Everybody Review: Morality Meets Mortality, 600 Years Later

everybody-for-calendarWith “Everybody,” Branden Jacobs-Jenkins adapts “Everyman,” the 15th century morality play, for a modern secular New York audience. The idea here is inspired, and the world premiere production at the Signature can be inspiring; it even provoked some reflection on my own mortality. “Everybody” can also be very funny. But both the playwright and director Lila Neugebauer seem hell-bent on deliberately “destabilizing” the story, making it less accessible.

In the original allegory, Death summons Everyman before God to make an accounting of his life, and one by one, he is let down by Fellowship, Strength, Beauty, etc. Only Good Deeds comes through for him.

In Jacobs-Jenkins’ version, Death is the genial if impatient Marylouise Burke, and Everybody asks for help from some of the same allegorical aspects of his life, here renamed Friendship, Kinship, etc. (My favorite new name is Stuff.) Everybody wants them to accompany him in his accounting before God. Most initially react the same way – “So are you saying ‘God’ is real?” — and each one in turn makes up excuses to turn Everybody down.

The most hilarious of these exchanges is with Friendship, who swears fealty to Everybody with the words “I would literally go to hell and back for you,” shortly before Everyman asks her to accompany him.

“OH HEEEEELLLL NO!….”

“But you promised me ‘to hell –‘?

“’And back.’ Remember I said: ‘And back?’ We’ve always had these communication issues.”

It’s worth quoting some of what Friendship says to Everybody when we first see them together, because it is such a spot-on satire of contemporary friendships:

“I was just thinking about you, too! Oh, man! I miss you! What is going on? You seem a little depressed! Is it still the election? Is it the weather? Is it Global Warming? Or is it just politics? Is it identity politics? Or is it your job? Is it your career slash lack of a career? Is it that person we both hate? Oh no! It’s not that person we both love, is it? Is it your relationship slash lack of a relationship? Is it our relationship? Remember that time we sort of hooked up? That was weird, right? But it’s good we got over it, right? Right? We got over it, right? Oh man, Sports? Sports! Hey, have you seen that movie? Have you watched that cable show everyone’s talking about?…”

This is just one of the several moments that would clearly mark Branden Jacobs-Jenkins as a substantive talent, if he hadn’t already been established as such from his spate of recent plays, including “Gloria” and “An Octoroon,” which was a modern meta-theatrical adaptation of a 19th century melodrama about what was called miscegenation (the mixing of the races.)

Yet the playwright’s shrewdly observed moments apparently seemed insufficient to the creative team, who insisted on lots of extra….fiddling.

To begin with, the roles that five of the nine cast members portray during any performance are chosen by lottery (we see the performers line up in front of the stage behind the lottery cage – that’s what’s being pictured in the photograph above.) There are 120 possible combinations of role assignments, we’re told, and the five actors have memorized all the roles. (The night I saw the show, the character of Everybody was portrayed by Louis Cancelmi.) The reason for the lottery? An usher explains: “It is required that the actor’s roles be decided by lottery every night in an attempt to more closely thematize the randomness of death while also destabilizing pre-conceived notions about identity, blah blah blah…”

(Just to be clear, the “blah blah blah” is hers, not mine.)

The “usher” also turns out to be God. Jocelyn Bioh portrays them, and later in the show also plays Understanding. (Bioh is one of the four actors who don’t have to submit to the lottery.)

Some of the time the characters talk in complete darkness. Other times, the house lights go up, and stay up, during whole scenes. The actors don’t stay on stage, or even in the front of the theater, but often travel to the back, forcing the playgoers to twist around if we want to see what’s going on. Until the last few minutes of the 100-minute play, when there are a couple of surprising and entertaining stage effects, Laura Jellinek’s set design is simply a row of seats on stage that look exactly like the ones on which we’re sitting.

What is the message here – that life is difficult and dreary, so this show will be too?

The playwright also gives his characters too much to say that is digressive, repetitious or overlong (As terrific as it is, Friendship’s monologue is three times longer than my excerpt) – and there are several bouts of meta-theatrical interruption. Perhaps Jacobs-Jenkins is saying that modern life complicates things, and undercuts itself. We can no longer have a simple instructive play like “Everyman” anymore.

Maybe he’s even offering a counterargument to all those less benign people who are looking to impose their “strict” interpretations of old texts on 21st century life.

The result of what seems to be a kind of creative over-thinking, though, is that unlike the aim of its 15th century source, “Everybody” is not for everybody.

 

Everybody
Signature Theater
by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins; Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Set design by Laura Jellinek, costume design by Gabriel Berry, Lighting design by Matt Frey, music and sound design by Brandon Wolcott, choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly
Cast Jocelyn Bioh, Brooke Bloom, Michael Braun, Marylouise Burke, Louis Cancelmi, Lilyana Tiare Cornell, David Patrick Kelly, Lakisha Michelle May and Chris Perfetti
Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $30 until March 14, $40 afterwards
Everybody runs through March 19.

