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Theater shows this summer: 20 events Off and Off-Off Broadway

There are so many amazing theater shows happening this summer Off and Off-Off Broadway. Here's our list of the best new plays, musicals, circus acts and festivals.

Once upon a time, summer was the time when things slowed down on New York’s stages. The Tony Awards had been given out; theater shows had shuttered or else were settling into comfortable runs; and everybody headed out to the Hamptons or upstate to recharge their batteries. No longer. Now the summer seems as busy as the rest of the year. You have the annual smorgasbords, from the high-class international fare of Lincoln Center Festival to the avant-garde high jinks of Ice Factory and the Fringe free-for-all. Off Broadway institutions such as Atlantic Theater Company and Playwrights Horizons don’t sleep out the hot months. And then there’s the Public Theater’s beloved Shakespeare in the Park. Actually, this year it’s partly Sondheim in the Park, with a revival of Into the Woods. Read on to see our top picks for the best plays, musical, circus acts and festivals.

RECOMMENDED: Summer in New York guide

February House

W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Benjamin Britten and Gypsy Rose Lee are among the bohemian denizens of a 1940s Brooklyn boarding house in this new musical by Gabriel Kahane and Seth Bockley, the first commission of the Public Theater’s Musical Theater Initiative. Davis McCallum directs.

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Until Sun Jun 10

Harvey

The utterly charming star of The Big Bang Theory returns to his roots in the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Mary Chase's 1944 comedy. Jim Parsons plays Elwood P. Dowd, a grown man with an unusual imaginary friend—a six-foot-tall rabbit, to be precise. Scott Ellis directs.

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Until Sun Aug 5

Rapture, Blister, Burn

Amy Brenneman and Kellie Overbey play an academic star and a homemaker sparring over the same man (Oz's Lee Tergesen) in a gender-political new play by Gina Gionfriddo (Becky Shaw), directed by rising star Peter DuBois for Playwrights Horizons. Virginia Kull and Beth Dixon complete the cast.

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Fri May 18 - Sun Jun 24

Medieval Play

Kenneth Lonergan, best known for such distinctly contemporary works as This Is Our Youth and Lobby Hero, goes medieval on the Signature's ass with a comedy of values set on the brink of the Great Papal Schism of 1378. Lonergan also directs a cast that includes Josh Hamilton, David Pittu, Tate Donovan, Heather Burns and Halley Feiffer. (The uncommonly low price is made possible by the sponsorship of Time Warner and other corporate angels.)

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Tue May 15 - Fri May 18

Storefront Church

John Patrick Shanley (Doubt) unveils the final part of a trilogy that examines religion and ethics. This Atlantic production, directed by Shanley himself, stars the electrifying Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) as a Bronx borough president in conflict with an urban minister. Ron Cephas Jones costars as a charismatic preacher.

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Wed May 16 - Sun Jun 24

Spiegelworld: Empire

Critics' pick

The glitzy, glam and quirky summer tradition known as Speigeltent continues with a tent pitched a pastie's toss from Times Square. Empire will feature a rotating roster of international burlesque and circus acts, including Rubbish Bag Lady, Moondog, Polka Dot Woman and Carrot Man. No, we haven't heard of these weirdos either, but we expect to very soon. If you've never visited a spiegeltent—surrounded by beveled mirrors and plush red booths—head on down, order a drink and enjoy the cabaret.

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Thu Aug 30 - Sun Sep 2

Democracy

As President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney battle to control the narrative during an election year, the topical wags over at the Brick Theater offer a festival dedicated to inflammatory rhetoric, partisan rancor and shameless pandering. Among the offerings are Matthew Freeman's Confess Your Bubble, in which a senator lectures high-schoolers, and Roger Nasser's One-Man Ten-Minute History of American Theater. For a complete schedule, visit bricktheater.com.

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Thu May 31 - Sun Jul 1

Wear It Like a Crown

The Swedish neocircus troupe Cirkus Cirkör hits BAM again with a tragicomic spectacle inspired by the music of Norwegian pop-folkie Rebekka Karijord. Tilde Björfors directs the show, which includes juggling, knife-throwing and extreme acrobatics.

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Fri Jun 1 - Sun Jun 3

Slowgirl

To inaugurate its swell new rooftop venue, Lincoln Center Theater presents the world premiere of Greg Pierce's drama about a young woman who seeks refuge with her reclusive uncle in the Costa Rican jungle. Looming in the background is a horrific accident that the girl escaped. Anne Kauffman directs the production. Pierce is definitely one to watch; in addition to this very high-profile debut, he's currently collaborating with composer John Kander for work-in-progress musical The Landing.

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Mon Jun 4 - Sun Jul 15

3C

David Adjmi (Elective Affinities), a jolly good 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, blends 1970s sitcoms with Chekhovian and existentialist drama in this offbeat play about a Vietnam vet who strikes a dangerous deal with a California couple. Jackson Gay directs the premiere, and disco icon Deney Terrio choreographs; the cast includes Anna Chlumsky, Hannah Cabell, Eddie Cahill and Jake Silbermann.

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Wed Jun 6 - Sat Jul 14
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