War Zone: A Preview of the Fall 2008 Off-Broadway Season

News   War Zone: A Preview of the Fall 2008 Off-Broadway Season
 
War and politics, two of the main things on the American public's minds this fall, will also be mulled by the Off-Broadway theatre this fall.
Cast members of Hair.
Cast members of Hair. Photo by Michal Daniel

One could say that active contemplation of such weighty matters began even earlier in the Off-Broadway season with the just-ended Delacorte production of Hair. The Public Theater revival of the sixties rock musical reminded critics and theatregoers that the hippie-dippie musical wasn't all about flower powers and free love. Political change and an unpopular war overseas were also weighing heavily on those gentle rebels. "Let the Sunshine In" wasn't just a feel-good anthem — it was a plaintive, almost desperate plea.

Off-Broadway will place another Vietnam-era play in a modern context when the Roundabout Theatre Company revives David Rabe's Streamers, about four young soldiers in 1965 Virginia who anxiously wait for their call to Vietnam. Roundabout regular Scott Ellis directs at the Laura Pels Theatre, beginning Oct. 17. The Aquila Theatre reaches even further back in history — to World War II — with their new adaptation of Joseph Heller's Catch-22. The 1961 darkly comic story about the utter absurdity of war begins Nov. 14.

Other plays this fall deal with war in the here and now. Stephen Belber's new Geometry of Fire, beginning Nov. 13 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, centers on "an investment banker-turned-Marine-sniper recently returned from Iraq [and] a Saudi-American who just wants to get laid," and is based on a true story, according to press notes.

Farragut North's John Gallagher Jr.
photo by Aubrey Reuben

The Atlantic Theatre Company will host, come Oct. 22, the once-Broadway-bound, once-Mike-Nichols-directed Farragut North by Beau Willimon. Doug Hughes directs the political tale about a high-flying press secretary whose career falls apart during a tight presidential primary race. Willimon worked for politician Howard Dean during his 2004 presidential run. Playwright Michael Weller's Beast will be unleashed by New York Theatre Workshop, opening Sept. 15. Directed by Jo Bonney, the "blood-red comic road adventure" is about two mutilated, but patriotic Iraqi War veterans making their way home from a military hospital in Germany to Crawford, TX, where they meet a certain leader of state. Weller is having quite a fall. Another play of his, Fifty Words, made its premiere at MCC Theatre Sept. 10. Norbert Leo Butz and Elizabeth Marvel star in the story of two parents whose life goes off the track shortly after they send their son to a sleepover. Austin Pendleton directs.

Another family self-destructs in Three Changes, the first new play by Nicky Silver in some time. A married couple played by TV actors Dylan McDermott and Maura Tierney are doing fine until Nate's wayward brother Hal shows up from Hollywood. Wilson Milam directs toward an opening on Sept. 16 at Playwrights Horizons. Three people who may or may not be a family are also having a hard time of it in Lee Blessing's mysterious idea play A Body of Water, which arrives at Primary Stages Sept. 30. Maria Mileaf directs the piece, which has absurdist tones that have reminded past reviewers of Ionesco and Pirandello.

Prayer for My Enemy's Jonathan Groff
photo by Aubrey Reuben

More clannish angst can be found in A Prayer for My Enemy, Craig Lucas's tale of one family battling its secrets as the Yankees battle the Red Sox for the 2004 AL title. Victoria Clark, who starred in Lucas' The Light in the Piazza, leads a cast that includes Skipp Sudduth and Jonathan Groff, under the direction of Bartlett Sher, another Piazza vet. Performances begin Nov. 14 at Playwrights Horizons. A quartet of actors will be making their debut as playwrights this fall. The first such bow opened at the Atlantic Sept. 10 with What's That Smell: The Music of Jacob Sterling. Two-time Tony nominee David Pittu has penned this portrait of "a musical theatre artist you've never heard of," played by Pittu himself. Sterling will play from his obscure musical oeuvre in the satiric work, which is co-directed by Pittu and ATC artistic director Neil Pepe.

Primary Stages, meanwhile, will host Love Child, the child of actors Daniel Jenkins and Robert Stanton. The comedy centers on "the night a classic play spoke so loudly to its audience that its audience felt compelled to talk back." Stanton and Jenkins will, of course, also star in the piece. (As an actor, one doesn't go to the bother of writing a play just to hand over the thing to some lesser performers.) Performances begin Oct. 12.

On Dec. 7 Naked Angels will present The Gospel According to Adam, a new play by Naked Angels artistic director, and professional actor, Geoffrey Nauffts. The play asks what happens when an Atheist falls for a Christian.

Road Show's Michael Cerveris
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Some will argue that the event of the fall Off-Broadway season will be the New York debut — finally! — of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Mizner Brothers musical, now titled Road Show. Through the years-long journey of this long-gestating show, only Mssrs. Sondheim and Weidman have remained constant. Everything else has shifted. The presenting house this time will be the Public Theater. The director, John Doyle. The stars, Michael Cerveris and Alexander Gemignani. The show begins Oct. 28. Another musical that's been around a long time, Enter Laughing, gets another shot this fall, courtesy of the York Theatre Company. The show originally bowed on Broadway as So Long, 174th Street in 1976, and is based on Joseph Stein's play, which was based on Carl Reiner's semi-autobiographical novel. Stein's still around, though his composer, Stan Daniels, died last year. Josh Grisetti stars as hapless would-be actor David Kolowitz, and Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker are Mother and Father. George S. Irving, always the trooper, re-creates his original role of Marlowe in the production, which officially opened Sept. 10.

A guy not know for musicals, John Patrick Shanley, also has a musical, written in collaboration with a guy who is known for musicals, composer Henry Krieger. Called Romantic Poetry, the show, bowing Sept. 30 at Manhattan Theatre Club, is about two newlyweds, "Connie of Woodmere" and "Fred of Newark," who are having a little trouble with their respective exes. Expect Shanley in his hyper-romantic "Moonstruck" mode. Shanley also directs, because, why stop at becoming a librettist-lyricist of a musical comedy, when you can also suddenly become a director of a musical comedy?

In a category by itself will be The Grand Inquisitor, a rare production by legendary Paris-based, English-born director Peter Brook. He will bring Marie-Hélène Estienne's adaptation of the Inquisitor section of Dostoyevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" to New York Theatre Workshop Oct. 22-Nov. 23. The Centre for International Theatre Creations/Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord staging will be a co-presentation with Theatre for a New Audience. Actor Bruce Myers stars.

Other noteworthy attractions include: Lady, the latest from playwright Craig Wright, coming to the Rattlestick; a new look at the two-hander The Fourposter, courtesy of Keen Company, beginning Oct. 7; a New Group production of Kevin Elyot’s Mouth to Mouth, beginning Oct. 20 at The Acorn Theatre; a new production of Shakespeare's The Tempest with Mandy Patinkin, opening Sept. 18 at CSC; a revival of Howard Korder's Boys' Life at Second Stage beginning Oct. 2; Saturn Returns, a new work by playwright Noah Haidle, starting Oct. 16 at Lincoln Center Theater; Samm-Art Williams' Home, the second attraction in Signature Theatre Company's season of Negro Ensemble Company plays; Taking Over, a new piece by performance artist Danny Hoch, at the Public; a new production of Martin McDonaugh's The Cripple of Inishmaan, at the Atlantic, beginning Dec. 9; and a revival, starting Oct. 10 at Irish Rep of The Master Builder, by Henrik Ibsen, who wasn't Irish at all.

Writer’s Note: There are a myriad of new Off-Broadway productions during the fall of 2008, and this overview is not meant to be exhaustive.

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