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What’s Playing Off Broadway This Fall?

OffBroadway-sign

Your preview of what’s happening Off Broadway this October, November, and December

Off Broadway never really takes a break. New productions arrived throughout the summer, but in the fall, theatres really kick it up a notch. There are 36 Off-Broadway shows opening between October and December. Here’s what you can expect to see. (For a preview of Broadway’s fall season, go here.)

To find interviews, podcasts, and videos about many of these shows, keep reading TDF Stages.

October

The Belle of Amherst
(Westside Theatre. Previews October 7. Opens October 19.)
Joely Richardson follows in her mother’s footsteps by taking on a one-woman show (Vanessa Redgrave starred in The Year of Magical Thinking on Broadway). Richardson plays Emily Dickinson in William Luce’s play, which incorporates Dickinson’s poems, diaries, and letters.

Billy & Ray
(Vineyard Theatre. Previews October 1. Opens October 20.)
Mad Men‘s Vincent Kartheiser and House of Cards‘s Larry Pine play Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler respectively in Mike Bencivenga’s comedy about their collaboration on the film Double Indemnity. It’s directed by someone who knows a thing or two about making movies: Garry Marshall.

The Brightness of Heaven
(Cherry Lane Studio Theatre. Previews October 16. Opens October 26.)
Laura Pedersen’s play follows the Kilgannons, an Irish Catholic family in 1974 Buffalo, and is based on her experiences growing up there.

brownsville song (b-side for tray)
(LCT’s Claire Tow Theater. Previews October 4. Opens October 20.)
Part of LCT3, Lincoln Center’s initiative to produce work by new playwrights, directors, and designers in the beautiful Claire Tow Theater, Kimber Lee’s brownsville song is about what happens when an African-American 18-year-old’s life is cut short. As part of LCT3, all tickets are $20.

Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2, & 3)
(Public Theater. Previews October 14. Opens October 28.)
After Public Lab workshops in 2009 and 2014, Suzan-Lori Parks’ (Topdog/Underdog) play is finally getting a full-scale production directed by Jo Bonney (By the Way, Meet Vera Stark). The three parts are presented in a single performance which follows Hero, a slave, during the Civil War.

The Fortress of Solitude
(Public Theater. Previews September 30. Opens October 22.)
The coming-of-age novel by Jonathan Lethem is now a musical with a book by Itamar Moses (The Four of Us, Completeness) and a score by Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Gone Missing. If that doesn’t already have you excited, the cast—which includes Kyle Beltran, Adam Chanler-Berat, André De Shields, Rebecca Naomi Jones, and David Rossmer—should.

Found: A New Musical
(Atlantic Theater Company. Previews September 18. Opens October 14.)
Community fans, here is your chance to see Danny Pudi in a musical. title of show fans, here is a new musical with a book by Hunter Bell (and Lee Overtree of the Story Pirates). People who are sad that Heathers closed, Barrett Wilbert Weed is also in the cast. So is cabaret performer Molly Pope, and this project, which is inspired by discarded notes and letters found all over the world, should introduce her talents to a wider audience.

Read on for dozens more shows

[Read more →]

September 22, 2014   No Comments

Lea Salonga (Finally) Has Company

Ruthie Ann Miles and the cast of Here Lies Love

Ruthie Ann Miles and the cast of Here Lies Love

Diep Tran on the new wave of Asian musical theatre divas

When I was a little kid, I wanted to be Lea Salonga. Of course, back in the ’90s, all little Asian girls who loved to sing wanted to be the Miss Saigon star. She was the Asian musical theatre Cinderella, a young Filipino girl with a beautiful voice, plucked out of obscurity and turned into a Broadway diva by her fairy godmother (ahem, godfather) Cameron Mackintosh. And then she actually became a real-life princess of sorts by voicing royalty in Disney’s Aladdin and Mulan.

But it must have been lonely for her at the top. For decades after Miss Saigon debuted, there wasn’t another Asian leading lady in a big, commercial musical. Sure, there were a handful of supporting roles in the Broadway revivals of Pacific Overtures and South Pacific, but none of those performers became household names. And while Mei-Li in David Henry Hwang’s reworked Flower Drum Song was a protagonist, guess who played her? (For the record, it was Salonga.) It seemed like musical producers didn’t think Asian actresses could carry a splashy, for-profit production.

And then Ruthie Ann Miles hit the scene as Imelda Marcos in the immersive musical Here Lies Love at the Public Theater last year. From the first notes out of her mouth, I felt like I was 8-years-old again, listening to Salonga sing “A Whole New World” for the first time. I have listened to the Here Lies Love cast album on repeat more times than I can count, and I love that Miles’s voice is present in almost every song. It’s an Asian voice that, for once, isn’t just in the chorus. It’s front and center, demanding to be heard.

