America Ferrera, Jesse Eisenberg to star Off-Broadway

?America Ferrera arrives at the ALMA Awards in America Ferrera arrives at the ALMA Awards in Pasadena, Calif. (Sept. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Broadway may have been using up all the oxygen in the room in recent years. But not anymore. Below, find some of the many good reasons to believe that Off-Broadway is regaining its primacy as a magnet for theatrical adventure.

The nonprofit theaters have nurtured Annie Baker, Rajiv Joseph, Jenny Schwartz and Amy Herzog into a new generation of playwright-stars with must-see work this winter/spring. Such treasures as John Guare, Craig Lucas, Terrence McNally, Richard Nelson, David Henry Hwang and the late Lanford Wilson have major productions ahead.

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Other headlines include David Byrne in his first musical, "Here Lies Love," with Fatboy Slim. Vanessa Redgrave squeezes her formidable self into a teeny Village theater to pair up with playwright-actor Jesse Eisenberg in his "The Revisionist." Edie Falco plays a kindergarten teacher in "The Madrid." Kelli O'Hara, better known as a Broadway baby, stars in "Far From Heaven," a musical by the team that gave us the wonderfully audacious "Grey Gardens."

And even when tickets aren't as low as $20 (my favorite new trend), seats averaging $70 are still bargains, sort of, compared to Broadway.

JANUARY

'The Suit' (opens Jan. 17, BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St.) Legendary theater visionary Peter Brook returns with his adaptation of a South African tragedy about a wife forced by her husband to carry her lover's suit around with her.

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'Bethany' (opens Jan. 20, Women's Project, 131 W. 55th St.) America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty") stars in Laura Marks' dark comedy about a suburb destroyed by foreclosures.

'Hamlet in Bed' (Opens Jan.27, Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam St.) Michael Laurence plays an orphan and an actor obsessed with two things -- finding his biological mother and playing Hamlet.

FEBRUARY

'Women of Will' (opens Feb. 3 at the Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson St.) Tina Packer, the dynamo who created the much-loved Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., brings her celebrated exploration of Shakespeare's women.

'All in the Timing' (opens Feb. 5, Primary Stages, 59 E. 59th St.) David Ives, whose "Venus in Fur" heated up Broadway last year, first captured attention 20 years ago with this collection of verbally virtuosic playlets. John Rando ("Urinetown") directs the revival.

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'The Dance and the Railroad' (previews begin Feb. 5, Signature Theatre, 480 W. 42nd St.) David Henry Hwang, the theater's first major Asian-American playwright and this year's subject of the Signature's retrospective, wrote this Pulitzer-nominated drama before he became famous with "M Butterfly."

'Belleville' (previews begin Feb. 13, New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. Fourth St.) Amy Herzog, the rising-star author of "4000 Miles" and "The Great God Pan," explores a couple who leaves a comfortable life in the Midwest to live in a multicultural neighborhood in Paris.

'The North Pool' (previews begin Feb. 14, Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St.) Rajiv Joseph, whose fascinating "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" had a criminally short run on Broadway starring Robin Williams, turns to a conflict between a high school principal and a transfer student from the Middle East.

'Really, Really' (opens Feb.19, MCC Theater, Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.) Director David Cromer, one of the treasures in the theater today, stages the New York premiere of Paul Downs Colaizzo's brutal drama about the day after a wild party.

'The Revisionist' (opens Feb. 21, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Cherry Lane, 38 Commerce St.) The season's oddest couple -- Vanessa Redgrave and playwright-actor Jesse Eisenberg -- play a Polish Holocaust survivor and her American second cousin. The historic downtown theater has only 179 seats. Ticket buyers should consider themselves warned.

'Jackie' (previews begin Feb.24, Womens Project, 131 W. 55th St.) The American premiere of what's described as an "intensely theatrical dissection" of the real and mythic Jackie Kennedy Onassis by Austrian Nobel winner Elfriede Jelinek.

'The Madrid' (opens Feb. 26, Manhattan Theatre Club, 131 W. 55th St.) Edie Falco stars in Liz Flahive's drama about a kindergarten teacher's unexpected journey.

'Passion' (opens Feb. 28, Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St.) This increasingly essential company presents the first New York revival of the 1994 dark musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine about romantic obsession. John Doyle, best known as directing Sondheim with actors playing instruments, reportedly will not have Melissa Errico and Judy Kuhn blowing their own horns.

MARCH

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'Neva' (previews begin March 1, Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.) Chekhov's widow muses about art and life while, in the street, the Czar's forces battle striking workers in this drama by Guillermo Calderon.