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Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House: Review and Pics

“The theatre is gone, but there are new things now,” says Matthew Broderick in Wallace Shawn’s chilling comedy, which imagines a dystopian but familiar society where former theatre people have gone on to television, or to a day job, such as murderer. “My paycheck arrives with complete regularity,” says an ex wardrobe supervisor turned assassin.

…The wit and the horror of Shawn’s play is how, amid the kind of gossip, backbiting and nostalgic reminiscences standard from old troupers everywhere, the characters casually segue into conversations about “targeting” – killing people deemed undesirable.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Monique Carboni to see it enlarged

Man From Nebraska: Reviews, Pics

There are three great reasons to see the New York stage debut of Man From Nebraska, without even knowing what it’s about: Its author Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), its director David Cromer (Our Town), a cast that features Reed Birney (The Humans.) These remain even when you learn it’s about a man’s mid-life crisis….We never get details explaining Ken’s spiritual crisis; there are no stimulating intellectual or theological debates. Nor do we get a resolution so much as just an ending…..If little is explained, this winds up not mattering as much as it might in the hands of lesser theater artists. These artists feel in full control.

Full review on DC Theatre Scene

The Object Lesson Review: If Proust Were A Packrat

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Geoff Sobelle, self-declared “maker of absurdist performance art,” is credited as the creator and performer of “The Object Lesson,” but it at least co-stars thousands of boxes. These are boxes that fill up the floor of the New York Theatre Workshop, and are stacked up to the ceiling. Some of the boxes are empty, with scrawled instructions: A fellow playgoer handed me one such box, which said: “Give this box to someone who looks nice.”

Many of the boxes are filled with all sorts of items: On one table, I picked through boxes containing:

An old cassette recorder and old cassettes, but mostly those Styrofoam packing peanuts
Votive candles
A pile of old trophies, with plaques such as “Mayfair Shamrock Tournament Champion” and “Holy Terror 1999 Hoiday Classic Under-10 1st Place”object-lesson-2-by-me
A sculpture of a horse either laughing or screaming
Day-glo wigs fit for drag queens
several diaries, which seemed too extensive to have been filled out just for this show. One began: January 22, ‘97. So two weeks and a broken tibia later, I start this journal.”

There were also boxes that indicated they were suitable for seats, and that’s what most of the playgoers eventually did, when a man (which we learned only after the show was Sobelle) started taking objects out of boxes – a lamp, a chair, and end table, a beautiful Persian rug, an old-fashioned record player – to create a cozy little room for himself amid the sea of literal box seats.

Thus began the performance part of this performance art installation. This can be divided into about a dozen scenes (more like unrelated sketches) and involved lots of audience participation, and imaginative weirdness, some of it clearly improvised.

At one point, a barefoot Sobelle scaled a mountainous pile of boxes in almost complete darkness, using only a flashlight, then found a box with a lamp, and a box with a working microphone, and then, atop this lamp-lit mountain of cardboard, began to tell a story about his experiences as a teenager on a trip to France. He told us about a goat herd, and then found a box with some goat cheese, which he passed down to the audience, complete with a baguette. He said on his last night in a little village called Carbused, he saw a strange red light in the darkness, and then a green one, and then a yellow one. He eventually realized, he told us, that it was a traffic light, which got a laugh, and then he rummaged through a box, and took out a huge, working traffic light, which bathed us first in red, then green, then yellow.

At another point, Sobelle invited a woman to dine with him, presumably just a random member of the audience. He sat her at a table from which he had cleared off the boxes, and put a plate before her; then he rummaged through various boxes to take out a head of lettuce, sticks of carrots, etc. He climbed atop the table, and, having donned a pair of ice skates, did a fairly accomplished tap dance, serving as a human Veg-o-matic, delivering the chopped ingredients expertly on her plate. He asks another audience member to hold up a chandelier so that they can dine in style.

An extraordinary effort went into creating “The Object Lesson,” most of it, I imagine by Steven Dufala, who is credited with the scenic installation design. There are moments, jerry-rigged with makeshift lighting and some surprise stagecraft, that are both funny and, quite improbably, beautiful. It feels like the kind of show designed to give bragging rights to aficionados of way-out theater such as myself. But it also inspires a contemplation of the meaning of objects in our lives, how an evocative old box of memorabilia – even if not your own – can provoke a swift stream of memories.

If Proust were a packrat, if Felix the Cat were a dramatist, they might have created something like “The Object Lesson.”

The Object Lesson
New York Theatre Workshop
Created and performed by Geoff Sobelle
Directed by David Neumann
Scenic Installation Design by Steven Dufala
Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission (but get there early to go through the boxes)
Tickets: $69
“The Object Lesson” is scheduled to run through March 5, 2017.

