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EntertainmentColumnistsLinda Winer

10 intriguing Off-Broadway plays to put on your to-see list

Joe Morton, famed for "Scandal," in "Turn Me

Joe Morton, famed for "Scandal," in "Turn Me Loose," a show about comedian-activist Dick Gregory. Credit: Monique Carboni

The weeks between the official cutoff of the Broadway season — April 28 this year — and the summer months are mostly speculation, promotion and chatter about the Tony Awards.

And, generally, nothing else.

But this May has a different rhythm altogether. Clearly, Off-Broadway producers, overlooked annually by the mad rush of marquee Broadway openings in April, have rethought their version of the springtime life cycle. Instead of seeing their important and/or entertaining work ignored by the press and hot-ticket audiences, Off-Broadway has shattered the May quiet with an onslaught of openings.

Here are 10 selections from the daunting number of intriguing May shows that theater shoppers might want to check out.

1. CAGNEY (Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St., through Sept. 25,, 212-239-6200) This musical biography got overshadowed during the busiest time of the Broadway season but intends to spend the summer exploring the unusual career of James Cagney. Robert Creighton, who co-wrote the music and lyrics with Christopher McGovern, plays the actor cleverly described as “Hollywood’s tough guy in tap shoes.”

2.DAPHNE’S DIVE (Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St., through June 12,, 212-244-7529) Quiara Alegría Hudes, whose “Water By the Spoonful” won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, continues her residency at the Signature Theatre with this drama about family and secrets in a cheap bar in North Philadelphia. Thomas Kail (“Hamilton”) directs.

3.INDECENT (Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St., through June 5,, 212-352-3101) Paula Vogel’s 1998 Pulitzer winner, “How I Learned to Drive,” began life at the Vineyard. Here she is back at her New York home theater with a play-with-music inspired by the 1923 Broadway scandal caused by a Jewish play about lesbians. Rebecca Taichman co-created and directs.

4.THE RUINS OF CIVILIZATION (Manhattan Theatre Club Stage II, 131 W. 55th St., through June 5,, 212-581-1212) Tim Daly (“Madam Secretary”) makes a rare New York stage appearance as part of the cast in Penelope Skinner’s new drama about a married couple and a stranger in an apocalyptic future.

5.SKELETON CREW (Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20th St., through June 19,, 212-352-3101) Dominique Morisseau’s celebrated Detroit trilogy ends with this drama about family crises when the last exporting auto plant is threatened with foreclosure. The play was a hit in January at the Atlantic’s second stage and has moved to the main theater in director Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s production.

6.TURN ME LOOSE (Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St., through July 3,, 212-239-6200) Joe Morton (“Scandal”) plays groundbreaking ’60s comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory in this drama by Gretchen Law. Pop star-actor John Legend is a co-producer and wrote a song for the show.

7.A DOLL’S HOUSE and THE FATHER (Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, through June 12,, 866-811-4111) Theatre for a New Audience has never had a shortage of ambition, but this Ibsen/Strindberg package, presented in rare rotating repertory, promises to be a major event. The galvanic John Douglas Thompson and Maggie Lacey co-star in both productions, directed by Arin Arbus.

8.HADESTOWN (New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. Fourth St., through July 3,, 212-460-5475) Singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and gifted director Rachel Chavkin have developed Mitchell’s concept album into a folk opera that combines the Orpheus/Eurydice love story with a critique of a mindless industrialized world.

9.PEER GYNT (Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St., through June 19,, 212-352-3101) Don’t ever accuse John Doyle of starting his new tenure as artistic director of the company with a trifle. Doyle, best known for his “Sweeney Todd” in which the actors played their own instruments, and more recently for his revival of “The Color Purple,” will direct his own adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s five-act verse epic.

10.THE TOTAL BENT (Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., through June 19,, 212-967-7555) In 2008, a brilliantly peculiar rock musical called “Passing Strange” won the Tony for best book of a musical after a triumphant run Off-Broadway at the theater that, just recently, gave the world “Fun Home” and “Hamilton.” Now creators Stew (book, music, lyrics) and co-composer Heidi Rodewald are back with this show about a British record producer who tries to launch a young black prodigy in Alabama. As in “Passing Strange,” Stew and Rodewald will be very much onstage.

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