OFF-BROADWAY FALL PREVIEW 2011: King Lear, Linda Lavin, David Hyde Pierce and Lanford Wilson Will Shine

Off-Broadway's 2011 fall season includes new works by Michael John LaChiusa, Nicky Silver, Zoe Kazan, Jesse Eisenberg and Stephen Karam, plus classics featuring stars — Dianne Wiest in The Cherry Orchard and Sam Waterston climbing the mountain of King Lear, for example. Here's a tour of some of the varied Off-Broadway attractions of the coming months.

Zoe Kazan
Zoe Kazan

*

In recent Off-Broadway seasons, actors are not only providing performances that anchor new plays, but the plays themselves. Zach Braff's All New People, at Second Stage, was this past summer's major example of this trend, which tends to spotlight the writing of actors who have achieved a measure of fame on the big and small screens.

This fall, we have two examples of the phenomenon. Manhattan Theatre Club will present We Live Here, a play by Elia Kazan descendent Zoe Kazan. She has been blazing a trail on stages on Broadway and Off in recent seasons ( Come Back, Little Sheba; The Seagull; A Behanding in Spokane), as well as television ("Bored to Death") and film ("It's Complicated," "Revolutionary Road"). The play is about a wedding that is upended by the return of the bride's younger sister. The cast includes Jessica Collins, Jeremy Shamos, Betty Gilpin, Mark Blum, Amy Irving and Oscar Isaac. Sam Gold directs Kazan's New York playwriting debut, which opens Oct. 12.

Asuncion playwright Jesse Eisenberg
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

On that same day, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater will present the first preview of Asuncion, a play by actor Jesse Eisenberg of "The Social Network" fame. The work is about two friends — one who maintains a blog condemning American Imperialism, and the other working on a PhD in Black Studies. The righteous duo get to prove how open-minded they are when a young Filipina woman becomes their new roommate. The production stars Eisenberg himself, as well as Remy Auberjonois, Camille Mana and Justin Bartha — who happened to also star in Braff's play.

Rattlestick will also host Horsedreams, the new play by Yellowface author Dael Orlandersmith, opening Nov. 17. Gordon Edelstein directs the tale of a father who has to raise his son alone when his wife dies of an accidental overdose. The Lyons by Nicky Silver must be a good play. Linda Lavin passed up two Broadway offers — the new revival of  Follies and Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities — to star in it. Lavin plays the matriarch of a family named Lyons and, like most Silver families, this is not a happy clan; they all gather together to grapple with the impending death of daddy Ben Lyons, played by Dick Latessa. Opening at the Vineyard Theatre is Oct. 11.

The fall line-up offers two star turns in classical plays. Sam Waterston — who has been easing himself back into stage work ever since the end of "Law & Order" — takes on what is arguably the biggest assignment of his career (or any actor's career): playing the lead role in a new production of King Lear. The show, directed by James Macdonald, will be at the Public Theater. Waterston has a long history with the nonprofit. During founder Joe Papp's reign, he was one of the theatre's most famous Hamlets and a Benedick that ran on Broadway. Lear's daughters will be played by Enid Graham (Goneril) and Kelli O'Hara (as Regan). (The faithful Cordelia is yet to be cast.) Michael McKean is Gloucester, John Douglas Thompson is Kent, Seth Gilliam is Edmund and Arian Moayed is Edgar. Previews begin Oct. 18 for the brief one-month run.

John Turturro
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

At Classic Stage Company, meanwhile, Dianne Wiest returns to Chekhov. She was Arkadina in The Seagull a few seasons back. This fall, she is the equally feckless and selfish Madame Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard, under the direction of Andrei Belgrader. John Turturro will play Lopakhin, the former serf who buys the titular orchard. The limited engagement begins Nov. 16.

Last season, Elevator Repair Service rocketed to the penthouse of publicity with their eight-hour adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel "The Great Gatsby," Gatz. Now they're back with The Select (The Sun Also Rises), their working of Fitzgerald's friend and rival Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." It's the last in a trilogy which includes the previous ERS production The Sound and the Fury. Sun won't be as long as Gatz — only three hours or so; ERS is using only the dialogue, not the whole text. Guess Hemingway's characters were more chatty than F. Scott's. Opening is Sept. 11 at New York Theatre Workshop.

Joanna Gleason in Sons of the Prophet.
photo by Paul Marotta

Writers like to write about wordsmiths, and so a few of the plays in the pipeline feature scribblers and editors as characters. Stephen Karam's Sons of the Prophet, opening Oct. 20 at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre, is about a flailing, former star book editor (played by Joanna Gleason) who thinks she's found her redemptive project in the story of a tragedy-prone Lebanese family in Pennsylvania. David Hyde Pierce plays a different sort of distraught book editor in Molly Smith Metzler's Close Up Space at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage I, opening Dec. 19. Leigh Silverman directs. And,  Jeff Talbott's The Submission, opening Sept. 27 at MCC Theater, concerns a young white playwright ( Jonathan Groff) who writes under what he thinks sounds like a black woman's name ("Shaleeha G'ntamobi") to get his new play noticed. When it gets accepted into a major play festival, he hires a black actress (played by Rutina Wesley of "True Blood") to play his nom de plume.  Walter Bobbie directs. Ironically, Talbott achieved this premiere through a pivotal play submission; he was the inaugural winner of the Laurents-Hatcher Award, created by the late Arthur Laurents.

Karl Miller and Aubrey Dollar in Completeness.
photo by Joan Marcus

Other coming autumn attractions include: Completeness, Itamar Moses' new pay about a computer scientist who falls in love with a molecular biologist, at Playwrights Horizons, now in previews; The Wood, the world premiere of Dan Klores' play about larger-than-life Daily News and New York Post columnist, Mike McAlary, at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, now in previews; a new revival of Ionesco's classic The Bald Soprano, opening Sept. 25 at the Pearl Theatre Company; a new Keen Company production of Lanford Wilson's Lemon Sky, opening on Sept. 27; Motherhood Out Loud, a collection of short plays about parenthood by Leslie Ayvazian, David Cale, Jessica Goldberg, Beth Henley, Lameece Issaq, Claire LaZebnik, Lisa Loomer, Michele Lowe, Marco Pennette, Theresa Rebeck, Luanne Rice, Annie Weisman and Cheryl L. West, directed by Lisa Peterson at Primary Stages, beginning Sept. 20; Transport Group Theatre Company's premiere staging of Michael John LaChiusa's new musical Queen of the Mist, about a 63-year-old who survives a barrel-plunge over Niagara Falls ( Mary Testa stars), in October; The Actors Company Theatre (TACT) revival of A.R. Gurney's lesser-known Children, beginning Oct. 18; the Public Theater production of solo artist Mike Daisey's latest, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, beginning Oct. 11; Blood and Gifts, Bartlett Sher's staging of J.T. Rogers' drama about a CIA agent's involvement in the 1980s Soviet-Afghan War, at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, opening Nov. 21; The Blue Flower, Jim and Ruth Bauer's new musical exploring the relationships between four young friends amidst the turbulence of World War I, at Second Stage, beginning Oct. 12; Animals You Should Know, Thomas Higgins' play about a father chaperoning a wilderness scout camp trip, from MCC Theater, beginning Nov. 3; and Outside People, Zayd Dohrn's Beijing-set comedy about a young American man who falls in love with a Chinese woman, a co-production of Naked Angels and Vineyard Theatre, starting in December.

(Any given Off-Broadway season is huge and multifarious. This list contains only a selection of the coming attractions and is not meant to be a complete tally in any way, shape or manner. Visit Playbill.com's Off-Broadway listings for more information throughout the season.)