Fade Play Review: Latina TV Writer On How Horrible TV is

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Writer Tanya Saracho

“Fade” is a play about the bond that develops between a Mexican-born TV writer and a Mexican-American janitor at the TV studio. Its author, Tanya Saracho, is a Mexican-born TV writer/producer who has worked on the TV series “Devious Maids,” “Looking,” and “Girls” and is now co-producer of “How To Get Away with Murder” — as we learn in the full page bio of her, complete with photograph, that’s in the program from Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane, where the two-character play runs through March 5.
In “Fade,” Lucia (Annie Dow), who wrote a first novel that was critically acclaimed, has moved from Chicago to Los Angeles to start a job on a TV series centered around a Latina woman. Lucia knows nobody in town, and she spends all day sitting silently at writers meetings, her white male co-workers treating her with condescension. One of them tells her “you do know you’re the diversity hire, right? [Y]ou’re only here because you’re a Hispanic.” So when Abel (Eddie Martinez) comes into her office to empty her trash, she automatically sees him as an ally, someone with whom to feel solidarity and from whom to seek solace. But she also unintentionally treats him with condescension as well. When they first meet, she speaks to him in Spanish, and is surprised when she learns that he knows English. That doesn’t stop her from exclaiming at one point: “We’re in Trump’s America. We have to be militant about speaking our mother tongue whenever the hell we want.” Abel, who is worried he could lose his job from such a gesture, is skeptical of this fresa (Mexican slang for a superficial youngster from a rich family), but she eventually wins him over – to his ultimate regret.

Click on any photograph by James Leynse to see it enlarged


“Fade” is well acted, and Saracho’s script touches on several worthwhile issues that seem based on her own experience — the distortion in popular culture depictions of the Latino population (and by extension any ethnic minority); the divisions by class and culture within the Latino community; the pressures on an individual toward compromise and corruption in order to make it in mainstream American society.
But by the end of  the play, which takes place entirely in Lucia’s bland office, “Fade” feels slighter and more obvious than it could have been.  Saracho is quite harsh toward Lucia – she makes her clear stand-in annoying, self-involved and insensitive  – and toward the industry in which Lucia works, Saracho’s own industry. But her observations offer little that we haven’t heard before, and, given what’s going on in the country now, it’s frankly hard to muster much outrage about the behind-the-scenes machinations of television. If the TV industry is meant as a metaphor for the country as a whole, it feels an inadequate one.  By most accounts, we are living in a second golden age of TV in terms of wider and deeper  content, something to which Saracho herself has contributed. At their best, the subjects on TV nowadays  hold greater dramatic interest than the subject of TV in this stage play.

Fade
Primary Stages at Cherry Lane
Written by Tanya Saracho
Directed by Jerry Ruiz. Set design by Mariana Sanchez, costume design by Carisa Kelly, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, sound design by M.L. Dogg
Tickets: $72
Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission
“Fade” is set to run through March 5, 2017

February 2017 NY Theater Openings

Broadway this month will see the opening of two starry musical  revivals by two of the reigning composers of musical theater — Stephen Sondheim (86) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (68) — while Off-Broadway pays tribute to Jerry Herman (85) and Kurt Weill (1900-1950), and presents a new musical by John Kander (89.)

Meanwhile, Off-Off Broadway is showcasing the work of one of New York’s hottest musical composers, Dave Malloy (41), best-known for the hit Broadway musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812., which also started Off-Off-Broadway.

The month will also see the opening of new plays by (among others) Brandon Jacob-Jenkins, David Mamet,  Tanya Saracho,and  Will Eno, and new productions of plays by Tracy Letts and Wallace Shawn.

Below is a list, organized chronologically by opening date, with descriptions. Each title is linked to a relevant website.

Color key: Broadway: Red. Off Broadway: Purple or Blue. Off Off Broadway: Green.
To look at the Spring season as a whole, check out my Broadway Spring 2017 Preview Guide and my Off Broadway Spring 2017 Preview Guide

February 1

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Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose (Davenport)

Ed Dixon recounts how he came to know and admire character actor George Rose, who acted with such luminaries as Katherine Hepburn and Noel Coward.

February 8

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Jonah and Otto (Lost Tribe at Theater Row)

Over the course of a single day, two men  – one 26, the other 62; different in every way – share their solitude and unfold their secrets.

fade-for-calendar

Fade (Primary Stages at Cherry Lane)

A comedy by Tanya Saracho about the burgeoning friendship between Lucia and Abel, two Latinos of Mexican descent working at a ruthless Hollywood studio

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Big River (Encores at City Center)

The Encores concert version of the Tony-winning musical based on Mark Twain’s novel “Huck Finn.”

February 9

The Mother of Invention (Abingdon at June Havoc)

James Lecesne’s unflinching and comedic look at how one family deals with the effects of Alzheimer’s.

Sunset Boulevard (Palace Theatre)

Glenn Close stars in a revival of the 1994 musical based on the 1950 Billy Wilder movie about a faded Hollywood silent film goddess who tries to make one last comeback. This production was seen in a spring 2016 revival in London.

object-lesson-for-calendar

The Object Lesson (New York Theatre Workshop)

In what’s becoming its signature activity, NYTW has physically transformed their theater once again, this time turning it into a giant storage facility.  allowing audiences to roam and poke through the clutter.

