11 Shows You Should See Off-Broadway This Fall
Evangelical Christians, steampunk inventors, and David Bowie: Here's a list of the not-to-be-missed shows opening off-Broadway.
Another fall season of theater dawns in New York City. Like most people, you're too busy to wade through the ocean of casting announcements and season brochures to pick out a winner or two. Luckily, you don't have to. We at TheaterMania have selected the 11 shows from the forthcoming fall season off-Broadway that have us most excited. They include a healthy mix of comedies, dramas, musicals, and shows that don't neatly fit in one category. We're sure there's something here for you.
1. The Christians (Playwrights Horizons) — Started August 28
What happens when a pastor at a mega-church makes a polarizing announcement in front of the entire congregation? You'll find out in this new play by Lucas Hnath, which features a full gospel choir onstage. Hnath has built a reputation for marrying stylized language with provocative subject matter in plays like A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney. This new play promises to do just that, but with an added emotional maturity rarely seen in the theatrical handling of the subject of religion. (Hnath, whose mother is an ordained minister, has expressed his disappointment that so much of the depiction of Christianity in the theater is satirical.)
2. Sex of the Baby (Access Theatre) — Starting September 9
In 2013 Matthew-Lee Erlbach wrote and starred in the solo show Handbook for an American Revolutionary, which TheaterMania hailed as "a rare achievement." Erlbach is set to star in his newest play, Sex of the Baby, but will be joined by five other actors. Capitalism, family, and ethics collide in this dark comedy about a New York couple seeking a surrogate mother. A versatile writer, Erlbach also penned the burlesque musical Eager to Lose, which was told completely through verse. Fans won't want to miss this newest work.
3. Ugly Lies the Bone (Roundabout Underground) — Starting September 10
Mamie Gummer stars as Jess, a wounded Afghanistan War veteran newly returned to Florida and searching for a way to survive in a hometown that seems to have changed more than she has. This world premiere from playwright Lindsey Ferrentino explores the use of virtual-reality video games for therapeutic purposes, with Jess escaping into a virtual world as a way to cope with her pain. Roundabout Underground has been at the forefront of fostering young voices in the theater. Its notable alums include Stephen Karam (The Humans, Speech & Debate) and Joshua Harmon (Significant Other, Bad Jews). This could be your opportunity to catch the next big playwright in an intimate space.
4. Eclipsed (The Public Theater) — Starting September 29
Four "wives" of a commanding officer of the LURD rebel forces in the Second Liberian Civil War live in a dilapidated shack where they form a small family. Lupita Nyong'o (Academy Award winner for 12 Years a Slave) stars as one of these sister wives, all of whom have been assigned a number corresponding to their arrival in the camp. Zimbabwean-American playwright Danai Gurira (In the Continuum) pens this story about the choices (and lack thereof) that women face in times of extreme violence and political upheaval. Eclipsed was highly praised when it made its 2009 premiere with Washington, D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theatre. This production makes its New York debut under the helm of Liesl Tommy, who artfully directed this summer's Informed Consent.
5. Ripcord (Manhattan Theatre Club) — Starting September 29
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) authors this world premiere comedy about a knock-down, drag-out fight in an assisted-living facility. Holland Taylor (Ann) and Marylouise Burke (Fish in the Dark) star as the bickering biddies in what are sure to be dueling tour-de-force performances, especially under the habitually hilarious direction of David Hyde Pierce (It Shoulda Been You). This show is poised to be the most memorable comedy of the season.
6. Futurity (Ars Nova and Soho Rep.) — Starting October 6
Coproducers Soho Rep. and Ars Nova describe this new musical by César Alvarez and his band, the Lisps, as "avant-Americana." Casual observers, however, might just call it "steampunk." It imagines a Civil War soldier and the math genius daughter of Lord Byron endeavoring to create a steam-powered artificial-intelligence machine. Alvarez has been nominated for two Drama Desk Awards for his exciting and folk-infused music (Good Person of Szechwan in 2013 and An Octoroon in 2015). Will the third time be the charm? After a series of workshops, Futurity premiered in 2012 at Cambridge's American Repertory Theater to decidedly mixed reviews. One suspects that the musical has gone through significant fine-tuning in the ensuing three years, building up to its big New York City debut.
7. Incident at Vichy (Signature Theatre) — Starting October 27
One of Arthur Miller's most haunting plays, Incident at Vichy takes place in a detention center in Vichy, France, at the height of World War II. One by one, the men held there disappear. Against the backdrop of this dangerous setting, the characters debate race, class, privilege, and the origin of Nazi ideology. Why are they being detained in an allegedly free part of France? Michael Wilson (The Orphans' Home Cycle) directs this must-see revival that is sure to find new resonance in light of renewed political extremism in Europe and North America.
8. Henry IV (St. Ann's Warehouse) — Starting November 6
Harriet Walter stars as the titular Lancastrian king in this abridged version of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, which is presented as a somewhat meta-theatrical production performed by a troupe of amateur thespians in a women's prison. Director Phyllida Lloyd used the same approach (and Harriet Walter) in her thrilling production of Julius Caesar two seasons ago. In addition to reuniting that team, Henry IV will also mark the first full production at St. Ann's new digs at the old Tobacco Warehouse on Water Street, a not-to-be-missed event in New York theatrical history.
9. Gigantic (Vineyard Theatre) – Starting November 11
This musical premiered at the 2009 New York Musical Theatre Festival under the title Fat Camp. It tells the story of Robert, a hefty teen who has been shipped off for the summer to the third-best-rated weight-loss camp in Southern Pennsylvania. The show features music by Matthew roi Berger (who has exhibited a real talent for penning memorable pop/rock ditties as the front man for the band Teen Girl Scientist Monthly) and lyrics by the chronically funny Randy Blair (Perez Hilton Saves the Universe). Sporting a new title and new director (Scott Schwartz of Bat Boy), Gigantic is going to be massively fun.
10. Lazarus (New York Theatre Workshop) – Starting November 18
Experimental director Ivo van Hove returns to New York Theatre Workshop for this world premiere following his widely acclaimed production of Scenes From a Marriage. Lazarus is based on Walter Tevis' 1963 science fiction novel, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and features music by David Bowie (who starred in the 1976 film adaptation). Bowie is collaborating with Irish playwright Enda Walsh, who won a Tony Award in 2012 for his book to the musical Once. Michael C. Hall is slated to play the lead role of Thomas Newton, an extraterrestrial who comes to Earth seeking refuge for the dwindling population of his home planet. Rarely do so many stars from disparate worlds align off-Broadway.
11. Once Upon a Mattress (Transport Group) — Starting November 29
Like a topsy-turvy version of Camelot, Mary Rodgers' Once Upon a Mattress is a musical comedy set in a medieval world of knights, wizards, and princesses. It tells the story of Prince Dauntless and his less-than-dainty damsel Winnifred the Woebegone. This major revival (prompted by the success of a benefit reading in 2013) stars Jackie Hoffman (On the Town) and John Epperson (better known as Lypsinka). This show represents something of a homecoming for Epperson, who first tread the boards in an amateur production of Once Upon a Mattress. He played Sir Studley ("casting cruelly against type," he remarked to TheaterMania). Now that he's a beloved star, he's playing a role a little more suited to him: The Queen.