The anxiety and unease that has been the norm for most Americans during this unorthodox and contentious election year, with its seemingly daily horrors and unsettlingly surreal occurrences, is reflected in the line-up of plays and musicals to be seen this fall Off-Broadway.
No characters across the Gotham theatrical landscape express their disquiet as well as the Gabriels, the clan at the center of a year-long trilogy by playwright Richard Nelson being staged by the Public Theater. The spiritual descendants of the Apple family seen in Nelson’s popular quartet of dramas (also presented by the Public), the Rhinebeck-based Gabriels will come to life in two works this fall: What Did You Expect?, starting September 10, and Women of a Certain Age, beginning November 4, four days before Election Day.
The cast is the same in both plays: Meg Gibson, Lynn Hawley, Roberta Maxwell, Maryann Plunkett, Jay O. Sanders and Amy Warren, all under the direction of Nelson. Expect thoughtful conversation and naturalistic performances and to hear the words “Hillary” and “Trump” a lot.
The group of close friends at the heart of Sweat, Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage’s new play—also at the Public, from October 18—aren’t feeling much more sanguine about the future than the Gabriels. Rumors that the local factory in their Pennsylvania town will be laying off some of its workers sends shock waves through the community. Kate Whoriskey directs.
Disenchantment with the political and social structures of another time and nation are depicted in a new revival of David Hare’s seminal work Plenty at the Public Theater, commencing October 4. Rachel Weisz stars in this damning examination of frittered-away opportunities in post-WWII England. David Leveaux directs.
The role of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans in America’s past and present—an issue that has been indelibly woven into the political discourse of the past year—is examined in a variety of ways through a collection of coming Off-Broadway attractions:
Nat Turner in Jerusalem, presented at New York Theatre Workshop from September 7, is a new play by Nathan Alan Davis that imagines Turner, who led a slave uprising in 1831, during his final night in a jail cell in Jerusalem, Virginia. Megan Sandberg-Zakian will direct. Marie and Rosetta, set a century later, takes a look at Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a musical legend in her time who is considered an influential force on what would become rock and roll, but who nonetheless died largely unknown. George Brant wrote the play, which will be directed by Neil Pepe, and opens officially at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater on September 12. Rebecca Naomi Jones and Kecia Lewis Marie star.
Where Did We Sit on the Bus? is both the name of a new one-man show by Brian Quijada, and the question by a third-grade Latino boy that inspired it. The history lesson that provoked the question? The central Civil Rights story of Rosa Parks and her fateful ride on a Montgomery bus. The show, which will feature Latin rhythms, rap, hip-hop, spoken word and live looping, will start September 10 at Ensemble Studio Theater.
The personal disconnect bred by social media and our shared but separate digital lives is expressed in several new works. Tiny Beautiful Things by Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), based of a book by Cheryl Strayed, is about Sugar, an anonymous online advice columnist read by thousands of people. Thomas Kail directs, from November 15 at the Public. At the Roundabout Theatre’s Laura Pels Theatre, Kingdom Come depicts two thirtysomethings who connect through an online dating site, and fall for each other fast and hard. One possible snag: They’re both pretending to be someone else. The Jenny Rachel Weiner work begins October 7 directed by Kip Fagan.
The unknowable nature of our fellow beings is further explored in Layover at Second Stage, which asks what we ultimately know about the strangers sitting next to us. Two people who try to find out during a layover at an airport get more than they bargained for. Trip Cullman directs the Leslye Headland play, which stars Quincy Dunn-Baker, Arica Himmel, Annie Parisse, John Procaccino, Adam Rothenberg and Amelia Workman. Previews began August 9; performances run through September 18.
A different group of people find a very particular way to reach each other—through food—in Aubergine, a new play by Julie Cho, now in previews at Playwright Horizons. Characters include a man who shares a bowl of berries, a young woman who falls in love; a mother who prepares a bowl of soup to keep her son from leaving home; and a son who cooks a meal for his dying father. In this production, also directed by Kate Whoriskey, food says what words can’t.
Further unexpected connectedness may be found in The Band’s Visit, a new musical by playwright Itamar Moses and composer David Yazbek at the Atlantic Theater Company beginning in November. Tony Shalhoub heads the cast in this story of an Egyptian Police Band that arrives in Israel to play a concert, but is mistakenly sent to a remote village in the middle of the desert, where they are taken in by the locals.
Nate Martin, the “hopelessly single” character at the heart of A Life, a new play by Adam Bock, has no one to cook for, or do anything with actually. So he turns to the stars for answers, pouring over astrological charts to find his his place in the cosmos. Previews commence at Playwrights Horizons September 30.
Playwright Nicky Silver and director Mark Brokaw are back together at the Vineyard Theatre, starting November 3, with the new play This Day Forward, about grown children who wrestle with the secrets of their parents. Playwright Neil LaBute also returns to his spiritual home, MCC Theater, with the new work All the Ways to Say I Love You. Judith Light stars in the piece, directed by Leigh Silverman, about a high school English teacher and guidance counselor, “and the cost of fulfilling an all-consuming desire.” Previews begin September 6.
Solo performer Sarah Jones returns to the New York stage after a long absence in Sell/Buy/Date at Manhattan Theatre Club, from September 27. The show, directed by Carolyn Cantor, is inspired by the real-life experiences of people affected by the sex industry. (Understand the play-on-words title, now?)
Playwright Qui Nguyen draws on her own parents’ story to create Vietgone, a boy-meets-girl story that happens to take place between refugees from the Vietnam War newly settled in a relocation camp in America. The Manhattan Theatre Club production directed by May Adrales begins October 4.
Also set in the past in Love, Love, Love, in which Londoners Kenneth and Sandra embrace the Summer of Love, with no inkling of what their future as responsibility-laden parents will entail. The Mike Bartlett play is directed by Michael Mayer, at the Roundabout from September 22.
At LCT’s Claire Tow Theater, Davis McCallum direct’s Samuel D. Hunter’s new play The Harvest, which is set in the basement of a small church in Southeastern Idaho, where a group of young missionaries is preparing to go to the Middle East. One of them has bought a one-way ticket. But his sister has her own mission: to keep him home. Previews start October 8.
Other shows on offer this autumn include: a new production of the 1960s hit Shelagh Delaney play A Taste of Honey, directed by Austin Pendleton, at the Pearl Theater from September 6; a new staging (and U.S. premiere) of Ibsen’s Public Enemy, also at the Pearl, from September 29; Verso at New World Stages starting September 19; Duat, a play by Daniel Alexander Jones described as “an incandescent performance in three parts… a little bit vaudeville, a little bit rock and soul,” at Soho Rep beginning October 11; a new look at Athol Fugard’s Master Harold…and the Boys, directed by the author, at Signature Theatre Company starting October 18; a new production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ The Death of the Last Black Man in the Entire World, at the Signature beginning October 25; Ride the Cyclone, a new musical by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell that follows a youth chamber choir in the aftermath of a death-by-roller-coaster accident, at MCC from November 9; and Rancho Viejo, Dan LeFranc’s play about how a broken marriage effects a community miles away, from November 11, directed by Daniel Aukin, at Playwrights Horizons.
(Author's Note: Because the Off-Broadway season, like the 2016 Presidential election, is seemingly without end, this list is in no way intended to be comprehensive.)