'Old Hats' (opens March 4, Signature Theatre, 480 W. 42nd St.) Bill Irwin and David Shiner have gone in many different directions since first defined as postmodern clowns. This reunion includes a guest appearance by the marvelous pop enigma Nellie McKay.

'The Last Five Years' (opens March 5, Second Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St.) Soon after Jason Robert Brown won a Tony for his 1999 score to "Parade," he wrote this two-character story of a marriage. Told from both perspectives, it is said to have been based on his own failed marriage. This is New York's first major revival.

'Talley's Folly' (opens March 5, Roundabout's Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St.) Lanford Wilson won the 1979 Pulitzer for this touching love story about a Jewish immigrant and a nurse from a conservative Protestant family set after World War II. Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson star in the revival.

'The Flick' (opens March 12, Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.) The wonderful young playwright Annie Baker is back with another new play, this one set in a run-down movie theater. The gifted Sam Gold, who staged her "Circle Mirror Transformation" and her deeply moving adaptation of "Uncle Vanya," again directs.

'The Lying Lesson' (opens March 13, Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20th St.) Carol Kane plays a woman who may or may not be Bette Davis in this new play by the always unpredictable Craig Lucas ("Prelude to a Kiss").

'The Call' (previews begin March 22, Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.) Playwrights Horizons and Primary Stages co-produce Tanya Barfield's new play about a couple who want to adopt a child from Africa.

APRIL

'Here Lies Love' (previews begin April 2, Public Theater, 245 Lafayette Ave.) David Byrne, who once memorably collaborated with choreographer Twyla Tharp, now pairs with Fatboy Slim in the world premiere of a musical about Imelda Marcos. Alex Timbers ("Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson") directs.

'And Away We Go' (previews begin April 19, Pearl Theatre, 555 W. 42nd St.) Terrence McNally, already represented this season with "The Golden Age," a backstage play about 19th century opera, now time-travels backstage to an assortment of theatrical moments -- in Athens, Shakespeare's Globe and the American premiere of "Waiting for Godot."

'The Mound Builders' (previews begin April 23, Signature Theatre, 480 W. 42nd St.) This is a rare revival of Lanford Wilson's mystery drama about archaeologists, American Indian history and an Indiana town, directed by Wilson specialist Jo Bonney, who did such a beautiful job with "The Fifth of July."

'Old-Fashioned Prostitutes (A True Romance)' (previews begin April 30, Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.) The singular avant-garde institution, Richard Foreman, imagines an enigmatic fairy tale in which an elusive coquette brings a man to his knees.

MAY

'Far From Heaven' (May 18, Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.) Kelli O'Hara stars in this much-anticipated musical adaptation of the movie about the roiling of a picture-perfect suburban life. Richard Greenberg, who has two new plays on Broadway this spring, has written the book. The score is by Michael Korie and Scott Frankel, and direction is by Michael Greif -- the team responsible for the bold musical "Grey Gardens."

'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' (previews begin May2, Classic Stage Company, 136 W. 13th St.) Composer Duncan Sheik, who helped turn the unlikely "Spring Awakening" into a Broadway milestone, moves on to Bertolt Brecht's parable about good and not-so-good. Christopher Lloyd stars. Sounds good.

'Nikolai and the Others' (opens May 6, Mitzi E. Newhouse, Lincoln Center Theater) Richard Nelson, currently in the midst of an acclaimed multiyear project about, for starters, America from 9/11 through Obama, imagines a spring weekend in Westport, Conn., in 1948 with Russian emigres, including Balanchine and Stravinsky.

'Reasons to Be Happy' (begins previews May 16, MCC Theater, Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.) Neil LaBute, the dark star of American drama, is back at his home base to direct his own play about the intricacies of failed love. This is described as a companion piece with "Reasons to Be Pretty."

'Somewhere Fun' (opens May 21, Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St.) Jenny Schwartz and Anne Kauffman, the director of the playwright's fascinating "God's Ear," collaborate this time on a meeting of two girlhood friends after their children have grown.

JUNE

'Three Kinds of Exile' (opens June 11, Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20th St.) Master fabulist John Guare weaves the experiences of three real Eastern European exiles into this drama about home and identity.

'The Designated Mourner' (previews begin June 21, Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.) The Public and Theatre for a New Audience co-produce a revival of Wallace Shawn's unforgettable trio of monologues by three artist-intellectuals about a once-liberal country sliding into totalitarianism. Andre Gregory, Shawn's companion in "My Dinner With Andre," directs Shawn and longtime collaborators Deborah Eisenberg and Larry Pine. This kicks off the start of next season's Shawn celebration, but, really, I can't wait.

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