Fall Off-Broadway Preview: Vets and Rock Stars Fill the Stages in Edgy Updates to the Classics

News   Fall Off-Broadway Preview: Vets and Rock Stars Fill the Stages in Edgy Updates to the Classics
 
The fall Off-Broadway season is filled with award-winning actors who have gone behind the limelights to direct innovative new works that explore gender, race and politics. 

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New York Theatre Workshop is always a hive of edgy creative work, but this fall it will be the epicenter of high-profile, experimental New York theatre, with presentations by Elevator Repair Service and Ivo van Hove, both avant-garde demi-gods.

ERS is a frequent guest on the NYTW stage, with productions like The Sun Also Rises and Gatz, adapted from Hemingway and Fitzgerald, respectively. But did you know that ERS has never worked with a living author? True. Until now. Fondly, Collette Richland is by Sibyl Kempson and will run from Sept. 11. The story begins when Mr. and Mrs. "Fritz" Fitzhubert are summoned through a secret door in their living room. What follows includes Alpen hotels, mysterious employees, perilous hikes and ancient deities. (Paging Wes Anderson!)

ERS will be followed by Lazarus, the latest from that busy Belgian, Ivo van Hove, who is also making his Broadway debut this fall with A View From the Bridge. The show, starting Nov. 18, and starring Michael C. Hall, is inspired by the 1963 novel The Man Who Fell to Earth about an alien who crash lands on our planet. The title is best known as a 1976 film starring David Bowie, who will compose new songs for this production.

Michael C. Hall will star in <i>Lazarus</i>
Michael C. Hall will star in Lazarus

Giving NYTW some competition on the border-budging front is Theatre for a New Audience, which, beginning Sept. 6, will offer Isolde, the latest from director-writer Richard Maxwell. Inspired by the legend of Tristan and Isolde, it stars Gary Wilmes, an old hand at Maxwellian weirdness. Also breaking the rules in Brooklyn will be Henry IV at St. Ann’s Warehouse. St. Ann’s had a critical and popular hit in 2013 with its presentation of a British, all-female production of Julius Caesar set in a women’s prison. Director Phyllida Lloyd and actress Harriet Walter are back to apply the same high concept to a new Shakepearean work. It begins Nov. 6.

Also from the UK, as well as Berlin, is the Gob Squad, which will present Before Your Very Eyes at the Public Theater from Oct. 17. This unusual piece was created over the course of the past two years with the help of 8-14 year olds from around New York City. The audience sits behind one-way mirrors as seven lives are lived in fast forward.

Also at the Public will be First Daughter Suite, beginning Oct. 6. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a sequel of sorts to the 1993 musical First Lady Suite, and is written by the same composer, Michael John LaChiusa. Last time around, he wrote songs for Presidents’ wives. This time, it’s Presidents’ daughters. The cast features Alison Fraser, Mary Testa and Barbara Walsh.

A different sort of revisiting of an old musical idea comes with Rothschild and Sons, a new, one-act, revision of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock's 1970 musical The Rothschilds, focusing on the relationships between the patriarch of the family, Mayer Rothschild, his wife Gutele, and their five sons. It will begin at the York Theatre Oct. 6.

Mary Testa
Mary Testa

In contrast to most actress’ careers, as Lois Smith gets older she seems to enjoy more opportunities. The veteran actress, now in Annie Baker’s John, will star in Marjorie Prime at Playwrights Horizons from Nov. 20. In Jordan Harrison’s story, set in the age of artificial intelligence, the 86-year-old Marjorie has a handsome new companion who’s programmed to feed the story of her life back to her.

But Smith is not alone in her stalwartness. The fall is filled with new turns by seasoned actresses. Tonya Pinkins will star in a new Classic Stage Company production of Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, starting Dec. 9. Jayne Houdyshell and Joyce Van Patten are part of the ensemble of The Humans, a new family drama from Stephen Karam, directed by Joe Mantello, at the Roundabout Theatre Company from Oct. 2.

Redoubtable comic actress Kristine Nielsen is back on the boards at Playwright Horizons as a mad-as-Hell mom in Hir, Taylor Mac’s new comedy about a household in turmoil. It starts Oct. 16. And playwright David Lindsay-Abaire will reunite with his most frequent muse, actress Marylouise Burke, in Ripcord, at Manhattan Theatre Club from Sept. 29. The play is about two roommates in an assisted living facility — one grumpy, one excessively cheerful — who do not get along. David Hyde Pierce directs.

Another actor who, like Pierce, has taken up directing is Cynthia Nixon. This fall, she’s at bat twice. First up, from Sept. 24, is Motherstruck, Staceyann Chin's solo show about her personal journey to motherhood as a single woman, lesbian and activist, at the Lynn Redgrave Theater. Then comes Steve, a Mark Gerrard play about a failed Broadway chorus boy turned stay-at-home dad facing yet another birthday. It will be produced beginning Nov. 3 by The New Group, where Nixon has performed many times. The cast features Nixon’s old “Sex and the City” co-star Mario Cantone, as well as Jerry Dixon and Malcolm Gets.

Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong returns to the theatre with These Paper Bullets! at the Atlantic Theater Company. The show, beginning Nov. 20, is a "modish rip-off" of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, telling the story of the Quartos: “Their fans worship them. Scotland Yard fears them. And their former drummer will stop at nothing to destroy them.” Rolin Jones is the co-author.

Billie Joe Armstrong
Billie Joe Armstrong

More quasi-Shakespearean fun comes in the form of Hamlet in Bed, a new play by Michael Laurence at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Laurence himself stars as a neurotic actor and adoptee obsessed with two things — finding his real mother and playing the melancholy Dane. The barfly he thinks is his mother will be played by Annette O’Toole. The production opens Sept. 10. 

Peter Parnell is back with his first new play in a while, Dada Woof Papa Hot, which will start at Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi E. Newhouse on Oct. 15. Scott Ellis will direct the piece about an older gay married couple with a three-year-old daughter and a life they fought decades to be allowed to lead — a life that may be falling apart. Also at LCT, but at the smaller Claire Tow, will be Kill Floor, the story of a woman who returns to her hometown after three years in prison and takes a job at the local slaughterhouse. The problem: Her 15 year-old son is a passionate vegetarian. It begins Oct. 3.

Sweatshirts and tracksuits arrive like nightmare garments from the future in Important Hats of the Twentieth Century, beginning Nov. 10 at Manhattan Theatre Workshop. Sam Greevy is the 1930s New York fashion designer whose life is overturned by the advent of modern casual clothing in this Nick Jones work.

Finally, the most writing-est offering of the fall will begin Sept. 2 at 59E59 Theaters, where six playwrights have adapted as many short stories by Tennessee Williams. The writers are Elizabeth Eglofg, Marcus Gardley, Rebecca Gilman, David Grimm, John Guare and Beth Henley. Michael Wilson directs. (Busy Wilson will also pilot a new rendition of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy, staring Oct. 27 at the Signature Theatre Company.)

The title? Well, desire is the real subject of any Williams work, isn’t it?

Matt McGrath, Keith Nobbs and Dave Thomas Brown in <i>The Legend of Georgia McBride</i>
Matt McGrath, Keith Nobbs and Dave Thomas Brown in The Legend of Georgia McBride Photo by Joan Marcus

Also of offer these coming autumnal evenings: a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Pearl Theatre from Sept. 8, running in rep with Ionesco’s The Chairs, which opens Sept. 21; The New Morality, a 1920 Harold Chaplin play in which manners and morality clash aboard a houseboat on the Thames in 1911; The Quare Land, John McManus’ play about an old Irish farmer confronted with an unexpected opportunity, from Sept. 22 at Irish Repertory Theatre; the Paul Gordon and John Caird musical Daddy Long Legs, about an orphan who is sent to college by an anonymous benefactor, but with a catch, at the Davenport Theatre starting Sept. 10; Travels With My Aunt, an adaptation of Graham Greene’s comic novel, presented by Keen Company and starring Thomas Jay Ryan and Daniel Jenkins, commencing Sept. 29; Trip of Love, a new dance musical spectacle inspired by and set to the biggest hit songs of the 1960s, beginning Sept. 26 at Stage 42; The Christians, a new play by Lucas Hnath, about a pastor who shakes up his congregation, at Playwrights Horizons, opening Sept. 17; Matthew Lopez’s new music-filled comedy The Legend of Georgia McBride, about a stressed Elvis impersonator in Florida, opening Sept. 9; also set in Florida, Ugly Lies the Bone by Lindsey Ferrentino, about a war veteran who tried to fix her broken hometown with virtual reality video game therapy, starting Sept. 10 at the Roundabout; a new production of Cloud Nine, directed by seasoned Caryl Churchill hand James Macdonald, at the Atlantic Theater Company from Sept. 16; Clever Little Lies, a new comedy from Joe DiPietro, starring Marlo Thomas as a meddling mother, at Westside Theatre-Upstairs, from Sept. 18; Eclipsed, at the Public Theater, from Sept. 29, Danai Gurira's story of survival and resilience set in post-colonial Africa; Songbird, a new musical by Michael Kimmel and Lauren Prichard about a fading country star who returns home to Nashville, starring Kate Baldwin, at 59E59 Theaters from Oct. 20; Lost Girls, starting Oct. 22, John Pollono's drama about at a blue-collar family struggling to rise above their limited prospects, starting at MCC Theater on Oct. 22; The Bachelor, at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre from Nov. 7, a Caroline V. McGraw play set inside a series of houses on a fraternity row; Barbecue, the Public Theater’s presentation of Robert O'Hara's new comedy about a freighted family gathering, from Sept. 22; Motti Lerner’s Hard Love, arriving Sept. 29 from the Actors Company Theatre, set in In Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Me’a She’arim district; Perfect Arrangement, at Primary Stages from Sept. 29, a Topher Payne comedy set during the ‘50s, in which "the worlds of 'I Love Lucy' and Edward R. Murrow clash"; Invisible Thread, from Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews, about a young man from New York City who volunteers for a project in Uganda, from Oct. 31 at Second Stage; and Night Is a Room, at Signature Theatre Company, commencing Nov. 3, a world premiere from playwright Naomi Wallace.

Author’s Note: the Off-Broadway season, like the Universe, is unknowable and without end; this listing of shows is by no means meant to be exhaustive.

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