SPRING 2011 OFF-BROADWAY PREVIEW: Shaw Sings! David Auburn's New Idea! Tony Kushner's Latest!

Special Features   SPRING 2011 OFF-BROADWAY PREVIEW: Shaw Sings! David Auburn's New Idea! Tony Kushner's Latest!
David Auburn, Rinne Groff, Tony Kushner, Joshua Schmidt, Lynn Nottage, Matthew Lopez, Ethan Coen, Austin Pendleton, Alfed Uhry and A.R. Gurney are among dramatists finding a home Off-Broadway in 2011.


Michael Esper and Stephen Spinella in The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.
photo by Michal Daniel

Tony Kushner rules.

Just as the Signature Theatre Company revival of his Angels in America was the most highly anticipated event of the fall 2010 Off-Broadway season, the same theatre's New York premiere (in a co-production with the Public Theater) of the playwright's latest, titled — deep breath, now — The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures is arguably the most anticipated arrival of the 2011 winter and spring Off-Broadway season.

Michael Greif will direct the play, previously seen at the Guthrie Theater in early 2009. It's about a retired longshoreman and card-carrying member of the American Communist Party who summons his children to the family's Brooklyn brownstone for a series of shocking announcements. Greif has assembled Kushner favorites like Stephen Spinella and Linda Emond, along with Bill Camp, Michael Cristofer, Michael Esper and Steven Pasquale.

At the Guthrie, Kushner was reportedly finishing the play as it was being rehearsed. Last fall, he told New York magazine, "I find this particular play very frightening, because I don't feel in control. I don't know that I'll get to the bottom of it. It's about old-fashioned Freudian things like death drives: things that are antithetical to progress and hope. But I have to explore it — not to get rid of it but to give it its full voice and power." Should be an interesting ride. Performances begin March 22. (Signature will also present Kushner's loose adaptation of Pierre Corneille's L'Illusion Comique, The Illusion, directed by Michael Mayer.)

Playwright David Auburn and director Mark Brokaw at a rehearsal for The New York Idea.
photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia

Kushner's title is long enough to service two plays. Other artists active this spring, meanwhile, go the duller route by actually having two projects going on. Proof playwright David Auburn will be putting in time as both a director and a writer. The writing gig isn't exactly the follow-up to Proof that many have been waiting for, but an adaptation of The New York Idea, Langdon Mitchell's comedy about a freewheeling divorcee trying to settle down in 1906 New York City society. The original starred the once-famous grand dame of New York theatre who preciously known to one and all only as Mrs. Fiske. Produced by the Atlantic Theater Company, it will run at the Lucille Lortel Theatre beginning in January. Mark Brokaw directs. Later on, in May, Auburn will direct Michael Weller's Side Effects, a sort of sequel to the writer's 2008 work Fifty Words. MCC Theater will produce it at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Austin Pendleton, like Auburn, will wear two hats this coming year. The actor will first direct a new revival of Three Sisters for Classic Stage Company in January, working with Marin Ireland, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Josh Hamilton, Jessica Hecht, Roberta Maxwell, George Morfogen, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Peter Sarsgaard and Louis Zorich. Theatregoers will recognize much of that cast from Pendleton's 2009 CSC production of Uncle Vanya. (Guess they all had such a good time in that show, they decided to hold a reunion.) Then, in April, Pendleton, who is also a praised playwright, will get his new musical, A Minister's Wife, produced by Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. The musical adaptation of Shaw's Candida has a score by Adding Machine composer Joshua Schmidt. This will be Schmidt and Jan Tranen's debut at LCT; Pendleton hasn't worked at the nonprofit since The Little Foxes in 1967.

Olympia Dukakis stars in The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore.

It's a two-fer time for dead playwrights as well. Tennessee Williams' seldom-seen The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore will be presented at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre in January. Olympia Dukakis will star as a wealthy American widow who has detached herself from the world in order to write her memoirs. A more unusual Williams offering will be One-Arm, an adaptation of a Williams short story (and unproduced screenplay) about an ex-boxer turned hustler. It comes from director Moises Kaufman and The New Group and Tectonic Theater Project, and begins in May at Theatre Row.

