OFF-BROADWAY SPRING PREVIEW: Passion, Terrence McNally, The Last Five Years, Jesse Eisenberg, Neil LaBute, Edie Falco
By Robert Simonson
Everyone in the theatre gets excited by new work. Fresh dramatic ink, after all, is the lifeblood of the theatre. And we're going to get plenty of that this coming winter and spring Off-Broadway, with new titles by the likes of John Guare, Regina Taylor, Terrence McNally, Craig Lucas, Annie Baker, Tanya Barfield and Amy Herzog.
But some of the most intriguing projects of the upcoming months in New York come in the form of revivals — both plays that are seldom seen, and familiar titles given an unfamiliar twist.
Like Santa's bag of toys, the Off-Broadway season is bottomless. This telling of coming attractions is in no way intended to be comprehensive, exhaustive or complete. Dates and personnel are subject to change.
Stephen Sondheim productions are not rare in New York, but they usually land on Broadway, and are almost never undertaken by Off-Broadway nonprofits. Classic Stage Company breaks with that tradition by presenting a new production of Sondheim and James Lapine's tale of anguished, unquestioning love, Passion. Seasoned Sondheim interpreter John Doyle directs. Melissa Errico, Judy Kuhn and Ryan Silverman comprise the romantic triangle in this story about an ugly, broken woman who pursues a handsome soldier who is already in love with another woman. Previews begin Feb. 7. CSC will also mount a new production of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, with Christopher Lloyd in the cast, beginning May 2.
Jason Robert Brown's autobiographical two-hander musical The Last Five Years got a decent amount of attention when it premiered Off-Broadway in 2002, but not nearly as much as had his previous work, Parade. The show has had a healthy regional life since, however, and it reputation has grown. Second Stage will on March 7 bring back the musical telling of the rise and disintegration of a relationship in which one party enjoys professional success while the other sinks into embittered failure. Brown will direct. Betsy Wolfe and Adam Kantor will star. (The original leads were Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott.)
Playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman takes on a subject favored by writers over the years with his new work Clive. The inspiration of the world premiere is Bertolt Brecht's early play Baal, about a debauched poet who sails through life flouting bourgeoise values, but leaving behind him a series of spurned lovers and a murder. Here, Baal is a songwriter in 1990s NYC. Ethan Hawke both directs and stars. Also in the cast are Brooks Ashmanskas, Vincent D'Onofrio and Zoe Kazan. Previews begin at the New Group at Jan. 17.
The late Lanford Wilson will be well-represented in Manhattan in 2013. The Roundabout Theatre Company will present the playwright's best-known play, Talley's Folly, at the Laura Pels Theatre beginning Feb. 8. Michael Wilson will direct Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson as the Jewish immigrant and the Protestant nurse he loves. Beginning a few weeks later, on Feb. 26, at the Signature Theatre Company's home, will be Wilson's lesser-known early success The Mound Builders. Jo Bonney will direct the story a team of archeologists excavating the remains of a Native American civilization.
Primary Stages had one of the biggest, and most defining, hits of its existence when it presented David Ives' series of absurd one-acts All in the Timing in 1993. Both theatre company and playwright had thrived since then; Primary Stages opened a shiny new home since then. Starting Jan. 23, the company will present the 20th anniversary revival of Ives' work. John Rando will direct.
About the new work mentioned in the introductory paragraph, 2013, Off-Broadway has cooked up a nice stew of works by both venerated practitioners and rising hopes. John Guare took a decade delivering his last new play, A Free Man of Color. No such wait this time around. Three Kinds of Exile, about three exiles from Czechoslovakia and Poland who forged complicated lives in the West, will begin previews sometime in winter/spring at the Atlantic Theater Company, with Neil Pepe directing. Also at the Atlantic, starting Feb. 13, is The Lying Lesson, the latest by Craig Lucas. Carol Kane stars as a woman who may or may not be a legendary movie star who shows up to buy the home of an elderly couple. Anna D. Shapiro directs. A third Atlantic attraction, beginning Jan. 9, will be The Jammer, a new play by Rolin James, whose work The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow also premiered at the company. This drama about a man who joins the Brooklyn Brown Devils roller derby team will be directed by Jackson Gay.
The Revisionist would just be considered actor Jesse Eisenberg's follow-up to his Rattlestick Playwrights Theater success Asuncion, if its were not for an eyebrow-raising cast member. Starring alongside Eisenberg in this story about a science fiction writer with writer's block who travels to Poland to stay with his 73-year-old cousin is none other that Vanessa Redgrave. Previews begin Feb. 6.
At the Flea Theatre, The Vandal, a new play by Hamish Linklater, about a woman who meets a boy at a bus stop in Kingston, NY, will feature Deirdre O'Connell, Zach Grenier and Noah Robbins. Previews begin Jan. 18.
The ridiculously prolific Richard Nelson is back with Nikolai and the Others at Lincoln Center Theater, a play about a 1948 gathering that includes choreographer George Balanchine, composer Igor Stravinsky, conductor Serge Koussevitsky, painter/set designer Sergey Sudeikin and composer Nikolai Nabokov. Previews begin April 4.
