September 12, 2009

The Annual Idiosyncratic Fall Theater Preview

It’s been chilly and rainy in New York this week. Fall has come early.  But it’s not all gloomy. Because that means the new theater season is shifting into high gear.  While it’s true that only 15 shows are scheduled to open on Broadway between now and the end of the calendar year, they’re a diverse bunch: at least three new plays, a Shakespeare star turn, a few revivals by more recent masters of the craft, a couple of new musicals and this year’s version of the celebrity confessional show.  Plus there are dozens more off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway productions in the wings.  It all adds up to far more than even the most fervid theater lover can manage to see.  But one can try.  So I’ve begun making my must-see list.  As you might expect, Jude Law’s Hamlet and Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman in A Steady Rain (a friend calls it “The Hunk Show”) are definitely on it.  But so are some lesser-known shows that for one idiosyncratic reason or another have also grabbed my attention and that may pique your interest too.  Here are 10 of them:

THE BROTHER SISTER PLAYS. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney is just 28 but he’s already been a protégé of both August Wilson and British director Peter Brook, won the Cole Porter Playwriting Award at the Yale School of Drama, been named the first recipient of the New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award and is currently the International Playwright in Residence at London’s Royal Shakespeare Company.  McCraney’s plays are a unique mix of hip-hop and Homer, African mythology and post-modern sensibilities and this season three — In The Red And Brown Water, The Brothers Size and Marcus; or The Secret Of Sweet — will play in repertory at the Public Theatre from Oct. 21 thru Dec. 13, with marathon performances on weekends. 

ECLIPSED.  Like nearly everyone else, I was blown away by Ruined, Lynn Nottage’s searing account of the horrors of war in the Congo that justifiably won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and just completed an unprecedented seven-month run at the Manhattan Theatre Club.  So I can’t help but be intrigued by this new drama about the civil war in Liberia by Danai Gurira, the co-author of In the Continuum. It opens at the Yale Rep in New Haven on Oct. 29 and I’m thinking that it may be worth the trip before the run ends on Nov 14.

THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER AN EPILOGUE. One of the most memorable evenings I’ve ever spent in the theatre was back in 2000 when my friend June and I saw The Laramie Project, which used published news reports and personal interviews with people in Laramie, Wyoming to tell the story of the homophobia-inspired murder of college student Matthew Shepard. Last year, director Moisés Kaufman and members of his Tectonic Theater Project went back to Laramie for an update. What they found will be presented as a staged reading on Oct. 12 at some 200 theaters across the country, including Alice Tully Hall here in New York.

LET ME DOWN EASY.  Anna Deveare Smith has been so busy doing TV shows like “The West Wing” and “Nurse Jackie” and movies like “Rachel Getting Married” that it’s been nearly a decade since she’s done one of her one-woman documentary theater pieces. But she’s finally back with a timely one on health care that will begin previews next week at Second Stage Theatre. The brief run is scheduled to end on Nov. 8 but my theatergoing buddy Bill and I already have our tickets.

LOVE, LINDA.  A one-woman musical sounds like the set up for a bad joke.  But I'm optimistic about this one because the music is all by Cole Porter and the story is the unconventional—but totally loving—marriage between the gay composer and his socialite wife Linda.  I’m a longtime Porter fanatic. I own about two dozen albums devoted solely to his music and even sat through “De-Lovely,” the awful 2004 movie in which Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd were miscast as the Porters.  So I’m more than willing to give jazz singer Stevie Holland a chance to show what she can do with their story in the 70-minute show that is scheduled for a limited run at the Triad Theatre from Oct. 28 to Nov. 21.

THE NEIL SIMON PLAYS.  There are so many reasons I want to see the upcoming revivals of Simon’s autobiographical plays Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound, which will begin playing at the Nederlander Theatre starting Oct. 25.  1: Starting in November, the shows will play in repertory so theatergoers can follow the story from Simon’s boyhood years until he breaks into show business. 2: Josh Grisetti, who gave a breakout performance in last year’s similarly-themed Enter Laughing, is playing the Simon stand-in.  3: David Cromer, fresh off his Our Town triumph, will be directing.  4: I somehow missed both plays their first time around.  But not, this time. 

