The 9 Best Off-Broadway Shows of 2015
2015 saw an unusually fertile crop of off-Broadway productions, especially new plays by rising young playwrights. In alphabetical order, here are the ones we found memorable.
Rebecca Naomi Jones stepped back into the Broadway footlights in a big way this year as one of only two actresses to play the role of the sidekick-cum-love-interest Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. But before taking on that beloved role, Jones took on an even more classic part: that of one of the 50 daughters of Danaus from Aeschylus' The Suppliants. In this case, Jones played the part of Lydia in Charles L. Mee's Big Love, a fast-paced adaptation of the classic play. Infused with Mee's more modern sentiments and Tina Landau's "unapologetically chaotic vision," the Signature Theatre Company revival was both shocking and shockingly relevant.
First Daughter Suite
When you give Michael John LaChiusa free reign of his imagination and the most talented actresses working in theater, you're bound to end up with some onstage magic. More than 20 years after writing First Lady Suite, he brought in some of America's daughters to join their mothers at the Public Theater for four vignettes that ranged from the brilliantly inane to the hauntingly poignant. Never before has the Bush family been more compelling, Nancy Reagan more terrifying, or the Iran hostage crisis more whimsical.
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins touches on dangerously significant subject matter in Gloria, his dark comedy that ran at the Vineyard Theatre. From the mundanity of office work to its dissection of contemporary media culture, Gloria is as hilarious as it is disturbing — and then all hell breaks loose with one of the most explosive and unexpected act-one finales ever. Performed with terrifying realism by a game cast (many of whom were making their off-Broadway debuts) and intensely directed by Evan Cabnet, Gloria was unforgettable.
Plays in which all hell breaks loose when a dysfunctional family gathers for a holiday dinner are a dime a dozen, but Stephen Karam brilliantly reinvents the trope in The Humans. Sweet and sad, brutally funny, and positively petrifying, Karam and director Joe Mantello create a world where one severely bruised group of people attempt to confront and defy their greatest fears in a basement duplex in Chinatown. With a thoroughly magnificent company led by stage greats Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell, the production will make a well-deserved move to Broadway in early 2016.
Annie Baker made her sizable mark (three hours to be exact) on the off-Broadway scene with The Flick, a play about the ordinary lives of three small-town movie-theater employees that has enjoyed two lengthy runs at the Barrow Street Theatre. But it's her equally exhaustive John, which follows a weekend in the life of a Pennsylvanian bed-and-breakfast owner and her guests, which opened recently enough to earn a spot on our list of this year's off-Broadway bests. And the play does exercise some of Baker's storytelling muscles that were left unused in The Flick: most notably a "buildup to scary" that is equal parts chilling and hilarious.
Let the Right One In
After an acclaimed run on London's West End, John Tiffany's haunting production of Let the Right One In crossed the Atlantic, landing at Brooklyn's St. Ann's Warehouse last January. Though its run was nearly a year ago, the startling drama made more than enough of an impression to land it a spot on our best of off-Broadway list. Not only did the dramatic tension created by Tiffany (along with sound designer Gareth Fry) have us "jumping out of our skin," the tender love story between Oskar (Cristian Ortega) and Eli (Rebecca Benson) left the audience with more than a few lingering tears.
Jennifer Haley's futuristic drama The Nether made its New York debut at MCC's Lucille Lortel Theatre near the beginning of 2015, but the gloriously disturbing production has stayed lodged under our skin all year long. It stayed only a short while but has remained one of the season's most timely plays, posing ethical questions about the laws that govern realms of artificial reality. Anne Kauffman also directed one of the most unnerving love triangles ever to grace the New York stage (featuring Sophia Anne Caruso, one of our young favorites of 2015).
No playwright has more accurately captured the fears and desires of this current generation of young people than Joshua Harmon in his play Significant Other. The perils of office crushes, the awkwardness of non-dates, and the fear of being the only single person in your social circle come to life with as much beautifully excruciating pain as we experience in the real world. Trip Cullman's Roundabout Theatre Company production benefited from a perfect cast led by Gideon Glick, who delivered a true tour de force, and Lindsay Mendez, who proved that her acting chops are just as strong in straight plays as they are in musicals.
Strangemen & Co.'s poetic dramatization of L. Frank Baum's story of the Tin Woodman (of future Wizard of Oz fame) first opened off-Broadway in 2014, but fortunately, its return engagement at 59E59 Theaters this past January qualified it for a spot on our 2015 list. With "intoxicating charm" and hardly any dialogue, the barebones production featured a fluid company of puppeteers that tore out your heart right alongside the story's hollowed protagonist. The piece is set for a third off-Broadway turn this January, so check back in a year to see if the Tin Man makes our 2016 list as well.