Scott Elliott, the artistic director of The New Group, directs the nonprofit's other big offering this coming year. It's a revival of New Group favorite son Wallace Shawn's biting play about the breakdown of a marriage, Marie and Bruce. Marisa Tomei and Frank Whaley star, beginning in March.

Playwright Lynn Nottage follows up her breakthrough success, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined, with the quirkily named By the Way, Meet Vera Stark. The play is about a headstrong African-American maid and budding actress, and her tangled relationship with her boss, a white Hollywood star desperately grasping to hold on to her career. Casting and dates are to be announced. Jo Bonney directs.

Also following up a previous stage success is Ethan Coen, who hit it big with his first theatre foray, Almost an Evening, and then did well again with Offices. The screen scenarist is back at the Atlantic Theatre Company with Four Pickups. As is the writer's wont, the production is made up of a series of short plays, this time all centered around, well, pickup trucks. The show begins in April at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn.

Mandy Patinkin in Compulsion.
photo by Joan Marcus

Director Walter Bobbie and playwright David Ives team up for the umpteenth time on School for Lies at CSC, beginning in April. This is Ives' riff of Moliere's The Misanthrope, just as his play of last season, Venus in Fur, was inspired by the famous novella by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.

Actor Mandy Patinkin, director Oskar Eustis and playwright Rinne Groff team up at the Public Theater in February to tell a tale of Compulsion — specifically the real-life compulsion of late novelist Meyer Levin (who wrote the novel "Compulsion") to have his adaptation of "The Diary of Anne Frank" produced on stage. Expect Bunraku puppets.

Ever wonder what a Suzanne Vega musical about Carson McCullers might sound like? Wonder no longer. Rattlestick Theatre will in April present the first-ever theatre work by the neo-folk singer-songwriter. Carson McCullers Talks About Love mixes songs and spoken word in a way that is described as "the meeting of two souls through a work of art."

Another curious new musical on the horizon is Shaggs: The Philosophy of the World, Joy Gregory and Gunnar Madsen's show based on the true story of a working class dad who has a vision of rock 'n' roll destiny for his three talentless daughters. John Langs directs this co-production of New York Theatre Workshop and Playwrights Horizons in May.

Pablo Schreiber will star in Gruesome Playground Injuries.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Finally, I wrote about him in my Broadway 2011 preview, and now I'm writing about him here. He's Rajiv Joseph, the author of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, due on Broadway this spring. Off-Broadway, meanwhile, the playwright will provide Gruesome Playground Injuries at Second Stage in January. Jennifer Carpenter and Pablo Schreiber star in the story of the 30-year journey of two childhood friends whose lives intersect at bizarre intervals, leading them to compare scars and the physical calamities that keep drawing them together. The play premiered in Houston in 2008. Also scheduled for the coming months: The Whipping Man, Matthew Lopez's historical drama about a Confederate soldier and two former slaves who reunite after the Civil War to celebrate Passover, directed by Doug Hughes and starring Andre Braugher at MTC, starting in January; Black Tie, the latest by A.R. Gurney at Primary Stages in January; The Dream of the Burning Boy, David West Read's new play, at the Roundabout's Black Box Theatre, about a secret exposed after the sudden death of a high school overachiever, in February; Kin, the Sam Gold-director Bathsheba Doran play starring Lily Rabe, about a Texan Ivy League poetry scholar and an Irish personal trainer who forge an unlikely new family, at Playwrights Horizons in February; The Other Place, Sharr White's play about a woman researching the molecular basis for Alzheimer drugs, whose private life takes a frightening turn, starring Laurie Metcalf, directed by Joe Mantello, produced by MCC in March; Double Falsehood, a revival of the obscure William Shakespeare and John Fletcher play, by CSC in March; Peter and the Starcatcher, Rick Elice's new play, based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's novel, about how Peter Pan became the boy who would not grow up, directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers in February at New York Theatre Workshop; Go Back to Where You Are, David Greenspan's new play about a forgotten chorus boy from the theatre of Ancient Greece, who, after being stuck in purgatory for 2000 years, is sent on a mission from God to a vacationing family in the Hamptons, at Playwrights Horizons in March; Carl's Sister, Alfred Uhry's play based on Marie Brenner's memoir, "Apples and Oranges," at MTC in May.

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

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