Why This Off-Broadway Season Is the Strongest in Years

Special Features   Why This Off-Broadway Season Is the Strongest in Years Don’t take our word for it. Actors, directors, and artistic directors explain why these 9 playwrights need to be on your radar this spring.
Kirsten Childs, Mfoniso Udofia, Martyna Majok, Meghan Kennedy, and Chisa Hutchinson
Kirsten Childs, Mfoniso Udofia, Martyna Majok, Meghan Kennedy, and Chisa Hutchinson

If you’re planning on seeing some Off-Broadway theatre this spring—you’re in for a treat. The season features a talented mix of established playwrights—including the Pulitzer Prize-winning pair Annie Baker and Suzan-Lori Parks, writer and composer Kirsten Childs, and two-time Pulitzer finalist Gina Gionfriddo—as well as some up-and-coming talent that must be on your radar, if they aren’t already. What’s more, they all happen to be women.

Annie Baker
The Antipodes, April 4–June 11 at the Signature Theatre

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Cast Joan Marcus

Audiences have been clamoring to see Annie Baker’s The Antipodes; demand for tickets has been so high, the Signature Theatre has extended the world-premiere engagement four times. The play is set in a writers’ room for an ambitious television project and looks at the different ways in which we tell stories. Critics have praised the production, making it the latest in a string of Off-Broadway successes for the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright that includes John, Circle Mirror Transformation, and The Flick.

“Annie is one of the most psychologically astute people I know, and the acuteness of her insight into the subterraneous stirrings of the human heart and mind has always distinguished her work for me,” says Lila Neugebauer, who directs The Antiopdes.

“Her ear is uniquely sensitive; she charts the ways we communicate—and fail to communicate—with hilarious and heartbreaking specificity, and she attends to every micro-moment of a play's world onstage with meticulousness and rigor,” continues Neugebauer. “Annie is compassionate but unsentimental when it comes to her characters, uncompromising in her vision for the theatre, and unafraid to take audiences down paths for which they have no pre-existing road map.”

You can still sign up for waitlist tickets to see The Antipodes at the Signature Theatre’s box office one hour prior to each performance. Visit SignatureTheatre.org for more information.

Kirsten Childs
Bella: An American Tall Tale, May 19–July 2 at Playwrights Horizons and The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, July 26—27, New York City Center
You could say that composer, lyricist, and writer Kirsten Childs is having a moment in the spotlight. After Playwrights Horizons debuts her new musical, Bella: An American Tall Tale, in the spring, New York City Center will revive her earlier work, the delightful, yet culturally subversive The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin in the summer.

“She’s brilliant,” says Robert O’Hara of Childs, who is directing both musicals Off-Broadway. A fellow playwright (O’Hara won an Obie in 2006 and a Lambda Literary Award in 2015), he’s also her biggest cheerleader. “I’m there to allow her imagination to be as full as possible and encourage her to be bold, which she already is. It’s exciting to see her flourish.”

With Bella, Childs is truly letting her imagination run wild. As the name would suggest, it’s a story with some unbelievable elements. Set in the 1870s, the show takes the audience on the trip of a lifetime through the Wild West, complete with a train robbery and buffalo soldiers. At the heart of this story is Bella: a young African-American woman on the run, played Off-Broadway by Ashley D. Kelley.

Visit PlaywrightsHorizons.org for tickets and more information.

Gina Gionfriddo
Can You Forgive Her?, May 4–June 11, The Vineyard Theatre

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Amber Tamblyn Carol Rosegg

“I said yes to doing Gina’s play two weeks after giving birth to my daughter, so that will tell you how powerfully affected I was by reading her work,” says Amber Tamblyn, who is starring in the New York premiere of Can You Forgive Her? The production marks Gina Gionfriddo’s return Off-Broadway following the success of Becky Shaw in 2008 and Rapture, Blister, Burn in 2012, two plays which earned the playwright Pulitzer Prize nominations.

Read More: WHY EMMY NOMINEE AMBER TAMBLYN CHANGED HER MIND ABOUT WORKING ONSTAGE

“Gina has such a powerful voice as a playwright and really knows how to write multi-dimensional female protagonists. I love that she doesn’t write women as heroines. She writes them as real; violent, depressed, funny, strong, broken, and insane,” says Tamblyn.

Can You Forgive Her? takes place on Halloween night, and follows a woman who is drowning in debt and fleeing from a date who has threatened to kill her.

Visit VineyardTheatre.org for tickets and more information.


Chisa Hutchinson
Somebody’s Daughter, May 23–June 18, Second Stage Theatre
Second Stage Theatre launches its 2017 Uptown series at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre with the world premiere of resident playwright Chisa Hutchinson’s Somebody’s Daughter. Three generations of women find their identity in question in the new play, which sees a Chinese-American guidance counselor help a protégé deal with gender-bias.

“For me, Chisa's work is relatable, funny, and emotional with nuanced characters and captivating arcs,” says Michelle Kim, who stars in Somebody’s Daughter. “I love that her work is female-driven and explores social issues without bias.”

New York City native Hutchinson says that you’re “not likely to see any of her plays on Broadway any time soon,” but the playwright is fast making a name for herself elsewhere. The Lilly and GLAAD Award winner has had work presented by the Lark, City Parks’ Summerstage, the National Black Theatre, New Dramatists, and Atlantic Theater Company.

Visit 2ST.com for tickets and more information.