February 10

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Crackskull Row ( Irish Rep)

Rasher Moorigan has a secret that only his mother knows. Tonight  – for the first time in over thirty years – mother and son spend May Eve together in a wreck of a house down the backlanes of Dublin

February 12

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Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: (York)

Kurt Weill’s theater songs are presented in the York’s “Musical in Muftis” series (a short run), in a blend of music and story, spanning twenty years, from Von Hindenburg and Hitler in Germany to Roosevelt and Truman in the U.S.

beardoscream

Beardo (Pipeline)

Beardo, which takes place in St. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenpoint,  is a “Russian indie rock musical” with music by Dave Malloy ( Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.) “This New York premiere explodes the mad inner workings of Rasputin, the infamous mystic who sexed his way to the fall of the Russian monarchy.”

Ring Twice For Miranda (NY City Center Stage II)

A man known only as Sir rules with a vengeance, but it’s Miranda, a chambermaid, who adds intrigue to his life. When Elliot, the butler, is fired, she flees with him in defiance onto the frightening streets. All must soon make critical decisions with imperfect facts to guide them, since little in their world is as it appears.

February 15

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Man From Nebraska (Second Stage)

A revival of the play by Tracey Letts, directed by David Cromer, starring Reed Birney (The Humans) as Ken, a middle aged man from Nebraska, who suddenly finds he’s lost his faith, along with his sense of purpose. He goes on a wild adventure to find it. Along the way he encounters a world vastly different from his own, filled with chance meetings and romantic encounters that shake him to the core.

February 16

Wallace Shawn, from the National Theater production.

Wallace Shawn, from the National Theater production.

Evening at the Talk House (New Group at  Signature)

The New Group at Signature) by Wallace Shawn with Matthew Broderick, Jill Eikenberry, John Epperson, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn, Claudia Shear, Annapurna Sriram, Michael Tucker.  Shawn takes on theater itself with this acerbic and stealth political comedy about theater artists who  have a reunion at their old hangout, the Talk House, to reminisce about the show they made a decade ago — except most are no longer theater artists. There’s been “a decline in the theatergoing impulse.”

February 19

On The Exhale (Roundabout)

A play by Martin Zimmerman (Netflix’s Narcos) starring Marin Ireland as a liberal college professor inexplicably drawn to a weapon used in a senseless act of violence.

February 21

everybody-for-calendar

Everybody (Signature)

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s new play is a modern version of Everyman, a famous morality play about Christian salvation from the 15th century. I have no idea what he’s doing with it, but he was very clever in a play called Octoroon, which was his take on an 19th century melodrama, and both provocative and thoughtful in his play Gloria

February 22

If I Forget (Roundabout)

A new play by Steven Levenson (“The Language of Trees,” “The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin”) that tells the story of the bickering reunion of liberal Jewish studies professor Michael Fischer with his two sisters to celebrate their father’s 75th birthday shortly before 9/11.

DC production of Kid Victory

DC production of Kid Victory

Kid Victory (Vineyard)

The latest collaboration between John Kander and Greg Pierce. “Seventeen-year-old Luke returns to his small Kansas town after a wrenching one-year absence. As his friendship grows with the town misfit, Emily, his parents realize that in order to truly find their son, they must confront some unnerving truths about his disappearance.”

February 23

City Center

Sunday in the Park with George (Hudson Theater)

Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford star in this
transfer of the New York City Center‘s fall 2016 concert version of the Pulitzer-winning Sondheim and Lapine 1984 musical about pointillist painter George Seurat. It marks the re-launching of the Hudson Theater (built in 1903) as the 41st Broadway house.

Linda (MTC at City Center)

Penelope Skinner’s play is about a successful woman whose pitch to change the way the world looks at women of a certain age winds up making her fight for her own relevance.

February 24

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The View UpStairs (Lynn Redgrave Theater)

A young fashion designer from 2017 buys the abandoned space that was the UpStairs Lounge, a vibrant ’70s gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

February 26

Dear World (York)

Tyne Daly stars in the York’s “Musical in Mufti” (short run) of Jerry Herman’s musical based on the Madwoman of Chaillot.

February 27

Wakey, Wakey (Signature)

Will Eno’s play “challenges the notion of what really matters and recognizes the importance of life’s simple pleasures.” The downtown playwright  who made his Broadway debut recently with the abstruse The Realistic Joneses has his admirers; I’m not yet one of them.

The Penitent (Atlantic)

A new play by David Mamet. “A renowned psychiatrist is asked to testify on behalf of a young patient. When he refuses, his career, ethics and faith are thrown into question.”

Nibbler (The Amoralists at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre)

A play by Ken Urban that takes place in the summer of 1992 in Medford, New Jersey, when Adam and his gang of friends face life after high school.  But then the fivesome encounter a mysterious visitor from another world, and their lives are forever changed

bull_in-a-china-shop

Bull In A China Shop (LCT)

A comedy by Bryna Turner that follows Mary Woolley and her partner Jeannette Marks through 40 years in a New England seminary as they reform and revolutionize women’s education at the height of the suffrage movement.

