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.

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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

  • Price band: 3/4

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.

  1. Public Theater 425 Lafayette St, between Astor Pl and E 4th St
  2. Until Sun Jun 10
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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.

  1. Studio 54 254 W 54th St, between Broadway and Eighth Ave
  2. Until Sun Aug 5
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Rapture, Blister, Burn

  • Price band: 3/4

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.

  1. Playwrights Horizons 416 W 42nd St, between Ninth and Tenth Aves
  2. Fri May 18 - Sun Jun 24
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Medieval Play

  • Price band: 2/4

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.)

  1. Pershing Square Signature Center 480 W 42nd St, at Tenth Ave
  2. Tue May 15 - Fri May 18
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Storefront Church

  • Price band: 3/4

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.

  1. Atlantic Theater Company 336 W 20th St, between Eighth and Ninth Aves
  2. Wed May 16 - Sun Jun 24
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Spiegelworld: Empire

  • Price band: 3/4
  • Critics choice

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.

  1. Spiegelworld 265 W 45th St, between Seventh and Eighth Aves, 10036
  2. Thu Aug 30 - Sun Sep 2
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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.

  1. The Brick 575 Metropolitan Ave, between Lorimer St and Union Ave
  2. Thu May 31 - Sun Jul 1
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Wear It Like a Crown

  • Price band: 2/4

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.

  1. BAM Howard Gilman Opera House 30 Lafayette Ave, between Ashland Pl and St. Felix St
  2. Fri Jun 1 - Sun Jun 3
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Slowgirl

  • Price band: 1/4

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.

  1. Claire Tow Theater 150 W 65th St, at Broadway
  2. Mon Jun 4 - Sun Jul 15
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3C

  • Price band: 3/4

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.

  1. Rattlestick Playwrights Theater 224 Waverly Pl, between Perry and W 11th Sts, second floor
  2. Wed Jun 6 - Sat Jul 14
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Uncle Vanya

  • Price band: 2/4

Remarkable playwright Annie Baker (Circle Mirror Transformation, The Aliens), previously known for her fine-brush naturalism cut with formal astringency, surprises us all over again. In league with ace director Sam Gold, she offers a new adaptation of Chekhov's classic comedy-drama about wasted lives and squandered dreams. The cherry-picked ensemble includes Reed Birney, Maria Dizzia, Paul Thureen and Michael Shannon.

  1. Soho Rep 46 Walker St, between Broadway and Church St
  2. Thu Jun 7 - Sun Jul 15
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Space//Space

  • Price band: 2/4

The appealingly off-kilter experimentalists of Banana Bag & Bodice return with a wacky-brainy new work—written by Jason Craig and directed by Mallory Catlett—in which two brothers in a spacecraft designed to prolong longevity experience radically different courses of disintegration and evolution.

  1. Collapsable Hole 146 Metropolitan Ave, at Berry St
  2. Fri Jun 8 - Sun Jul 1
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Dogfight

  • Price band: 3/4

Broadway macher Joe Mantello directs the premiere of a new musical by Peter Duchan and the rising songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, based on the 1990s film about a Marine who dates a homely girl in order to win a bet—only to find he might be barking up the right tree after all.

  1. Second Stage Theatre 305 W 43rd St, at Eighth Ave
  2. Tue Aug 14 - Sun Aug 19
Buy tickets

Ice Factory Festival

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

In the helter-skelter of summer festivals, the cool curatorial heads of the Ice Factory always provide a welcome breeze. This year's editiion—the first in the New Ohio Theatre—features work by Jess Barbagallo, Chris Giarmo, Leah Nanako WInkler, Teddy Nicholas, Joe Tantalo, Bekah Brunstetter, John Clancy, Jeremy Bloom and Brian Rady; check the festival's website for details.

  1. New Ohio Theatre 154 Christopher St, between Greenwich and Washington Sts
  2. Sat Aug 3
More info

Macbeth

  • Price band: 3/4

Macbeth mania continues as the renowned Scotsman thespian Alan Cumming—a performer whose impish mien and propensity for displaying his bum belie a surprising variety of dramatic gifts—graces Lincoln Center Festival with a one-man account of the Scottish play, set in a psychiatric hospital and directed by John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg for the National Theatre of Scotland.

  1. Rose Theater (at Frederick P. Rose Hall) Broadway, at 60th St
  2. Thu Jul 5 - Sat Jul 14
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DruidMurphy

  • Price band: 3/4

Having sung the praises of John Millington Synge in 2006, Ireland's estimable Druid Theatre Company now returns to Lincoln Center Festival with a repertory triptych of immigration-themed plays by Tom Murphy, who has been called the greatest living Irish playwright. Famine (1968) casts an eye on the mid-19th-century potato famine; A Whistle in the Dark (1961) concerns an Irish family transplanted to England; and Conversations on a Homecoming (1985) eavesdrops on a man who returns to County Galway after living in New York. Druid founder Garry Hines directs all three (which can be seen in marathons on July 8 and 14); the large cast includes Niall Buggy and Marie Mullen.

  1. Gerald W. Lynch Theater (at John Jay College) 899 Tenth Ave, between 58th and 59th Sts
  2. Thu Jul 5 - Sat Jul 14
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Uncle Vanya

  • Price band: 2/4

One of the tougher tickets in this year's Lincoln Center Festival is sure to be Sydney Theatre Company's production of the Chekhov classic. Cate Blanchett plays the bewitching but bored Yelena, who becomes the love object of both disillusioned country drudge Vanya and cynical doctor Astrov. The production, which came to Washington, D.C., last year, is staged by the bold Hungarian directorTamás Ascher.

  1. New York City Center 131 W 55th St, between Sixth and Seventh Aves
  2. Thu Jul 19 - Sat Jul 28
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Into the Woods

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Tickets are free (two per person) and may be picked up only on the day of performance after 1pm at the Delacorte Theater. A limited number of tickets are also distributed via online lottery; see website for details. Normally, New Yorkers expect one or two Shakespeare classics presented free in Central Park, but for Stephen Sondheim, we'll make an exception. In keeping with musical fare as part of Shakespeare in the Park (such as Hair a few seasons ago), the Public offers a new mounting of Sondheim and James Lapine's enchanting, witty and touching spin on classic fairy tales. This alfresco staging comes from English director Timothy Sheader, who road-tested it in 2010 at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in London. The American cast is to die for: Donna Murphy as the Witch and the adorable Amy Adams (The Muppets) as the Baker's Wife.

  1. Delacorte Theater Central Park, at 81st St
  2. Fri Aug 31 - Sat Sep 1
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The New York International Fringe Festival

  • Price band: 2/4

That grinding, slouching-to-Bethlehem noise you hear grumbling up from lower Manhattan is the sound of thousands of theatergoers’ bellies digesting their yearly Fringe binge. This festival of 200 frantically repping companies includes straight-up dramas, solo comedies and the requisite quota of musicals with unlikely subjects. Sort through the offerings at fringenyc.org.

  1. Various locations
  2. Sat Aug 25 - Sun Aug 26
Buy tickets

Detroit

  • Price band: 3/4
  • Critics choice

Lisa D'Amour's 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist, a black comedy about next-door couples whose friendly neighborliness leads then into dark places, makes its New York debut in an entirely different production from its 2010 Chicago premiere. The expert Anne Kaufmann directs it this time.

  1. Playwrights Horizons 416 W 42nd St, between Ninth and Tenth Aves
  2. Tue Oct 2 - Wed Oct 3
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