Currently, Miles is the only actress of Asian descent playing a leading role in a commercial musical in New York City. And while that makes her performance notable, it’s not what makes it so extraordinary. Miles effortlessly sells the audience on the infamous Marcos’s charisma and likeability while also conveying her gradual moral decay in a world of power and wealth. She’s an anti-heroine you root for even though you feel guilty for doing it. It also takes a skilled performer to convincingly play a character from girlhood to middle age, while singing and dancing on a rotating platform to boot.

With her triumph in Here Lies Love (for which she won Theatre World and Lucille Lortel Awards), Miles has joined an exclusive club of Asian musical theatre leading ladies. It’s a small one that seems to finally, (hopefully) be growing. There’s Phillipa Soo who portrayed the luminous title female in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (first Off-Broadway and eventually in Times Square in a tent). Her background is Chinese and Caucasian, proving you don’t need to look like Audrey Hepburn or Keira Knightley to play a Russian heroine. [Read more →]

September 22, 2014   No Comments

When Naughty Congressmen Inspire Funny Plays

Sean Dugan & Rachel Dratch

Sean Dugan & Rachel Dratch

Mario Correa gets the last laugh on scandalous politicans

A closeted gay Congressman hits on your boyfriend, and presto, an Off-Broadway comedy is born! So it was with Tail! Spin!, a verbatim recreation of four preposterous, real-life political sex scandals (now playing at Culture Project) inspired by my days batting back the wandering hand of a very friendly Congressman.

See, back in the 90s, I was a young Hill staffer making my jaunty way in the world when Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) rolled into town.

Gregarious and chummy, Foley quickly befriended lots of young staffers like me (this was years before the sending-IMs-to-underage-pages scandal that would ultimately cost him his job). And yet it didn’t take long for my staffer friends and I to figure out that, when it came to the glad-handing Congressman, keeping a certain amount of personal distance was the right, umm, policy prescription. (Just ask my then-boyfriend, for whom evading Foley was basically a full-time job).

Even after leaving Capitol Hill, I was fascinated with the ability of politicians like Foley (gay and straight) to live diametrically different lives in public and private—lives that any reasonable person knows are doomed to collide spectacularly. (After all, political sex scandals aren’t about sex, they’re about power: the politician’s belief that he—it’s almost always a ‘he’—can get away with things that you and I can’t.) Wanting to write a fictionalized play around these themes, I dug into the transcripts of the Foley scandal for “inspiration.”

Well. That was certainly an eye-opener. Suffice to say, a couple of “get a ruler and measure it for me” statements later, it was clear this play had already written itself. The politicians themselves had done the work for me. And so began Tail! Spin!, a comically insane, word-for-word re-enactment of the scandals that brought down not only my buddy Foley, but also Anthony (“I was hacked!”) Weiner, Larry (“Wide stance”) Craig, and Mark (“Appalachian Trail”) Sanford.

Thanks to my uncredited collaborator (Google), I was able to dredge up nearly every last word secretly spoken, written, tweeted, or even sung in these scandals. My real challenge was in figuring out how to tell four very different stories—each with its own crazy characters—using a cast of less than 50 (and that’s Anthony Weiner’s sexting partners alone!) [Read more →]

September 19, 2014   No Comments

A Woman Walking in A Man’s Shoes

Kathleen Chalfant and Paul Niebanck in A Walk in the Woods

Kathleen Chalfant and Paul Niebanck in A Walk in the Woods

Kathleen Chalfant puts a feminine stamp on a traditionally male role in A Walk in the Woods

Welcome to Building Character, our ongoing look at performers and how they create their roles

A famous old adage says if women ruled the world, there would be no war. So it stands to reason that one of the two envoys attempting to negotiate an arms treaty in A Walk in the Woods is female—only that’s not the way Lee Blessing’s play was originally written. Loosely inspired by a real-life meeting between the U.S.’s Paul H. Nitze and the then U.S.S.R.’s Yuli A. Kvitsinsky during the 1982 Geneva peace talks, the 1988 Tony- and Pulitzer-nominated drama initially starred two men. But over the past quarter century, as more women have become high-profile players in international politics, some theatre companies have opted to change up the characters’ genders. And that’s exactly what Keen Company has done by casting Kathleen Chalfant as seasoned Russian diplomat Andrey (rechristened Irina) Botvinnik in A Walk in the Woods at the Clurman Theatre.