RACE. David Mamet says his new play centers around three law partners—two black and one white—who are trying to decide whether to defend a white man who has been charged with a crime against a black woman. He calls it "a play about lies." The cast includes James Spader, David Alan Grier, Kerry Washington, and Richard Thomas. And the playwright’s well-earned rep for being provocative is enough for this play to stand out amidst a bumper crop of race-related shows — Superior Donuts, Ragtime, Memphis and Finian's Rainbow — that are scheduled for Broadway this fall even though Race is scheduled to be the last to open on Dec. 6. 

THE ROYAL FAMILY.  This classic 1927 comedy by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber was based on a day in the life of the famous Barrymore clan and I’ve wanted to see it ever since reading “The House of Barrymore,” Margot Peters’ fascinating 1990 biography of this country’s leading theatrical family. Now I’ll get my chance when Manhattan Theatre Club revives the play for an Oct. 8 opening at the Friedman Theatre with a terrific cast that includes the great Rosemary Harris, who starred as the daughter Julie Cavendish in the now-legendary 1975 production and now plays family matriarch Fanny. 

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. Yes, I’ve seen this Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece more times than Elizabeth Taylor has been married and I even did the show’s “He was a boy, just a boy” speech for my audition when I applied to the old High School of Performing Arts.  But Cate Blanchett is playing Blanche this time out and if there’s anyone who can bring new life to this old work, it’s the Great Cate.  So, if I can get a seat once the subscribers at BAM have all gotten theirs, I’ll be taking that ride once again some time between when performances start on Nov. 27 and are scheduled to end on Dec. 20.

THE UNDERSTUDY.  As regular readers know, I’ve had my problems with some of Theresa Rebeck’s work in the past.  But I know that she loves theater as much as I do and so I’m really eager to see the Roundabout Theatre’s production of her comedic tribute to that eternal underdog, the stage understudy.  The fact that it stars the always-amusing Julie White as the company stage manager is icing on what could be a very delicious cake. Opening night is scheduled for Nov. 5 at the Laura Pels Theatre and the show will run there through Jan. 3.


Esther said...

I'm so excited to have a new theater season starting up!

Some of these are definitely on my list. (Well, all of them would be if I could get to New York more often.) I'm excited about the 2 Neil Simon plays and Race.

I'd love to see The Royal Family and The Understudy because they sound like great inside-theater stories.

And I've heard great things about Tarell Alvin McCraney and I'd love to see Cate Blanchett in Streetcar!

I'd also love to get to the Signature Theater for Horton Foote's The Orphans Home Cycle.

I like the fact that you've mentioned so much off-Broadway. Every year there are a few off-Broadway shows I wish I'd seen and a few on Broadway that I definitely could have skipped. I'm kicking myself for not seeing Ruined. I know I missed an amazing experience.

Anyway, here's to another season of great theatergoing. Can't wait to read your reviews. I hope to see you and Bill soon!

jan@broadwayandme said...

Great to hear from you, Esther. I'm pretty excited too. And although I didn't include it in my Idiosyncratic 10, I'm also looking forward to the Orphans Home Cycle and have already signed up for a subscription with the Signature Theater to ensure that I won't be shut out of any of Foote's trilogy.

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Unknown said...

Enjoyed your post -- I picked up quite a few sugs. for this season. I'm going over to EST this weekend to catch the River Crosses Rivers series.

jan@broadwayandme said...

Breena, thanks your comments and for reminding me about River Cross Rivers, the festival of one-acts by black female playwrights. They've got an intriguing lineup of plays and I'm hoping I can squeeze in a few before the run ends on the 27th.

jan@broadwayandme said...

Brian, let's talk offline: you can email me at