At the Signature, meanwhile, starting April 23, Regina Taylor's ---- And Potatoes, about a book publisher who faces the challenge of how to adapt his business in the rapidly changing digital age, is part of the company's new-works program called Residency Five.
Did you think Lyle Kessler stopped writing plays after Orphans. (That drama, his most famous, will premiere on Broadway this spring.) Well, he didn't. Proof comes in the form of Collision, the world premiere of Kessler's dark comedy about the collision of three students, a professor, and a stranger in a college dormitory. Terry Kinney — the Steppenwolf Theatre Company actor who appeared in the famous 1980s Chicago production of Orphans — will direct at the Rattlestick beginning Jan. 8.
Amy Herzog, who handed Lincoln Center Theater a big fat hit with her 4,000 Miles, returns Off-Broadway with Belleville, about a young married American couple that moves from the Midwest to Paris. It plays New York Theatre Workshop beginning in February. Anne Kauffman directs.
Annie Baker, of Circle Mirror Transformation and the recent talked-about adaptation of Uncle Vanya at Soho Rep, has The Flick, a Playwrights Horizons premiere about three underpaid employees in a run-down movie theatre in central Massachusetts. Sam Gold directs.
Lincoln Center Theater's Claire Tow Theater, which has been providing numerous young, unknown scribes with opportunities, offers Luck of the Irish, the world premiere of Kirsten Greenidge's play about an upwardly mobile African-American couple that pays a struggling Irish family to "ghost-buy" a house for them in 1950s Boston. (Shades of Clyborne Park?) Previews begin Jan. 28. And Edie Falco adorns the Manhattan Theatre Club world premiere of The Madrid, a Liz Flahive play about a woman who decides to walk away from her life, leaving her daughter to pick up the pieces.
A pair of interesting musical projects will grace the stages of the Public Theater and Playwrights Horizons. The former will host Here Lies Love, the world premiere of David Byrne and Fatboy Slim's musical about Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos, starting April 2. And the latter will be the home from May 18 of Far From Heaven, a tuneful version of the Todd Haynes film by Richard Greenberg, Scott Frankel and Michael Korie. If it were up to me, I'd say those two project might want to switch titles.
Also in the offing this coming winter and spring: MCC Theater's Reasons to be Happy, Neil LaBute's sequel to reasons to be pretty, and Really Really, the New York premiere of Paul Downs Colaizzo’s play about the ugly gossip that threatens a group of undergrad friends the morning after a wild party, directed by David Cromer; a new Theatre for a New Audience staging of Much Ado About Nothing, beginning Feb. 2 at The Duke, with Jonathan Cake and Maggie Siff as the sparring lovers; The Dance and the Railroad, a revival of David Henry Hwang's drama about two Chinese workers on a California mountaintop near the Transcontinental Railroad in 1867, from Feb. 5 at the Signature Theatre Company; also at the Signature, from Feb. 12, Old Hats, in which Clowns Bill Irwin and David Shiner reunite to create a new work using music, technology, and movement; The Old Boy, a revival of A.R. Gurney's memory play set at a New England prep school, by the Keen Company, starting Feb. 12; the Public Theater premiere of Detroit '67, Dominique Morisseau's play, set in 1967 Detroit, about a brother and sister who turn their basement into an after-hours joint; the Barrow Street Theatre presentation of Hit the Wall, Ike Holter's rock-propelled drama about the birth of the gay rights movement outside New York City's Stonewall Inn (just blocks from the theatre) on June 27, 1969; The North Pool, the Vineyard Theatre's hosting of the New York premiere of Rajiv Joseph's thriller about a high school principal and a Middle Eastern-born transfer student who engage in a politically and emotionally charged game of cat and mouse, commencing in February; the English language premiere of a play by Guillermo Calderón (who also directs) about actress Olga Knipper, Anton Chekhov's widow, produced by the Public Theater from March 1; the Playwrights Horizons world premiere of Tanya Barfield's play The Call, about a couple that decides to adopt a child from Africa, beginning March 22; the Pearl Theatre Company presentation of Terrence McNally's new play, And Away We Go, which time-travels from ancient Athens to London's Globe Theatre, from Versailles's Royal Theater to the first reading of a new play by Chekhov, and to the American premiere of Waiting for Godot, directed by Jack Cummings III, starting April 19; a new Theatre for a New Audience production, starting April 21, of five short plays by Samuel Beckett; Bunny Berman Presents…, a New Group production of Ayub Khan Din and Paul Bogaev's musical set in a failing 1950s Bollywood studio, directed by Scott Elliott, beginning in April; Basilica, the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater mounting of a Mando Alvarado's play about the Catholic Church and Texas pride, from May 1; in April and May, Transport Group's The Memory Show — a new musical by Zach Redler and Sara Cooper, starring Catherine Cox and Leslie Kritzer — about a mother and daughter facing hardship and disease; and a revival of the Anita Loos comedy Happy Birthday, by the acclaimed TACT/The Actors Company Theatre, in March and April.
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