCO
Conceived and Directed by Les Waters
Presented by The Public Theater
THE CHINESE LADY
By Lloyd Suh
The Barrington Stage Company and Ma-Yi Theater Company Production
Directed by Ralph B. Peña
Presented by The Public Theater
Inspired by the true story of the first Chinese woman to step foot in America. (My review of a previous production.)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Shaina Taub
Choreography by Raja Feather Kelly
Directed by Leigh Silverman
A musical event one hundred years in the making, SUFFS brings to life a complicated chapter in the ongoing battle for the right to vote: the American women’s suffrage movement.
THE VAGRANT TRILOGY
By Mona Mansour
Directed by Mark Wing-Davey
The Palestinian struggle for home and identity.
Co-Production with National Black Theatre
By James Ijames
Directed by Saheem Ali
reimagining Hamlet as Juicy, a queer, Southern college kid.
Founded in 1994, this Village theater has featured such innovation productions as Samuel D. Hunter’s The Few and Lewiston/Clarkston, Jonathan Tolins’ Buyer and Cellar, and Lucy Thurber’s The Hilltown Plays. Two of the three plays in the new season will be both in person and online.
Ni Mi Madre by Arturo Luís Soria
August 25 to September 19, 2021
Presented Both in-person and live-streamed) – Inspirited with the tradition of Umbanda ritual, the music of Gloria Estefan, Cher, and Maria Bethânia, Ni Mi Madre invites audiences into the tumultuous relationship between a larger-than-life Brazilian woman, Bete, and her queer son.
In the Southern Breeze by Mansa Ra,
November 3 to December 12, 2021
presented both in-person and virtually
Centering the black male experience across centuries of American history, this Absurdist drama follows five men who meet in the afterlife following their murders
Addressless by Martin Boross
presented virtually in January/February 2022
An interactive theatrical game in which audiences encounter firsthand the complex challenges of homelessness. Audiences are asked to follow a character and make a series of decisions: Will their character sleep on the street or sleep in a hostel? Will they ask people for money or try to find work? While some decisions might earn the character money, they may also take a toll on their life expectancy and physical wellbeing.
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. Roundabout’s Off Broadway shows for the new season don’t yet have specific dates.
...what the end will be..
In this new play by Mansa Ra, three generations of men live under one roof and grapple with their own truths of what it means to be Black and gay.
Exception to the Rule
A new play by David Harris: How do you make it through detention? In the worst high school in the city, six Black students are stuck in Room 111. They flirt. They fight. They tease.
In this play by Anna Ziegler, Esther and Schmuli newly married Orthodox Jews, while Abe, a secular Jew, gets an email from a movie star “that puts his marriage to the test.”
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.
Only An Octave Apart
September 21- October 3
Whether invoking mythology or nature, romance or radical compassion, Justin Vivian Bond and Anthony Roth Costanzo carve new pathways between opera and politically subversive cabaret — two art forms that, as Bond puts it, “have been kept alive for generations by queens.”
At age 40, this theater became the fourth non-profit to produce theater both on and Off Broadway. None of its Off-Broadway offerings have specific dates yet.
Letters of Suresh
Begins Sept 4, 2021, officially opens Oct 4
Playwright Rajiv Joseph reveals intimate mysteries through a series of letters between strangers, friends, daughters, and lovers — many with little in common but a hunger for human connection.
To My Girls
Begins March 22, 2022, opens April 14
Playwright J.C. Lee asks: Is there anything more fabulous than Palm Springs after the end of the world? For one tight group of gay men, a post-pandemic getaway is the perfect chance to reunite, reclaim their time, and replace the gloom with some gossip. But as soon as the drinks start pouring, truths start spilling, and this chosen family quickly realizes the world has changed.
480 West 42nd Street. Twitter: @signaturetheatr
As the first New York theater to win the Regional Tony Award, the Signature now has some solid proof of what has been clear to its patrons for years. What distinguished this theater that began by devoting an entire season to a single playwright was not only its track record, but its commitment to keep the ticket price low for initial runs of their productions
When they expanded both their facilities and their mission, some longtime subscribers had to adjust to the introduction of work by more untested playwrights, but it helps that Katori Hall’s “The Hot Wing King” which was presented at the Signature this year (briefly before the shutdown) won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The Watering Hole
from now until August 8
“$25–$45 or Choose What You Pay”
In this immersive experience that takes over nearly every space of the Signature Center, playwright Lynn Nottage, director Miranda Haymon, and a group of designers have devised a series of installations through which inn-person, physically distanced audiences will move.
A new play written and directed by Annie Baker that tackles persistent pain and desire.
October 5 – November 7 Postponed “due to health and safety concerns”
Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992
A revival of Anna Deavere Smith’s artistic response to the Rodney King police beating, in which she interviewed over 350 Los Angelinos and presented a cross-section of them on stage. The play will be “reimagine(d)… for new performers and collaborators.”
October 12 – November 14
In this play by Dominique Morisseau, Sara, a savvy slave turned Union spy, and Sandra, a brilliant professor in a modern-day private university, are facing similar struggles, though they live over a century apart.
February 22 – March 27, 2022
A Case for the Existence of God
Inside a cubicle in a small office in southern Idaho, two men struggle to balance the confounding terms on a loan, in this play by Samuel D. Hunter directed by David Cromer.
April 12 – May 15, 2022
Long-running commercial Off-Broadway shows that have announced their reopening
Off-Broadway theaters often rented ou to independent companies or commercial producers:
*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 (Helen Hayes.) Their Broadway offerings are listed in my Broadway 2021-2022 Season Guide