Meghan Kennedy
Napoli, Brooklyn, June 9–September 3, Roundabout Theatre Company

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Meghan Kennedy and cast Joseph Marzullo/WENN

In between writing plays for Roundabout Theatre Company, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and The Geffen Playhouse—for which Meghan Kennedy is currently under commission—the Brooklyn-based playwright is also writing for NBC’s anticipated new series Rise (previously Drama High).

The newest work by the Ars Nova alum, Napoli, Brooklyn, arrives Off-Broadway following a hit world premiere at Long Wharf Theatre. The coming-of-age drama takes place in Park Slope during the 1960s, and follows three sisters who find themselves at odd with their parents’ traditional values.

“I am so excited to welcome playwright Meghan Kennedy back to Roundabout for her second production. Her play Too Much, Too Much, Too Many premiered as part of the 2013 Roundabout Underground season, and, in the spirit of the Underground program, Meghan has remained a cherished and active member of our family ever since,” says Roundabout Artistic Director Todd Haimes. “In fact, Napoli, Brooklyn began as a Roundabout commission, and I am honored to have been able to watch this script grow over the last few years to become the phenomenal piece that it is now. Though set nearly 60 years in the past, Napoli, Brooklyn asks questions about family, tradition, and freedom that are just as pressing today.”

Visit RoundaboutTheatre.org for tickets and more information.

Martyna Majok
Cost of Living, May 16–July 16, Manhattan Theatre Club
“I was only halfway through reading Cost of Living when I knew I wanted to work with Martyna. Her voice is so specific and authentic. She knows her characters so well that she can ground them and still let us hear the poetry in the small quotidian moments of life,” says Jo Bonney, who directs the New York premiere at MTC.

Women’s Project Lab alum Martyna Majok returns Off-Broadway following the success of last year’s critics’ pick, Ironbound. Her newest play—about the ways in which abled and disabled bodies meet each other—was written specifically for and in collaboration with actors with disabilities. The play was a hit at last summer’s Williamstown Theatre Festival, which is co-producing the Off-Broadway production.

“She's giving voice to characters that we rarely see onstage and actors who really own, and can deliver,” continues Bonney. “Being in the room with her each day as she kept exploring and rewriting was exactly why I love working on new play. She's so sure of her voice but completely open to the process—and in many ways, this is just the beginning of the wonderful body of work ahead for her. I'm proud to be part of that launching.”

Visit CostofLivingPlay.com for tickets and more information.

Dominique Morisseau
Pipeline, June 15–August 27, Lincoln Center Theater
Dominique Morisseau returns Off-Broadway following the success of last year’s Skeleton Crew, the third play in her acclaimed Detroit trilogy. The production was a sold-out hit, prompting a return engagement and furthering Morisseau’s reputation as a talented writer with a keen eye for depicting real issues facing society today. Her newest work, Pipeline, follows the relationship between an inner-city public high school teacher and her only son.

“Dominique is an American original,” says Karen Pittman, who stars in Pipeline. “She has a distinctive style. Her characters’ voices are imbued with song and melody, and there are long swaths of color and pathos in her language.

“When you hear her talk about her stories, you hear her commitment to a truthful reflection of her life experience and all its joy and humor and pain, seen through the prism of compassion. My mentor Zelda Fichandler would say: ‘The artist IS her brushstroke,’ and this idea could not be more powerful than in the writing of Dominique Morisseau.”

Visit LCT.org for tickets and more information.

Suzan-Lori Parks
Venus, April 15–June 4, The Signature Theatre

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Zainab Jah and John Ellison Conlee Joan Marcus

Suzan-Lori Parks made headlines in 2001 as a Pulitzer Prize finalist and MacArthur Genius winner, and again in 2002 as the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama for her play Topdog/Underdog—but the playwright was making waves in the theatre long before, and continues to do so. The Signature Theatre is celebrating Parks’ impressive body of work through a yearlong residency, and up next is a revival of her 1996 play Venus. The piece depicts the real-life journey of Saartjie Baartman, whose large bottom made her the unfortunate star of 19th century London’s freak-show circuit.

“It's a really thrilling, and meaningful, time to be sharing Suzan-Lori Parks' plays with New York audiences,” says the Signature’s Literary Manager Jenna Clark Embrey. “I think her Signature season really showcases a stylistic and thematic journey though her body of work. Parks has always been a deeply prescient writer, and her continued cultural relevancy is now resonating deeply with a new generation of theatregoers.”

In the fall, the theatre will stage Parks’ The Red Letter Plays: F***ing A and In the Blood, presented together for the first time.

Visit SignatureTheatre.org for tickets and more information.

Mfoniso Udofia
Sojourners and Her Portmanteau, April 22–June 11, New York Theatre Workshop
Mfoniso Udofia is on a mission to make the African immigrant in America visible. Her epic, nine-part Ufot Cycle chronicles the triumphs and losses of a Nigerian immigrant woman living in America, and the legacy she builds through her experiences. Two of the plays are now playing at New York Theatre Workshop, where they’ve recently been named New York Times’ critics pick.

“Mfoniso burrows deep into the collective and individual hearts of the characters she creates, exploring both the cultural landscape they come from, and the new one that is alien to them,” says NYTW’s artistic director James Nicola. “Most of all, she wants their voices, their beings, to be seen and to be heard. And in illuminating their specific and delicious lives, she reveals universal human experience.”

Visit NYTW.org for tickets and more information.

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