February 28

A Gravediggger’s Lullaby (TACT at Theatre Row)

A new play by Jeff Talbott about the life of Baylen, an honest, hard-working gravedigger who sweats and bleeds to support his small family

Yen with Lucas Hedges, Justice Smith: Pics, Review

Yen, a bleak British play that opens tonight Off-Broadway, stars Lucas Hedges, Oscar-nominated last week for his role in Manchester by the Sea, and Justice Smith, of the Netflix hip-hop drama The Get Down, as two teenage brothers living alone, with no school, no friends, little food and one t-shirt to share between them….Playwright Anna Jordan leaves little doubt that her play is meant to explore the damage caused by a lack of love….Particularly absorbing is the interaction between Justice Smith and Lucas Hedges, with their contrasting characterizations. …

Director Trip Cullman can take credit for a production that is always watchable, but he also must take the hit for saddling his extraordinary (American) cast with thick British working class accents, which some (American) audience members will find at times nearly impenetrable.

 

Full review at DC Theatre Scene,

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

Tell Hector I Miss Him: Review and Pics

Love puzzles, and messes up, the dozen characters in Tell Hector I Miss Him, a play wonderfully acted by a cast that includes veterans of Orange is the New Black. If the play itself sometimes puzzles, and shocks, it also marks a remarkable playwriting debut by 28-year-old Paola Lazaro.
Lazaro’s work is reminiscent of that by Stephen Adly Guirgis and August Wilson in its ability to turn street language into stage poetry, and to shine a warm center spotlight on people who are usually pushed to the edge.

Full review at DC Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Ahron R. Foster to see it enlarged

Tell Hector I Miss Him
Written by Paola Lazaro, directed by
David Mendizabal, set design by Clint Ramos; costume design by Dede Ayite; lighting design by Eric Southern; sound design by Jesse Mandapat
Featuring Dascha Polanca as Malena; Victor Almanzar as Jeison; Sean Carvajal as Palito; Alexander Flores as
Tono; Yadira Guevara Prip as Isis; Juan Carlos Hernandez as Mostro; Selenis Leyva as Samira; Talene Monahon as La Gata; Flaco Navaja as Hugo; Lisa Ramirez as Mami; Luis Vega
El Mago; Analisa Velez as Tati;

January 2017 Theater Openings Broadway, Off Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway

Two Broadway shows are opening this month, and fewer than a half dozen Off-Broadway, but January is as usual one of the most robust months for theater in New York.

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Billboards outside the Public Theater advertising Under the Radar, one of the winter theater festivals

That’s because there are more than 100 works of theater at some dozen winter theater festivals, although the shows, largely experimental, each run for only a handful of performances. (Check out my separate preview guide for Winter Theater Festivals in New York 2017)

This month also marks the debut of  the new theater complex at 53rd Street and Tenth Avenue run by the Alliance of Resident Theaters (A.R.T.), now home to a dozen acclaimed New York theater companies without buildings of their own. (See January 22 below for the theaters’ first two openings.)

Below is a list, organized chronologically by opening date, with each title linked to a relevant website. Color key: Broadway: Red. Off Broadway: Purple or Blue. Off Off Broadway: Green.

To look at the Spring season as a whole, check out my Broadway Spring 2017 Preview Guide and my Off Broadway Spring 2017 Preview Guide.

January 8

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh

The Present (Ethel Barrymore)

Cate Blanchett makes her Broadway debut as (once) wealthy widow Anna Petrovna celebrating her 40th birthday in this new play based on Anton Chekhov’s first play Platonov, with the action transposed to the 1990s.

Mark Felt, Superstar (York)

mark-felt-at-yorkA jazzy musical about Mark Felt Deputy Director of the FBI, who revealed himself as Deep Throat, the secret source about Watergate who helped Woodward and Bernstein bring down President Richard Nixon.

 

January 14

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Mope (Ensemble Studio Theater) 

An examination of a country poisoned by toxic masculinity, hiding inside a comedy about guys who do porn.

January 15

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Made in China (59E59)

A topical puppet musical inspired by true events (!): “An isolated woman finds solace in shopping. After one of her big-box sprees, she finds a cry-for-help note, written by a woman in a Chinese labor camp, stuffed in a box of Halloween lights. Inspired into activism, she embarks on an odyssey of global proportions.”

January 17

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The Dork Knight (Abingdon at Dorothy Strelsin Theatre)

Jason O’Connell’s solo show tracing the ups and downs of his life through the prism of his love/hate relationship with the ‘Batman’ movies.

 

January 18

The Tempest

The Tempest (St. Ann’s Warehouse)

Donmar Warehouse’s all female staging of Shakespeare’s play, set in a woman’s prison, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and starring Harriet Walter. This is the last production of a splendidly theatrical trilogy by the same team, starting with Julius Caesar in 2013 and then Henry IV in 2015.

January 19

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Jitney (Samuel J. Friedman)

Broadway premiere of Wilson’s first play, the only work from his The American Century Cycle never previously seen on Broadway. Set in the early 1970’s, the story follows a group of men who drive unlicensed cabs or jitneys.

