Reality is a slippery business for many of the characters inhabiting the plays that fill the winter and spring seasons Off-Broadway in 2014. Twenty-first century citizens find themselves caught in a 1930s melodrama; puppets take on shocking personalities; present-day deals are brokered to arrange for people can meet in the afterlife; a renter takes on the life of his landlord without missing a step; and the all-encompassing stream of information that fills the air we breathe these days threatened to subvert normal, everyday life.
Veteran British playwright Caryl Churchill, ever concerned with the (usually misguided, in her view) direction of society, tackles the last of these subjects in her Love and Information, a new play to be presented at Churchill's usual New York home, New York Theatre Workshop, starting Feb. 4. In keeping with the theme of too much information, the drama has 57 scenes, runs 110 minutes and asks 16 actors to play more than 100 characters. Those numbers all combine to tell a warning story about technology's speedy wearing away at our privacy and ability to feel. James Macdonald directs.
The future is not the problem for the characters in Sarah Ruhl's new play Stage Kiss, which will begin Feb. 7 at Playwrights Horizons. Their trouble is the past, in more than one sense. Two forty-something actors — once lovers in their youth — are now cast opposite each other in an obscure 1930s play about — wait for it — two middle-aged people who were once each other's first loves. Existential complications ensue. Jessica Hecht and Dominic Fumusa star.
In Hand to God, the temptations of Satan emerge from the mouth of Tyrone, a sock puppet with a mouth like a sailor. Tyrone's antics and advice take the good people of the Christian Puppet Ministry of Cypress, TX, by surprise, and drive them to unexpected behaviors. A critically acclaimed hit at Ensemble Studio Theatre in the 2011-12 season, the play now begins performances at MCC Theater Feb. 19. Original cast members Geneva Carr and Steven Boyer repeat their roles.
The hand of God is just as mysterious to the protagonist of Ken Urban's The Correspondent, running at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater from Jan. 29. In this story, a husband grieving the loss of his wife hires a dying woman to deliver a message to her in the afterlife. Soon after, sure enough, he begins receiving letters from his dead spouse. Though he instigated the correspondence, he can't help but wonder if he's the object of divine intervention or a con job.
|Photo by Joan Marcus|
There's no doubt about the level of conning going on in The Tribute Artist, the latest by playwright Charles Busch. In the very Buschian plot, an out-of-work female impersonator (who do you think might play that part?) takes on her identity of his elderly landlady when the owner of a valuable Greenwich Village townhouse dies in her sleep. (Anyone who doesn't understand the impersonator's motivations obviously doesn't live in New York.) Previews begin Jan. 21 at Primary Stages. A few dramas in the coming months play out against the backdrop of wartime. Arlington, a new musical, premieres at Vineyard Theatre Feb. 12. The work, which represents the return to the New York stage of composer Polly Pen, tells of Sara Jane, whose equilibrium is upset by the last few messages left by her husband Jerry, who is away at war. Victor Lodato wrote the book and lyrics. The woman in David Grimm's new Tales From Red Vienna, meanwhile, has already lost her husband in World War I. Her financial security unsettled, she becomes part of an illicit underworld. The hot young actress Nina Arianda co-stars with veteran Kathleen Chalfant. Previews begin at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage I Feb. 26.
Classic Stage Company presents a classic war drama, reviving Bertolt Brecht's A Man's A Man beginning Jan. 10. Artistic director Brian Kulick directs Justin Vivian Bond in the story of Galy Gay, a dockworker whose character is utterly changed through exposure to the military. Duncan Sheik contributes new music to the production.
The war at home is depicted by a slew of plays that deal with the trials and tribulations of marriage. The best known of these is Donald Margulies' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama-comedy Dinner With Friends. Heather Burns, Marin Hinkle, Darren Pettie and Jeremy Shamos play the story's two middle-aged couples—one falling apart, the other struggling to not do the same. Previews begin Jan. 17 at Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre.
In Kirk Lynn's Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra — set for Playwrights Horizons from March 28 on — Carla agrees to marry Reggie on one condition: They re-enact their individual sexual histories for each other. Anne Kauffman directs the new work at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the pregnant — and randy — wife in Penelope Skinner's The Village Bike, running at MCC from May 21. Unsuccessful in attracting the attention of her spouse, she takes off in search of adventure. Sam Gold directs.