This isn’t the first time the Obie Award-winning actress has played a part that was meant for a man. Her diverse and illustrious career is filled with performances that blur gender boundaries. “I feel like I do this all the time,” she says with a small chuckle. “I have played a number of characters who are actually male, like in Angels in America, [affecting a flawless Russian accent] Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov, the world’s oldest living Bolshevik, which was also my first Russian role. In Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play, I played Queen Elizabeth, Hitler and Ronald Reagan—that part can be portrayed by a man or a woman, but it’s mostly been done by men. And I also played Clov in Beckett’s Endgame. So I had no hesitations when Johnny [Keen Company artistic director Jonathan Silverstein, who also helms the production] asked me to play Botvinnik.”

Of course in this mounting, Botvinnik is no longer a male character, which meant some slight script adjustments were necessary—mostly pronoun switches. But Blessing, who was present during the rehearsal process, was happy to oblige. “I’ve formally been asked for my approval to change the gender of one or the other negotiator in A Walk in the Woods four times, that I recall,” he says. “In each case I gave it. I think the gender change can wake us up a bit more to a play that discusses issues that haven’t been on the front burner in quite this way for decades. It reminds us that more and more women are finding their way into our society’s biggest socio-political discussions.”

[Read more →]

September 18, 2014   2 Comments

This is Radically Intimate Theatre

A scene from The Rakes Progress

A scene from The Rakes Progress

The Representatives are an underground theatre sensation

This week The Representatives—the most beloved theatre troupe you may not have heard of—stages its newest show, Of Orient Are. If you’re in the mood for hyper-intimate, socially relevant comedy, leap into action; they only play through the weekend. But if you’re busy ’til Monday, don’t worry: the Representatives produce a brand-new, custom-written play every three months. Representatives’ shows are like buses—miss one and another will be along in a moment.

The Representatives are like buses in another way, too: they show you the city. The company’s signature pieces are so-called “apartment plays,” micro-productions that turn everyday sidewalks into de facto theatre lobbies. Bewildered audiences mill about on the street corner, frantically checking phones, since there’s no marquee, no poster… no sign at all that you’ve reached your destination. Only those with tickets (obtained via the mailing list at therepresentatives.org) receive the address, which must be kept confidential. Admission is a bottle of wine. And once you’ve seen a show this way, you’ll never see an anonymous New York street quite the same way again.

The company is primarily a collaboration between actor Matt Steiner and playwright Stan Richardson, fast becoming known as frontline purveyors of the newest version of “radically intimate” theatre. Along with their “apartment plays,” their work can include special on-demand commissions for fans and provocative political pieces made site-specifically. Some of their company’s burgeoning glamour is undoubtedly due to their pop-up locations, but there’s also something deeper happening: an interdependent rapport struck up between the theatremakers and their audience. All the communications are personal—not mass—emails (“Yo Helen!,” said a recent message to this reporter), and admission also comes with a heartfelt invitation to the post-show party. You have to bring a bottle of wine, but they will cheerfully pour it right back into you.

The pair met in 2006 when Steiner auditioned for Richardson at Dixon Place—the Lower East Side venue then housed, coincidentally, in an apartment. For the actor and playwright, “It was love at first sight,” says Steiner. The actor’s energetic, satyrish style jibed with Richardson’s rapid-fire dialogue: “I find I have to do less work with Stan’s plays,” he says. For Richardson it was finally hearing the words as he had imagined them. “My mentor is Edward Albee, who always steered us towards precision with language. Matt got that immediately.” Certainly Richardson’s writing can remind you of Albee in his Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? mode, with impossible quantities of verbiage packed densely into tight spaces.

The Representatives like to develop work on its feet, so these performances allow both participation in their frenetic process and a sort of voyeuristic frisson. The pieces aren’t quite workshops, aren’t quite productions, yet they are completely considered entertainments, full of frantic invention and a deep investment in community. And for anyone disheartened by the social disengagement of our current downtown scene, take heart: audience members, unscientifically sampled during a rollicking after-party, credit the team’s political convictions as one of the things that keeps them coming back.

Richardson builds his works around hot-button issues to further that sense of intimacy: “We reach out to the audience, we bind them to us,” says the playwright. This hyperlocal social sense can lead to something rather uncomfortable as well. “Frankly, the audiences are mostly liberal, mostly progressive. There’s no need for morality tales; we need hypocrisy tales.” Adds Steiner, “It turns the magnifying glass on our own little group.” [Read more →]

September 16, 2014   No Comments