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6 Shows You Should See in January

From documentary theater to big gay ballet, there's something for you in New York this month.

Even in the dead of winter, the theater in New York remains very much alive. While three new Broadway shows are set to open this month, January will also experience a tsunami of small experimental shows. This happens every year, coinciding with the annual conference of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP). As boundary-pushing artists vie for the attention of presenters and agents, this is your best opportunity to catch their work — but don't hesitate to snag tickets: The runs tend to be very short. I've highlighted a few such shows, as well as some high-profile offerings toward the end of the month.

Jon Levin stars in Josh Luxenberg's adaptation of Kafka's A Hunger Artist, directed by Joshua William Gelb, at the Connelly Theater.
(© Kelly Stuart)

1. A Hunger Artist (running until January 18)
This is a stage adaptation of Franz Kafka's short story about a performance artist whose act is to literally starve himself. It played a brief run in June of 2017, earning Drama Desk nominations for Puppet Design and Solo Performance. If the world were just, Jon Levin (who plays the title role) would have won the latter category. He gives one of the most haunting physical performances I've ever witnessed, and it really does seem like he's wasting away up there. New York audiences will have a chance to marvel at Levin's performance again when A Hunger Artist briefly returns to the Connelly Theater, which is the ideal venue for director Joshua William Gelb's spooky production. Blink and you'll miss it!

Li Jialong and Wang Xiaohuan star in Nick Payne's Constellations, directed by Wang Chong, for Under the Radar.
(© Yang Yang)

2. Nick Payne's Constellations in Chinese (January 9-12)
Do an infinite number of universes exist alongside our own? The "multiverse" is the basis of Nick Payne's experimental drama. Broadway fans might recognize the title from its 2015 debut starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson. While I was lukewarm in my reaction to the Broadway production, this five-performance run from Beijing-based director Wang Chong has piqued my interest. Not only is it in Chinese (adding yet another variable to the script), but it comes from Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental, the same company that brought a sophisticated level of technical wizardry to an old Chinese melodrama in Thunderstorm 2.0. Like that show, Constellations is part of the Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival, which annually offers a great selection of the world's most cutting-edge theater.

Ryan Spahn stars in Talene Monahon's How to Load a Musket at 59E59 Theaters.
(© David Gordon)

3. How to Load a Musket (January 11-26)
Playwright Talene Monahon started hanging around a group of Revolutionary War reenactors in 2015. That experience proved to be the gateway drug to the harder stuff: the Civil War. The script for How to Load a Musket is based on interviews Monahon conducted with the people she encountered dressed in period costume on historic battlefields. Their observations about this popular form of folk theater offer a rich account of our nation's history and how it is still very much a subject of conflict. A cast of some of the best actors in New York, including Ryan Spahn, Lucy Taylor, and Richard Topol, will bring Monahon's subjects to life in this new documentary play.

Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale star in Simon Stone's modern adaptation of Medea at BAM.
(© Tricia Baron)

4. Medea (January 12-February 23)
Real-life celebrity couple Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale star in this contemporary adaptation of Euripides's drama about a foreign princess who goes to extraordinary lengths to spite her unfaithful Greek husband. One doubts the kids are invited to opening night. The adaptation comes from writer-director Simon Stone, whose Yerma left my jaw on the floor of the Park Avenue Armory in 2018. That adaptation of Federico García Lorca found modern resonance in an old story, especially concerning our great expectations around family. Medea feels like a natural sequel. While three new plays are debuting on Broadway this month, I have a sinking suspicion that the most electric drama of January will be in Brooklyn.

Dan Hoyle wrote and stars in Border People at ART/New York.
(© Peter Prato)

5. Border People (January 25-February 23)
In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, Dan Hoyle went on a cross-country journey to meet the people living on our northern and southern borders. The 11 characters of this new documentary play are the result of that research. While multiple actors appear in How to Load a Musket, Hoyle plays all of his subjects in what promises to be a remarkable performance (the world premiere at San Francisco's Marsh was extended four times). Hoyle used a similar formula in his plays The Real Americans (about Sarah Palin's America) and Tings Dey Happen (about Nigerian oil politics). Fans of those earlier works, and journalistic theater in general, won't want to miss Hoyle's latest.

Male dancers plays swans in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake.
(© Johan Persson)

6. Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake (January 30-February 9)
Alongside The Nutcracker, Swan Lake is the most famous of the ballets by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It's about a prince who falls in love with a beautiful maiden who has been turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer who likes to turn maidens into swans. While the swan parts are traditionally danced by women, choreographer Matthew Bourne boldly reimagines them for bare-chested men in this sensational staging, which debuted at Sadler's Wells in 1995. The ballet won a remarkable three Tony Awards when it played Broadway during the 1998-99 season. The production flies back to New York for its 25th anniversary with a few new design elements sure to delight and surprise. I'll gleefully fouetté for a chance to see any production of Swan Lake — especially this one.