OFF-BROADWAY FALL 2013 PREVIEW: A Wallace Shawn Sighting, John Kander Without Fred Ebb, Jeanine Tesori and William Finn's Latest

By Robert Simonson
September 1, 2013

The Off-Broadway fall season offers up the return of Wallace Shawn, the movie-into-musical Little Miss Sunshine, a reteaming of Sarah Jessica Parker and Blythe Danner in The Commons of Pensacola and Ruben Santiago-Hudson performing a solo work by August Wilson. Here's a sampling of what to look for Off-Broadway this fall.



A new Wallace Shawn play is sort of like a lunar eclipse. They don't come around very often and get hardcore enthusiasts for that sort of thing a bit overexcited. The last time a new Shawn sighting happened was in 2000 when Shawn himself, his wife Deborah Eisenberg, and Larry Pine, under the direction of frequent colleague Andre Gregory, performed The Designated Mourner to 30 people a night on several floors of a strange, site-specific space in Manhattan's Financial District. (That play, with the same cast, was recently revived — to refresh our memories, I guess, and get us ready for the latest Shawn attraction.)

Shawn wrote Grasses of a Thousand Colors back in 2008, and the play has been staged in London. Now New Yorkers will finally see the work about a doctor who believes he has solved world hunger by causing animals to tolerate eating their own kind. (Paging Jonathan Swift!) Theatre for a New Audience and The Public Theater will co-produce. Starring are Shawn, Emily McDonell and Jennifer Tilly.

Another rare bird of the fall Off-Broadway season is The Landing, a musical written by John Kander but not Fred Ebb. Ebb died in 2004, and since then the Kander musicals seen in New York have been projects that were finished or partly completed before Ebb's passing (Curtains, The Scottsboro Boys). This new work was co-written with Greg Pierce, who penned the book and lyrics to the three thematically-connected tales of desire, love and loss. David Hyde Pierce, who starred in Curtains, will appear in the Vineyard Theatre production, which begins performances Oct. 3.

An assortment of misfits will get their day in the sun this fall. That includes almost every character in Little Miss Sunshine, the new William Finn-James Lapine musical based on the surprise hit movie about a sad family of washouts, weirdos and would-be suicides. Second Stage will mount this fresh work (beginning Oct. 15) from the team who previously produced the not-bad track record of A New Brain, Falsettos and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The cast includes Hanna Rose Nordberg as little beauty pageant contestant Olive, and Will Chase and Stephanie J. Block as her parents.

Ethan Coen
Photo by Doug Hamilton
Primary Stages has gotten in the habit lately of restaging shows it has had success with in the past — i.e., All in the Timing. The latest such is a revival of The Model Apartment, the Donald Margulies drama mounted to acclaim in 1995. One of Margulies' most challenging works (and thought by critics to be among his best), it tells the painful-comic tale about two Holocaust survivors whose retirement to Florida is disrupted by an unexpected and unwelcome visit from their emotionally disturbed daughter. Previews begin Sept. 24.

More misfits are found in Madeleine George's new play at Playwrights Horizons, beginning Nov. 17, and they're all named Watson. Somewhere along the line, George realized there were a number of significant Watsons out there, both fictional and not, and they all possessed a certain amount of intelligence, even if none of them were exactly Alpha Males. The characters in The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence include Sherlock Holmes' trusty sidekick Dr. Watson, the engineer who built Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone, and the unstoppable super-computer that competed and won on "Jeopardy!" in 2011. To round out this group, George added a "present-day techno-dweeb."

Playwrights Horizons has more oddballs on offer this fall — a couple generations of them, actually — in Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play. In the whimsical, yet disturbing work, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic world robbed of all electricity, dimly remembered episodes of "The Simpsons" take on the power of orally telegraphed mythology. Opening is Sept. 15. At the same company's Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, Marlane Meyer's The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters tells the tale of the hyper-romantic Aubrey, who believes she’s met her soul mate in Calvin, a boozing womanizer. Previews begin Oct. 18.

The Atlantic Theater Company presents the premiere of Ethan Coen's first full-length play, Women or Nothing. Directed by David Cromer, the play follows two women who are so desperate to have a child, one of them is willing to sleep with a man. Opens Sept. 16.

The protagonists of Will Power's Fetch Clay, Make Man may not be misfits — in fact, both were phenomenally successful men — but they are certainly mismatched as bosom friends. One is Cassius Clay, the proud, self-determining boxing icon who would become Muhammad Ali. The other is Stepin Fetchit, the film actor who made millions by playing various cliched variants on the subservient black man. Des McAnuff directs the drama at New York Theatre Workshop, with an opening Sept. 1.

T.R. Knight
Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging
Perhaps only theatre old-timers realize this, but The Commons of Pensacola represents a reunion of some of the team of the A.R. Gurney hit Sylvia. In that comedy, Sarah Jessica Parker played, well, a dog, and Blythe Danner played a dog owner's exasperated wife. In Amanda Peet's The Commons of Pensacola, at Manhattan Theatre Club, they portray members of a family weathering a major financial crisis. Previews begin Oct. 22.

Finally, Classic Stage Company opens its season with a new staging of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Tea Alagic. As has been CSC's habit of late when mounting revivals of classics, the cast is star-strewn. Among the players are William Hurt as Friar Laurence, T.R. Knight as Mercutio and Daphne Rubin-Vega as the Nurse. Previews begin Sept. 27. 

Also on the boards this fall: Horton Foote's The Old Friends, starring Betty Buckley, Hallie Foote and Lois Smith, gets its world premiere at the Pershing Square Signature Center; The Bronx Bombers, Eric Simonson's new play about the New York Yankees, starting at Primary Stages on Sept. 17; Small Engine Repair, MCC Theater's production of John Pollano's play about three long-time friends who meet off-hours in an out-of-the-way repair shop, which begins performances Oct. 30; And Away We Go, Terrence McNally's romp through theatrical history, from the Ancient Greeks to the American premiere of Waiting for Godot, commencing at The Pearl Theatre Company on Nov. 12; All the Faces of the Moon, the world premiere of tireless monologist Mike Daisey's new work has him telling a story over the course of a lunar month, with a new monologue every night, at the Public Theater, beginning Sept. 5; Cheri, Martha Clarke and Tina Howe's fusion of theatre, live music and dance, based on Colette's novella about the forbidden love between a young man and an older woman in Belle Époque Paris, at Signature Theatre in November; Fun Home, the world premiere of Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron's musical based on Alison Bechdel's book about a graphic novelist who dives into her past when her father unexpectedly dies, also at the Public, beginning Oct. 1; How I Learned What I Learned, playwright August Wilson's autobiographical solo play, performed at the Signature Theatre by Ruben Santiago-Hudson in November; and, at the Public, Scenes from Life in the Country, the fourth and last play in playwright Richard Nelson's hyper-of-the-moment "Apple Family" series. No opening date on this yet, so, of course, we don't know the date on which the play's action takes place.

Editor's Note: The Off-Broadway universe — like the actual universe — is wide, unknowable and ever-expanding. No survey of the scene can even pretend to be exhaustive. Thus, this overview is not intended as comprehensive. Check out our Off-Broadway listings for more information throughout the season.