Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and more big stars go Off-Broadway in 2014
Past weeks have been festooned with ritualistic celebrations of many special things. Acknowledgment of Off-Broadway, alas, is seldom one of them. Even though theaters beyond Times Square gave me five of my 10 most memorable stage experiences of 2013, the adventurous nonprofits and other small houses can easily get lost in the crush of big-Broadway, big-movies, big-concerts -- in other words, big money.
But when Cherry Jones ends her Broadway run in "The Glass Menagerie," she heads right back Off-Broadway for Sarah Treem's "When We Were Young and Unafraid," beginning previews May 22 at Manhattan Theatre Club. Maggie Gyllenhaal continues the remarkable indie-theater side of her career in Penelope Skinner's "The Village Bike," beginning previews May 21 at MCC Theater. And if you've never seen Michael Shannon away from HBO and movies -- and, especially, if you have -- you probably won't want to miss him in Ionesco's creepy "The Killer" at the Theatre for a New Audience, where previews begin May 17.
There is far too much to list, but here is some of the theater I'm counting on to get me beyond winter and beyond Broadway.
NEW WORK BY MAJOR PLAYWRIGHTS
"Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)." Suzan-Lori Parks, who won her Pulitzer in 2002 for the bracing "Topdog/Underdog," is back with a Civil War drama that, knowing this provocative artist, isn't likely to bring comforting historical platitudes. (Previews begin March 11, Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.)
"Kung Fu." For David Henry Hwang's culmination of his residency at the Signature Theatre, the author of the Tony-winning "M. Butterfly" has created a play with dance and music inspired by the life of Bruce Lee. Cole Horibe, of "So You Think You Can Dance," will star. (Opens Feb. 24, Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.)
"The Who & The What." Ayad Akhtar, whose shattering "Disgraced" won the 2013 Pulitzer but still hasn't been produced on Broadway, returns to Lincoln Center Theater's tiny upstairs space where "Disgraced" began with this drama about a brilliant woman who clashes with her traditional Islamic father. (Opens June 16, Clare Tow Theater, Lincoln Center.)
"Too Much Sun." Nicky Silver, who teamed up with Linda Lavin to wittily devastate a New York family on Broadway in 2012 in "The Lyons," has the celebrated actress play a celebrated actress who unravels during "Medea." (Previews begin May 1, Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St.)
"The Heir Apparent." David Ives, who made Nina Arianda a Broadway star in the erotic "Venus in Fur," is inspired by 18th century French comedy in this lark about a young fellow with an uncooperative rich uncle. (Previews begin March 27, Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St.)
"Tales from Red Vienna." Arianda (see above) joins theater royalty Kathleen Chalfant in David Grimm's drama about a woman who joins an illicit underworld during World War I. (Opens March 18, Manhattan Theatre Club, 131 W. 55th St.)
"The Happiest Song Plays Last." Quiara Alegría Hudes, who won the 2012 Pulitzer for "Water by the Spoonful" and wrote the book for "In the Heights," explores a year in the life of two searching souls in this drama directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. (Opens March 3, Second Stage Theatre, 307 W. 43rd St.)
"Stage Kiss." Sarah Ruhl ("The Vibrator Play") has written a play about two actors, perhaps former lovers, cast together in a melodrama. Jessica Hecht, so riveting in "The Assembled Parties," is in the cast. (Previews begin Feb. 7, Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.)
CLASSICS -- SHAKESPEARE
"King Lear." Frank Langella tackles what many believe to be Shakespeare's deepest drama in this production from the Chichester Festival Theatre. (Previews begin Tuesday at BAM Harvey theater.)
"King Lear." Yes, another one. Michael Pennington, the esteemed British actor best known here as a Death Star officer in "Return of the Jedi," makes his American debut in this production in the handsome new Brooklyn home of the Theatre for a New Audience. (Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place.)
"Antony & Cleopatra." Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney adapts and directs what promises to be an anything-but-ordinary version, a coproduction with the Royal Shakespeare Company. (Previews begin Feb. 18, Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.)
"Macbeth." This one stars and is codirected by Kenneth Branagh in this acclaimed production from the Manchester International Festival. (Previews begin May 31, Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Ave.)
CLASSICS -- BRECHT
"The Threepenny Opera." Imagine this one, directed by dance-theater visionary Martha Clarke. (Previews begin March 12, Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20th St.)
"A Man's a Man." Duncan Sheik, who wrote the score for "Spring Awakening," finds the music in this journey of a hapless soldier in British colonial India. (Previews begin Friday, Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St.)
"Green Porno." Isabella Rossellini stars as all sorts of creatures and crawlies in the live version of her strangely enchanting one-woman series on the Sundance Channel. As described, she explores and inhabits the "surprisingly kinky and confounding mating rituals of insects and marine life." (Previews begin Jan. 16, BAM Fisher theater.)