 

Born to Rise (Medicine Show Theater) 

A revival of the 1984 musical based on four 19th century novels by Horatio Alger, in which four poor but hopeful young New Yorkers make their way up the social ladder

 

January 22

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Peer Gynt & the Norwegian Hapa Band (Ma-Yi at ART/NY Mezzanine Theater)

A rock ‘n’ roll remake of Ibsen’s classic verse drama

 

 

great-american-drama

 

The Great American Drama (New York Neofuturists at A.R.T./NY Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre)

An ever-changing theatrical experiment to test the validity of the American Dream. Through interviews & surveys, you’ll tell us how you like your theater and what would make you buy a ticket, and four Neo-Futurists will strive to deliver everything demanded of them.

the-oregon-trail-poster

The Oregon Trail (Fault Line Theatre)

Jane and her family navigate the deadly perils of 1850s frontier life in a covered wagon as part of a game, while present day Jane navigates the different but all-too-real dangers of high school, college, and adulthood

January 23

Selenis Leyva and Dascha Polanco Tell Hector I Miss Him,

Selenis Leyva and Dascha Polanco Tell Hector I Miss Him,

Tell Hector I Miss Him (Atlantic)

The new play by Paolo Lazaro takes place in Puerto Rico,  and “unmasks a community built on the law of respect that keeps getting washed away but refuses to drown.” The cast includes Dascha Polanco and Selenis Leyva, who play Dayanara Diaz and Gloria Mendoza, respectively, in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.

 

January 26

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The Liar (CSC)

David Ives adapts  Pierre Corneille’s 17th Century farce of mistaken identities and secrets, Le Menteur, directed by Michael Kahn. The charming Dorante cannot tell the truth and the manservant Cliton cannot tell a lie

January 31

yen-stars

Yen (MCC) 

In Anna Jordan’s play,  Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), and Justice Smith (The Get Down) portray two brothers ignored by their mother, who are drawn into a world beyond what they know when their animal-loving neighbor Jenny takes an interest in their dog Taliban.

Off Broadway Spring 2017 Guide

The Spring 2017 season Off-Broadway offers new plays by Annie Baker, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, David Mamet, Wallace Shawn, Sarah Ruhl; a new one-man show by John Leguizamo, “Latin History for Morons”; a Sondheim revival starring George Takei; an O’Neill revival starring Bobby Cannavale;  a new musical about Joan of Arc by the team that brought us “Here Lies Love” about Imelda Marcos; and an all-female The Tempest.  Matthew Perry is making his New York playwriting debut Off-Broadway.

Unlike Broadway,  however, Off-Broadway is more than a collection of individual potential hits or misses. (See my Broadway 2016-2017 Preview Guide.)  It’s marked by theaters/theater companies that present whole seasons of original or originally interpreted work.  That’s why the Off-Broadway preview below largely groups shows according to the theaters that are producing them. I list those theaters in order of 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.)

Clink 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 those theatrical empires that are both on and Off Broadway. Listed here are only their Off-Broadway offerings.)

PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS playwrights horizons logo

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.

playwrightshorizonsspring2017

The Light Years 

February 17 – April 02

From the theater company The Debate Society: “Behold The Spectatorium: an audacious, visionary 12,000-seat theater designed for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 by Steele MacKaye, the now-forgotten theatrical impresario around whom this haunted, 40-year love story spins.”

The Profane 

March 17 – April 30

In Zayd Dohrn’s play, two families are forced to face the limits of their religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and prejudices, when Raif’s daughter falls for the son of a conservative Muslim family

Bella: An American Tall Tale,

May 19 – July 2

A musical written by Kirsten Childs and directed by Robert O’Hara about a young black woman in the late 19th century escaping her scandalous past and taking a train out West to meet her Buffalo Soldier. “On her journey, Bella will encounter the most colorful and lively characters ever to roam the Western plains.”

THE PUBLIC THEATER

publictheaterlogo425 Lafayette Street. Twitter: @PublicTheaterNY

Having originated HamiltonFun Home, and the recent Sweat (which is moving to Broadway in March), the Public is on a roll, the latest of many in the successful downtown empire that Joe Papp created half a century ago. The Public is so popular these days that members have been complaining that their membership doesn’t guarantee tickets to the Public shows they want to see.

publicspring2017a

 

Under the Radar Festival,

13th edition, January 4-15.  Cutting-edge theater from around the U.S. and the world. Part of the Winter Theater Festivals of 2017

Joan of Arc: Into the Fire

Feb 14 – April 2

A rock concert version of the French heroine by David Byrne, directed by Alex Timbers, the team that put together Here Lies Love.

The Outer Space

Feb 23- April 2

At Joe’s Pub. Ethan Lipton tells the musical story of two human beings who buy an old spaceship, leaving the noise, pollution and overpriced rents of Earth for the vast beauty and treacherous terrain of the final frontier.

