A new Wallace Shawn play is sort of like a lunar eclipse. They don't come around very often and get hardcore enthusiasts for that sort of thing a bit overexcited. The last time a new Shawn sighting happened was in 2000 when Shawn himself, his wife Deborah Eisenberg, and Larry Pine, under the direction of frequent colleague Andre Gregory, performed The Designated Mourner to 30 people a night on several floors of a strange, site-specific space in Manhattan's Financial District. (That play, with the same cast, was recently revived — to refresh our memories, I guess, and get us ready for the latest Shawn attraction.)
Shawn wrote Grasses of a Thousand Colors back in 2008, and the play has been staged in London. Now New Yorkers will finally see the work about a doctor who believes he has solved world hunger by causing animals to tolerate eating their own kind. (Paging Jonathan Swift!) Theatre for a New Audience and The Public Theater will co-produce. Starring are Shawn, Emily McDonell and Jennifer Tilly.
Another rare bird of the fall Off-Broadway season is The Landing, a musical written by John Kander but not Fred Ebb. Ebb died in 2004, and since then the Kander musicals seen in New York have been projects that were finished or partly completed before Ebb's passing (Curtains, The Scottsboro Boys). This new work was co-written with Greg Pierce, who penned the book and lyrics to the three thematically-connected tales of desire, love and loss. David Hyde Pierce, who starred in Curtains, will appear in the Vineyard Theatre production, which begins performances Oct. 3.
An assortment of misfits will get their day in the sun this fall. That includes almost every character in Little Miss Sunshine, the new William Finn-James Lapine musical based on the surprise hit movie about a sad family of washouts, weirdos and would-be suicides. Second Stage will mount this fresh work (beginning Oct. 15) from the team who previously produced the not-bad track record of A New Brain, Falsettos and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The cast includes Hanna Rose Nordberg as little beauty pageant contestant Olive, and Will Chase and Stephanie J. Block as her parents.
Holed up in a seedy motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert, two former lovers unpack the deep secrets and dark desires of their tangled relationship, passionately tearing each other apart. Led by director Daniel Aukin (Back Back Back at MTC, 4,000 Miles), Tony winner Nina Arianda (Venus in Fur at MTC, Born Yesterday) and Sam Rockwell (A Behanding in Spokane, The Way Way Back) bring an explosive intensity to Sam Shepard’s (Buried Child, True West) landmark myth of the new Wild West.