Homecomings: A Preview of the 2009 Off-Broadway Season

Homecomings: A Preview of the 2009 Off-Broadway Season Many a happy return will occur during the 2009 Off-Broadway season.
Susan Stroman
Susan Stroman Photo by Aubrey Reuben

One such homecoming is even called Happiness. It is the second collaboration between director-choreographer Susan Stroman and librettist John Weidman. Their first such work was the 1999 hit Contact, a landmark credit for both artists, and a long-running attraction for Lincoln Center Theater. This time, they're teamed up with Grey Gardens composers Michael Korie and Scott Frankel to tell the story of a group of New Yorkers caught on a subway train. Opening is March 30 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse.

Also coming back to the New York theatre after a hiatus will be playwright Lisa Loomer. Many thought her 2003 play Living Out, about the tangled web of modern-day child care, was one of the best of that season. Her new work, Distracted, at the Roundabout Theatre Company, is again about parenthood. Cynthia Nixon, who memorably expressed troubled motherhood in Rabbit Hole, plays a mother who attempts to figure out if Attention Deficit Disorder is the root of her son's problems. Opening is March 4.

Back after her twin 2004 successes, Intimate Apparel and Fabulation, is playwright Lynn Nottage. Her Ruined will open at Manhattan Theatre Club on Feb. 10. The drama, set in a small mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is about Mama Nadi, a shrewd businesswoman in a land torn apart by civil war. Nottage and director Kate Whoriskey traveled to Africa as research for this play. Whoriskey will also direct Inked Baby, Christina Anderson's play about a woman who asks her sister to help her make the child that she and her husband cannot. Tony winner LaChanze stars. Previews begin at Playwrights Horizons March 5.

Also at Playwrights Horizons is The Savannah Disputation, a new play by PH favorite Evan Smith, whose work has not been seen in Manhattan since Psych in 2001. Walter Bobbie directs the piece about a Catholic spinster who lets a door-to-door Pentecostal missionary inside her home. The experienced cast includes Reed Birney, Marylouise Burke, Dana Ivey and Kellie Overbey.

Playwright Douglas Carter Beane had one of the biggest hits of his career with 2005's The Little Dog Laughed at Second Stage. He and the nonprofit team up again with another slice of celebrity culture satire, Mr. & Mrs. Fitch, a play about husband and wife gossip columnists with names like nineteenth-century stage stars. Scott Ellis directs. Opening is in April.

Ethan Coen
photo by Doug Hamilton

Oscar winner Ethan Coen, who found a career beyond filmmaking last season when his collection of one-acts, Almost an Evening, became a hit at the Atlantic Theater Company, has quickly produced a new trio of short plays, entitled Offices. It will premiere in the spring. The Mint Theater Company found success some seasons back with a forgotten play by nobody-knew-he-was-a-playwright novelist D.H. Lawrence. The troupe will go back to the well with The Widowing of Mrs. Holyroyd, which is set in a coal-mining village. Previews begin Feb. 4. New productions of classic plays will come from a variety of sources this winter and spring. Irish Repertory Theatre will stick close to what it does best, presenting a new look at Brian Friel's Aristocrats. Charlotte Moore will direct the 1979 play about a family gathering for the wedding of the youngest sister. Opening is Jan. 25. Classic Stage Company will continue to explore the plays of Anton Chekhov, reviving Uncle Vanya. Austin Pendleton will direct an enviable cast, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mamie Gummer, Denis O'Hare, Peter Sarsgaard and Louis Zorich. First preview is Jan. 17. The New Group, not normally known for presenting plays of great age, will have a go at O'Neill's lengthy and seldom-seen twist on The Oresteia, the three-act Mourning Becomes Electra. The long show will be done with a meal break. In the cast are Mark Blum, Robert Hogan, Jena Malone and Lili Taylor. The marathons begin Jan. 27 at the Acorn.

Uncle Vanya's O'Hare, Gyllenhaal and Sarsgaard

Theatre for a New Audience will do back-to-back productions of two of the Bard's best, Othello and Hamlet. The first, beginning Feb. 14, is a new eight-actor, two-hour long production of the classic Shakespeare drama, directed by Arin Arbus. The second, beginning March 15, will star Christian Camargo as the young Dane, and will be directed by David Esbjornson. New works by living playwrights include Chasing Manet, a Tina Howe play about two residents of the Mount Airy Nursing Home who plot to escape to Paris aboard the QE2. The Primary Stages show, starting March 24, will bring Jane Alexander back to the stage. The productive Theresa Rebeck gives Playwrights Horizons her latest, Our House, a comedy about a reality show. Michael Mayer directs, commencing in May.

Bartlett Sher and Craig Lucas
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Mark Wing-Davey and Craig Lucas team up at the Public Theater for the ambitious The Singing Forest. The play, which gets underway April 7, intertwines today's world, Freud's inner circle in 1930's Vienna, and Paris at the end of World War II. Also at the Public, Christopher Durang has the funniest title of the season with his Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them. Previews of the story about a paranoid woman who wonders if her husband is a terrorist, and if her father is a government agent, begin March 24. Other attractions due in the coming months include: Lansky, a one-man show starring Mike Burstyn as a certain Jewish gangster, opening Feb. 5 at St. Luke's; playwright Donald Margulies' latest, and the longest-titled play of the season, Shipwrecked! An Entertainment—The Amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont (As Told by Himself), opening Feb. 8 at Primary Stage; This Beautiful City, a new work about the growth of the evangelical movement in Colorado Springs by those quasi-documentarian reality-robbers The Civilians, beginning Feb. 3 at the Vineyard Theatre; That Pretty Pretty; Or, the Rape Play, the provocatively titled Sheila Callaghan play about a man having a bit of trouble with life, starting Feb. 10 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre; Zooman and The Sign, the Signature Theatre Company revival of Charles Fuller's play, and a part of the troupe's examination of the legacy of the Negro Ensemble Company; Handball, The New Group's production of Seth Zvi Rosenfeld's play about a quickly gentrifying neighborhood, opening May 14 at the Acorn; Coraline, an MCC Theatre world premiere of Stephin Merritt and David Greenspan's new musical about a lonely girl who steps through a door into a perfected replica of her own world, beginning May 6 at the Lucille Lortel; The Good Negro, Tracey Scott Wilson's play about the 1960's American Civil Rights Movement, at the Public Theater starting March 3; The Third Story, a new play by Charles Busch starring Kathleen Turner, presented by MCC at the Lucille Lortel, from Jan. 14 on; and Things of Dry Hours, Naomi Wallace's about Tife Hogan, a black Sunday school teacher and Communist Party leader, living in Depression-era Alabama, at New York Theatre Workshop.

Writer's Note: There are a myriad of new Off-Broadway productions during the winter and spring of 2009; this overview is not meant to be exhaustive.