 Latin History for Morons

Feb 24 – April 9

Inspired by the near total absence of Latinos in his son’s American history class, John Leguizamo embarks on a frenzied search through 3,000 years of history  to find a Latin hero for his son’s school project

 Gently Down The Stream

March 24 – April 3

Martin Sherman’s new play stars Harvey Fierstein as Beau, a pianist expat living in London, who meets Rufus, an eccentric young lawyer, at the dawn of the internet dating revolution.

new_york_01NEW YORK THEATER WORKSHOP

79 East 4th Street. Twitter: @NYTW79

NYTW got much attention last year for presenting David Bowie’s musical “Lazarus.” and this Fall for its “Othello” with David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig. Its fare has ranged from the innovative and tuneful — “Hadestown” — to the cutting edge and incomprehensible — “Fondly, Collette Richland”

The Object Lesson

Jan 31 – March 5

In what’s becoming its signature activity, NYTW has physically transformed their theater once again, this time turning it into a giant storage facility.  allowing audiences to roam and poke through the clutter.

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Sojourners and Her Portmanteau

Dates unspecified

Performed in repertory, these two chapters of Mfoniso Udofia’s sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, chronicle the triumphs and losses of the tenacious matriarch of a Nigerian family. Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar. Here’s my review of Soujourners when it was produced by Playwrights Realms, in which I write “Given the promise of such an ambitious and potentially exciting project, one makes allowances for some of the awkwardness of this first production, which would have been more effective with a clearer and more streamlined unfolding of the essential story…”

SIGNATURE

signature_01

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 has distinguished this theater is not only its track record, but its commitment to keep the price of all tickets for initial runs relatively low —  $30 now (up from $25.)

With the recent expansion of both their facilities and their mission, some longtime subscribers have had to adjust to the introduction of work by more untested playwrights. This is the first season under new artistic director Paige Evans, who headed Lincoln Center’s LCT3   Signature’s founding artistic director James Houghton died last August.

sigsignaturesspring2017

 

Everybody

January 31 – March 12

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s new play is a modern version of Everyman, a famous morality play about Christian salvation from the 15th century. I have no idea what he’s doing with it, but he was very clever in a play called Octoroon, which was his take on an 19th century melodrama, and both provocative and thoughtful in his play Gloria

Wakey, Wakey 

Feb 7 – March 19

Will Eno’s play “challenges the notion of what really matters and recognizes the importance of life’s simple pleasures.” The downtown playwright  who made his Broadway debut recently with the abstruse The Realistic Joneses has his admirers; I’m not yet one of them.

The Antipodes

April 4 – ?

No description is yet available for this latest play by Annie Baker, the Pulitzer winning author of Circle Mirror Transformation,The Flick,  and John.

Venus

April 25 – ?

A revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’ play based on the true story of Saartjie Baartman, who left her home in southern Africa for a better life, and became a star on the 19th century London freak show circuit for the size of her posterior.

St. Ann’s Warehouse

Although it primarily presents avant-garde European exports,  this Brooklyn theater climbs up in my preference thanks to Taylor Mac’s homegrown   24-Decade History of Popular Music  late last year.

The Tempest

The Tempest

Jan 13- Feb 19

Donmar Warehouse’s all female staging of Shakespeare’s play, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and starring Harriet Walter. This is the last production of a splendidly theatrical trilogy by the same team, starting with Julius Caesar in 2013 and then Henry IV in 2015.

946-for-calendar

 

946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips

March 16 – April 9

“Kneehigh bring their full arsenal of live music, puppetry, dance and visual hi jinx to this brand new adaptation of the original novel by Michael Morpurgo (War Horse). Directed by Emma Rice, (now the Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe) 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips is the true story of British townsfolk and the African American soldiers sent to rehearse the Normandy invasion from their shores. Seen through the eyes of a little girl and her beloved cat, 946overturns everything we thought we knew about the D-Day landings.”

C

Arlington

May 3-28

A “strange and tender love story” written and directed by Enda Walsh (best-known in New York for Once and Lazarus.)

 

(This is a good place to sing the praises of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which offers an eclectic mix of the arts, often cutting edge)

AtlanticTheaterlogoATLANTIC THEATER

atlanticspring2017collage

Tell Hector I Miss Him,

Jan 11 – Feb 12

The new play by Paolo Lazaro takes place in Puerto Rico,  and “unmasks a community built on the law of respect that keeps getting washed away but refuses to drown.” The cast includes Dascha Polanco and Selenis Leyva, who play Dayanara Diaz and Gloria Mendoza, respectively, in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.

The Penitent

Feb 8-March 26

A new play by David Mamet. “A renowned psychiatrist is asked to testify on behalf of a young patient. When he refuses, his career, ethics and faith are thrown into question.”

Animal

May 24 – June 18

Clare Lizzimore’s dark comedy about a woman who has a good life, on the outside, but has a creepy feeling, and starts to have visions.

LincolnCenterlogo

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.

How to Transcend a Happy Marriage

Feb 23- May 7

A new play by Sarah Ruhl, author of  “Two married couples discuss a younger acquaintance–a polyamorous woman who also hunts her own meat. Fascinated, they invite this mysterious woman and her two live-in boyfriends to a New Year’s Eve party, which alters the course of their lives.

