Folks who take in the first straight play of the Public Theater 2016 season are in for a year-long commitment.
Hungry, a new work by Richard Nelson which begins at the Public’s LuEsther Hall, is the first of three plays subtitled The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family, which will bow Feb. 27. The dramas, all feature the same acting ensemble and follow the lives of the Gabriel family of Rhinebeck, NY.
The trilogy is a kind of a conceptual sequel to the Apple Family Plays that the Public and Nelson presented from 2010 to 2013 to much acclaim. Like the Gabriels, the Apples lived in Rhinebeck, were played by the same actors through the run of the plays, and seemed to gather together on days of national import. The final Gabriel play will open on Election Day, November 8, 2016.
More contemporary political talk is on offer in Smart People, a new play by Lydia R. Diamond (Stick Fly) at Second Stage from Jan. 26. Kenny Leon directs Mahershala Ali, Joshua Jackson, Anne Son and Tessa Thompson as four Harvard intellectuals who find themselves entangled in a complex web of social and sexual politics on the eve of Barack Obama’s first Presidential election.
Political reality of an earlier sort, but politics nonetheless, will be explored in a new Classic Stage Company staging of Brecht’s classic Mother Courage and Her Children, through Jan. 24., about an indefatigable Thirty Years War profiteer in the German’s playwright’s look at the brutally corrupting force of war on ordinary lives. Duncan Sheik has penned a new score for the piece. Brian Kulick directs. It has been eight years since playwright-composer Stew and Heidi Rodewald brought out Passing Strange, a semi-autobiographical rock musical based on Stew’s upbringing, at the Public Theater. The team is finally back on May 10 at the Public’s Anspacher Theater with The Total Bent, which is described as "a riotous new show at the crossroads of the sacred and profane, survival and liberation, gospel and rock 'n' roll." The plot tells of a young black musical prodigy named Marty Roy whose striving for celebrity is at odds with the legacy of his father, a spiritual and charismatic gospel star.
Fans of actor Mark Rylance know of his devotion to the poetry of Minnesota poet Louis Jenkins; Rylance has used his Tony Award wins as opportunities to recite Jenkins’ work. Recently, Rylance and Jenkins collaborated to write a play called Nice Fish. It premiered at the Guthrie Theatre in 2013 and will have its New York debut on Feb. 14 at St. Ann’s Warehouse. Rylance and Jim Lichtscheidl star as two men who, while ice-fishing on a frozen Minnesota lake, ponder life’s big questions.
New York theatregoers who have a taste for drama with a Minnesota flavor are in luck this winter. In addition to Nice Fish, from Feb. 12, Playwrights Horizons will present Familiar, a comedy by Danai Gurira (Eclipsed). The story is set during winter in Minnesota, where a Zimbabwean family is preparing for the wedding of their eldest daughter. But when that daughter, a first-generation American, insists on observing a traditional African custom, differences arise within the family.
A couple of new works by seasoned playwrights are in the pipeline in early 2016. At the Atlantic Theater Company, Kenneth Lonergan will unveil his latest, titled Hold on to Me Darling. ATC artistic director Neil Pepe directs the story of world famous country and western star Strings McCrane, who, after finding out his mother has died, decides to chuck his fame and move back to his native Tennessee. But his homecoming doesn’t go as planned.
Over at Manhattan Theatre Club, John Patrick Shanley welcomes his Prodigal Son, starting Jan. 19 on Stage 1 at New York City Center. The tale tells of a 17-year-old boy from The Bronx who is sent to a private school in New Hampshire, where two faculty members struggle over what to do with the violent, brilliant misfit. Robert Sean Leonard is in the cast.
Thomas Kail, director of the mega-smash musical Hamilton, is keeping himself busy this winter and spring with a couple of plays. Beginning on March 1, at the Public Theater, he will direct "The Office" star John Krasinski in Sarah Burgess' Dry Powder. The contemporary play stars Rick, a guy who throws himself a lavish engagement party the same week his private equity firm forces massive layoffs at a national grocery store chain. This does not go over well, PR-wise. Kail follows this up with Daphne’s Dive at Signature Theatre Company, a new play by Quiara Alegría Hudes (his In The Heights collaborator), commencing April 26. The dive of the title is a cheap corner bar in North Philadelphia where Daphne, the owner, her daughter, and an eclectic group of friends and family meet, talk, and drink, with unexpected results.
Another director known for piloting musicals, but who will this year direct a play, is Susan Stroman, who’s in charge of Dot, a new work by Colman Domingo at the Vineyard Theatre. The play, starting Feb. 4, introduces Dotty, a mother dealing with the onset of dementia. Her three adult children come home for the holidays to address their mom’s situation.
Irish playwright Enda Walsh also multi-tasks this season. Walsh had a huge hit with this David Bowie collaboration Lazarus at New York Theatre Workshop this past fall. On Jan. 8, New York will see another one of his works, The Last Hotel, at St. Ann’s Warehouse. The piece is an unlikely opera about a woman meets a couple in the hotel parking lot. The productions promises, "tonight there will be a death." Donnacha Dennehy co-wrote the piece with Walsh, who also directs.
For theatre mavens who crave opportunities to see rare stagings of classic plays, one could hardly do better than Classic Stage Company’s production of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's 1779 German drama Nathan the Wise. F. Murray Abraham, a regular at CSC, stars as a pious Jewish merchant living alongside Muslims and Christians in 1192 Jerusalem. Nathan’s troubles begin when the ruling Sultan commands Nathan to solve the riddle of which religion is best. Previews begin March 18.