The woman at the center of Annapurna by Sharr White is already divorced. Nonetheless, when she hears her former hubby is in trouble, she tracks him down in the Colorado wilderness. Megan Mullally stars in this production by The New Group, which is piloted by Bart DeLorenzo. Kauffman additionally directs the world premiere of Stephen Belber's comedy The Muscles in Our Toes, about four friends who meet at their high school reunion, at the LAByrinth Theater Company. Finally, two post-marriage people — the man is widowed, the woman divorced — unexpectedly uncover romance in A Second Chance, a new musical by Ted Shen, starting at the Public Theater March 18.
Blood ties, as opposed to marital vows, provide the focus of several other new plays in the coming months. The Happiest Song Plays Last, a new play by Quiara Alegría Hudes at Second Stage, beginning in February, is about about two cousins, one who gets a lucky break in the film business, and the other who takes on the role of family matriarch. Ruben Santiago-Hudson directs. At Lincoln Center Theater, Ayad Akhtar's The Who and the What is about a writer who clashes with her traditional father and sister over her book about women and Islam. Previews begin May 31. In Cinderella/Cendrillon, playwright Joël Pommerat tells of a young girl who becomes obsessed with her mother's final words. New York Theatre Workshop presents the play in May. Finally, Intimacy, a new Thomas Bradshaw work at The New Group, takes on the story of three families who all live in the same well-manicured American town. Scott Elliott directs a strong cast led by the fine stage veteran Daniel Gerroll, who has not been seen on the New York stage in some years. Previews begin Jan. 14.
Despite the look of the above paragraphs, the fall line-up isn't entirely made up of the work of young-and-upcoming playwrights. There are a few veteran writers among the upcoming attractions. At the Signature Theatre Company, David Henry Hwang offers his latest, Kung Fu, beginning Feb. 4. The play tells the story of a young martial artist who comes to American from Hong Kong in the 1960’s with dreams of becoming the biggest movie star in the world. That young man is Bruce Lee. Rattlestick has the newest by Craig Lucas, a drama called Ode to Joy beginning Feb. 12. A story of "love, heartbreak, addiction, and illness," it is centered on Adele, a painter, and her two lovers, Mala and Bill.
Dramatist Nicky Silver joins forces once more with The Lyons director Mark Brokaw and actress Linda Lavin on the new Too Much Sun at Vineyard Theatre. The comedy is about a celebrated actress who, after unraveling while preparing for a production of Medea, decides to spend the summer with her married daughter. Also on board with new work is Stephen Adly Guirgis, whose new play Between Riverside and Crazy… is about an ex-cop and recent widower and his ex-con son's struggle to hold on to their rent-stabilized apartment. It will play the Atlantic Theatre Company in May.
|Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Also on offer in the coming months: A new production of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, adapted and directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney, at the Public Theater from Feb. 18; a new staging of Sartre's No Exit at the Pearl Theatre Company from Feb. 25; a fresh rendition of Brecht's and Weill's classic musical The Threepenny Opera at the Atlantic Theater Company, directed by Martha Clarke, commencing March 12; a spring Soho Rep staging of An Octoroon; a new version of the Sheridan Restoration comedy The Rivals at the Pearl Theatre Company, beginning April 22; The Few, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater's production of Samuel D. Hunter's play about a man who returns to the newspaper he created, four years after he abandoned it; Roy Williams' adaptation of Alan Sillitoe's classic short story, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, at the Atlantic Theatre Company from Jan. 8; the Greg Edwards-Andy Sandberg two-hander Craving for Travel, beginning Jan. 9; The Open House, a new play by Will Eno at the Signature Theatre Company from Feb. 11; Stop Hitting Yourself, the world premiere Rude Mechs' play borrowing the plots of 1930's musicals to dig deep into the contemporary conservative dilemma, at Lincoln Center Theater from Jan. 13; The Heir Apparent, David Ives' adaptation of Jean-François Regnard's comedy about a young man waiting for his uncle to die so he can collect his inheritance, at Classic Stage Company from March 27; When We Were Young and Unafraid, a new play starring Cherry Jones and directed by Pam MacKinnon, at Manhattan Theatre Club from May 22; and Cutie and Bear, the world premiere of Bekah Brunstetter’s play about the relationship between a married man and financially strapped young woman, at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre. Editor's Note: The New York Off-Broadway season is vast in its offerings and variety. This overview is by no means meant to be exhaustive or complete. Check out our Off-Broadway listings for more information throughout the season.