 Bull in a China Shop

Feb 11 – March 26

A comedy by Bryna Turner that follows Mary Woolley and her partner Jeannette Marks through 40 years in a New England seminary as they reform and revolutionize women’s education at the height of the suffrage movement.

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.

 If I Forget

Feb 2 – April 30

A new play by Steven Levenson (“The Language of Trees,” “The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin”) that tells the story of the bickering reunion of liberal Jewish studies professor Michael Fischer with his two sisters to celebrate their father’s 75th birthday shortly before 9/11.

On The Exhale

Feb 7 – April 2

A play by Martin Zimmerman (Netflix’s Narcos) starring Marin Ireland as a liberal college professor inexplicably drawn to a weapon used in a senseless act of violence.

Napoli, Brooklyn

Meghan Kennedy’s play about an Italian immigrant family in 1960’s Brooklyn: “The Muscolinos have raised three proud and passionate daughters. But as the girls come of age in a rapidly changing world, their paths diverge—in drastic and devastating ways—from their parents’ deeply traditional values” — exacerbated by a plane crash.

MCC THEATER

Address: The Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street. Twitter: @mcctheater

Yen

Jan 12 – Feb 19

In Anna Jordan’s play,  Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), and Justice Smith (The Get Down) portray two brothers ignored by their mother, who are drawn into a world beyond what they know when their animal-loving neighbor Jenny takes an interest in their dog Taliban.

End of Longing, West End production

End of Longing, West End production

The End of Longing

A play written by and starring Matthew Perry (Friends): “An alcoholic, an escort, a self-diagnosed neurotic and a well-intentioned simpleton walk into a bar… Broken and deeply flawed, they find their lives irreversibly entwined no matter how hard they try to break free of one another.” When this play debuted on the West End last year, in the words of Variety, “London critics weren’t kind.”

CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY

136 East 13th Street Twitter: @ClassicStage

The Liar

January 11 – Feb 26

David Ives adapts  Pierre Corneille’s 17th Century farce of mistaken identities and secrets, Le Menteur, directed by Michael Kahn.

The Comedy of Errors

March 6-24

Pacific Overtures

April 6 –

George Takei stars in a revival of the musical by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman about a samurai and a fisherman who are caught up in the westernization of the East, at a time when Commodore Matthew Perry sailed to Japan on a U.S. mission to open trade relations at any cost.

 

OTHER  HIGHLIGHTS

Wallace Shawn, from the National Theater production.

Wallace Shawn, from the National Theater production.

Evening at the Talk House

January 31 – March 12

(The New Group at Signature) by Wallace Shawn with Matthew Broderick, Jill Eikenberry, John Epperson, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn, Claudia Shear, Annapurna Sriram, Michael Tucker.  Shawn takes on theater itself with this acerbic and stealth political comedy about theater artists who  have a reunion at their old hangout, the Talk House, to reminisce about the show they made a decade ago — except most are no longer theater artists. There’s been “a decline in the theatergoing impulse.”

The Hairy Ape

(Park Avenue Armory) Bobby Cannavale stars as Yank in this 1921 play written by Eugene O’Neill.

PierceandKander

King Victory

Feb 2 – March 19

(Vineyard) The latest collaboration between John Kander and Greg Pierce. “Seventeen-year-old Luke returns to his small Kansas town after a wrenching one-year absence. As his friendship grows with the town misfit, Emily, his parents realize that in order to truly find their son, they must confront some unnerving truths about his disappearance.”

A Parallelogram

“summer 2017”

(2nd Stage Theater*) The latest play by Bruce Norris: “If you knew in advance exactly what was going to happen in your life, and how everything was going to turn out, and if you knew you couldn’t do anything to change it, would you still want to go on with your life? That is the question facing Bee who, much to Jay’s confusion, can click through different moments in her life with the touch of a remote control.

Linda

Feb 7 – April 2

(MTC at City Center*) Penelope Skinner’s play is about a successful woman whose pitch to change the way the world looks at women of a certain age winds up making her fight for her own relevance.

And this is surely Off-Off Broadway, but I can’t resist:

beardo_poster_web

Beardo

Feb 3 – 26

(Pipeline Theatre Company) Beardo, which takes place inSt. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenpoint,  is a “Russian indie rock musical” with music by Dave Malloy ( Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.) “This New York premiere explodes the mad inner workings of Rasputin, the infamous mystic who sexed his way to the fall of the Russian monarchy.”

 —

Other companies and theaters worth checking out:

Ars Nova

Rattlesticks Playwright Theater

Mint Theater

Mayi Theater Company

Primary Stages

Pearl Theater

There are also commercial shows put together by independent producers that appear 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 – The Acorn
Union Square Theater
Westside Theatre

*THE ASTERISK: Off-Broadway AND Broadway

*Just to complicate matters, several of the resident theaters also present shows on Broadway –  Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theater Company (MTC), the Roundabout Theater Company., and starting this season, Second Stage Theatre, which has bought the Helen Hayes. Their Broadway offerings are listed in my Broadway 2016-2017 Preview 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 FleaLabyrinth Theater, and LaMaMa ETC.

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?)