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.
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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.
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