Another seldom-seen classic of the dramatic canon, The Changeling, a Jacobean drama by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, will be presented by Red Bull Theater at the Lucille Lortel, opening Jan. 10. Jesse Berger directs a large cast in the tale of a woman who, affianced to one man but in love with another, commands her servant (who is also in love with her) to kill her fiancé.
A rare sighting, in terms of modern musical theatre, is The Robber Bridegroom, the 1975 Southern-flavored tall tale of a musical by Robert Waldman and Alfred Uhry. The original production established Uhry’s reputation and made a star of Patti LuPone. The Roundabout Theatre Company revives the show beginning March 13 in a new production directed by Alex Timbers. Steven Pasquale is the titular thief of hearts.
Speaking of Alfred Uhry, the playwright has teamed up with director Martha Clarke for Angel Reapers at the Signature. The two take on the difficult task of capturing the soul of the American religious sect, the Shakers. The work will employ traditional Shaker songs and a mix of modern dance and true Shaker movements. It all begins Feb. 2.
The New Group has a new revival of Sam Shepard’s drama Buried Child. Scott Elliott directs the surreal tale of a rural family’s curdled legacy. In the impressive cast are Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Larry Pine, Rich Sommer, Paul Sparks and Nat Wolff. Previews begin Feb. 2.
Finally, the great Harold Prince makes a rare appearance on the New York scene to direct The Band’s Visit, a new work musical by composer David Yazbek and playwright Itamar Moses at the Atlantic Theatre Company beginning May 19. The musical is based on the popular film by Eran Kolirin about an Egyptian Police Band, that arrives in Israel to play a concert. However, they are mistakenly sent to a remote village in the desert, where they are adopted by the locals.
Also on offer at New York’s Off-Broadway theatres in the coming months: Skeleton Crew at the Atlantic from Jan. 6, the final installment of Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit trilogy; The Burial at Thebes, Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney’s adaptation of Antigone, with Larry Bryggman as Creon, at Irish Rep starting Jan. 14; Sojourners, a world premiere by Mfoniso Udofia, about a Nigerian immigrant who must choose between American and her home country, at Playwrights Horizons from Jan. 21; Washer/Dryer, Nandita Shenoy's new farce, about the pressures of a newly married couple trying to exist in a small Manhattan studio apartment, commencing Jan. 26 at Ma-Yi Theater Company at Theatre Row; Old Hats, a reuniting of modern clowns Bill Irwin and David Shiner at the Signature Theatre, starting Jan. 26; Mint Theatre Company’s production of Hazel Ellis’ Women Without Men, a workplace drama set in a private girls boarding school in Ireland in the 1930's, at New York City Center - Stage II, beginning Jan. 30; Her Requiem, Greg Pierce’s tale of a high schooler who takes her senior year off to compose a requiem, an LCT3 staging at The Claire Tow Theater, from Feb. 6; Smokefall, the latest from playwright Noah Haidle, advertised as “a collision of magical realism and manic vaudeville,” with Jon DeVries in the cast, directed by Anne Kauffman, from Feb. 4 at MCC Theater; The Body of an American by Dan O’Brien, based on the true story of a friendship between a war photojournalist and playwright, at Primary Stages at The Cherry Lane Theatre, beginning Feb. 10; The Royale, Marco Ramirez's new play, loosely based on the life of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight world champion, at LCT’s Mitzi E. Newhouse starting Feb. 11; a new staging of Shakespeare’s Pericles, by vaunted British director Trevor Nunn, at Theatre For A New Audience, with a cast including Christian Camargo and Will Swenson, starting Feb. 14; Red Speedo, Lucas Hnath’s about an Olympic swimmer who must weigh the personal versus the professional, from Feb. 17 at New York Theatre Workshop; Southern Comfort, a musical about a group of transgender friends living rural Georgia, composed by Julianne Wick Davis, with book and lyrics by Dan Collins, and originally conceived by Robert DuSold and Thomas Caruso, who also directs, at the Public Theater from Feb. 23; Boy, a world premiere by Anna Ziegler at the Keen Company, from Feb. 23, about a 1960s doctor who convinces the parents of a male baby to raise their son as a girl after an accident during circumcision; Antlia Pneumatica, a new play by Anne Washburn, about a group of Texas friends who reunited to bury one of their own, at Playwrights Horizons commencing March 11; Stupid F***ing Bird, Aaron Posner’s riff on Chekhov’s The Seagull, at the Pearl Theatre from March 15, performed in repertory with Georges Feydeau’s The Dingdong; Head of Passes, a new Public Theater drama by regular artist Tarell Alvin McCraney, a contemporary parable based on the Book of Job set at the mouth of the Mississippi River, starting March 15; Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., a U.S. premiere by Alice Birch, “a series of provocations overlap, intersect, and explode to create a wildly theatrical and irreverent new play about how we talk to, and about, each other,” from April 5 at Soho Rep; Dear Evan Hansen, a new American musical with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and a book by Steven Levenson, directed by Michael Greif, at Second Stage starting March 26; Indian Summer, a romantic comedy by Gregory S. Moss about a relationship between a Rhode Island local and a summer visitor debuting at Playwrights Horizons May 13; The Ruins of Civilization, a world-premiere thriller by Penelope Skinner in which a couple open their home to a stranger in need, from May 4 at MTC-Stage II.
Author’s Note: This listing of shows for the Off-Broadway season is not exhaustive.