A new play by Lynn Nottage, a new musical by David Byrne, a new solo show by John Leguizamo, a new vehicle for Harvey Fierstein: These are just some of the potential highlights of the Public Theater’s 2016-17 season, which was announced in full today. Our Public interest is piqued.
The Public has been an indispensable part of New York City culture since Joseph Papp founded it in 1954, and in recent years it has emerged as perhaps the most important theater institution in the city. Among its distinguishing features is an ongoing celebration of diversity. On Tuesday, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle cited Artistic Director Oskar Eustis in recognition of his extraordinary leadership of the Public since 2005. In presenting the award to Eustis, playwright David Henry Hwang pointed up the extent of this commitment: In the 2014-15 season, he noted, 30% of performers in New York’s largest theaters were African-American, Asian-American or Latino; at the Public, 62% of them were.
While the 2016–17 season is whiter than that, it offers no shortage of work by artists of color. Among the scheduled offerings: Sweat, by Pulitzer Prize winner Nottage (Ruined), about a group of friends whose bonds are tested by layoffs at their factory; Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons, in which the motor-mouthed star surveys Latin-American history from the Aztecs though I Love Lucy; Universes’ Party People, a multimedia exploration of the legacy of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords; and a musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub.
And there's a lot more to look forward to on the lineup. Talking Heads icon Byrne and director Alex Timbers, who collaborated on Here Lies Love, are reteaming for the world premiere of a new musical about Joan of Arc. Rachel Weisz stars as a British secret agent in a revival of David Hare’s Plenty, which played the Public in 1982. Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) adapts and stars in a stage version of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling advice book, Tiny Beautiful Things. Richard Nelson adds two new plays to his up-to-the-minute series about the current election cycle, as reflected through the interactions of the Gabriel family. Musical storyteller Ethan Lipton returns to Joe’s Pub with an otherworldly new yarn, The Outer Space. And in Gently Down the Stream, a new play by Martin Sherman (Bent), Fierstein plays a gay pianist who embarks on a love affair with a younger man in London.