We all know that the best New York theater tends to happen far from the gilded cages of Broadway. For the most engaging, challenging and original work, audiences must venture into the incubators of nonprofit Off Broadway—or, even father from the tourist path, to the numerous Off-Off Broadway spaces hidden throughout the city. The problem is that by the time you find out about the best stuff, it is often too late: The run of the show is nearly over, and seats in those tiny venues are scarce.
All the more reason, then, to celebrate the latest trend in NYC theater: the encore presentation. In recent years, we have seen several great shows come back from the dead, sometimes long after their ostensible final curtains. (On Broadway right now, these include Cabaret and Disgraced.) But now that trickle has widened to a stream. The poster child for such reprises is Robert Askins’s hilarious and trenchant Hand to God, which debuted at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in 2011, returned there in 2012, returned again at MCC last year, and is currently scheduled to move to Broadway in March.
Get tickets to it! And to Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s groundbreaking musical Fun Home, which will also hit the Great White Way in March after premiering at the Public Theater in 2013. If you missed Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s exceptional An Octoroon at Soho Rep last year, be sure to see it at Theatre for a New Audience in February; if you couldn’t catch Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Between Riverside and Crazy at the Atlantic, try it at Second Stage later this month. And Elevator Repair Service’s experimental take on The Sound and the Fury, which played at New York Theatre Workshop back in 2008, will be at the Public this May.
For now, though, the next two weeks offer brief windows in which to view some wonderful small-scale theater you may have missed in the past two years. Here are five shows to look into.
Photograph: Ryan Jensen
Ghost Quartet (McKittrick Hotel, January 5–18): Dave Malloy was already a force in the music-theater scene before he broke out with 2012’s extraordinary Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 (itself an encore-presentation success story). His eerie, intimate, nonlinear song cycle Ghost Quartet—performed with evocative singer-musicians Brittain Ashford, Gelsey Bell and Brent Arnold—sold out the Bushwick Starr in October, and now moves to a venue that seems a perfect fit: the McKittrick Hotel, home to the spooky Sleep No More.
Photograph: Alex Fabozzi
Grimly Handsome (Jack, January 11–14): Julia Jarcho’s shadowy, intricate triptych of interconnected stories is a superb example of modern experimental theater: smart, ominous yet funny, bizarre but not randomly so. Directed by Jarcho herself, with a cast of three downtown stars (Pete Simpson and Ben Williams, who were recently reunited in Straight White Men, plus Jenny Seastone Stern), the piece played briefly at the Incubator in 2013, and made my list of that year’s ten best; now it pops back up at Brooklyn’s Jack for just three performances.
RoosevElvis (Vineyard Theatre, January 2–10): Another show that made my best-of-2013 list, the TEAM’s delightfully surprising show weaves Teddy Roosevelt and Elvis Presley into the poignant story of a shy Midwestern lesbian on a road trip with a taxidermist. Original stars Libby King and Kristen Sieh, who originally rocked at the Bushwick Starr, return for this Coil Festival reprise, directed once again by Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812).
Photograph: Kevin Yatarola
Rock Bottom (Joe’s Pub, January 6–February 20): There’s not much we can say about the life force known as Bridget Everett that we haven’t said already, but if you have yet to see this raucous, hilarious, foul-mouthed alt-cabaret goddess in person then you are not taking full advantage of New York City. Her 2014 Joe’s Pub show, Rock Bottom, was so successful that Joe’s has brought it back for two more months. It’s the nightclub equivalent of mud wrestling. Go get dirty.
Ubu Sings Ubu (Slipper Room, January 11–12): The unique Tony Torn ripped into Alfred Jarry’s grotesque 1896 classic last April in a performance piece that merged the original text with songs by the rock band Pere Ubu. Joined anew by avant-burlesque star Julie Atlas Muz, Torn is now set to get savage again for just two nights at the Slipper Room.
So buy those tickets now! Your chance to see these shows may not come again…again.