Broadway and Off Broadway productions may get most of the attention, but to get a true sense of the range and diversity of New York theater, you need to look Off-Off Broadway. Experimental work, especially, tends to thrive in smaller spaces, such as New York’s best Off-Off Broadway venues; that’s is where you’ll find many of the city’s most challenging and original pieces, and get early looks at major talents. There are approximately 200 Off-Off stages in New York, from downtown Manhattan to the far reaches of the boroughs, mostly with fewer than 99 seats. The runs there are usually short, and relatively affordable; while cheap Broadway tickets can be hard to find, most Off-Off shows are in the $15–$25 range. Here are some of the current shows that hold the most promise.
Off-Off Broadway shows in NYC
The Drilling Company begins its annual summer season of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot with the Bard's problematic romantic comedy about an otherwise sensible woman who not only stands by the cad who spurns her but tracks him halfway across Europe. Karla Hendrick directs the Lower East Side series' first attempt at staging this prickly piece in its 22-year history.
Harrison David Rivers reconceives Euripides' refugee tragedy The Trojan Women for a queer and transgender underground-ball community ravaged by the advent of HIV/AIDS. David Mendizábal directs the premiere for the Movement Theatre Company, which specializes in work by emerging artists of color.
Erin Courtney and Mac Wellman, estimable experimentalists both, oversee this off-kilter minifest of work by playwrights in Brooklyn College's M.F.A. program. Four new plays are presented in two programs, offered in rep. Tickets are free but reservations are required.
The Women in Combat Theatre Project imagines the first mixed-gender U.S. Army infantry unit in a play conceived by Maggie Moore and Julia Sears and written collaboratively by the company, which includes several military veterans. Sears directs the world premiere.
Bert V. Royal's 2004 teen-angst dramedy, a cracked Peanuts takeoff, launches into frantic action when our hero's dog dies of rabies. David Bonderoff directs a revival for the brand-new EPIC Players, which seeks to empower artists with developmental disabilities.
The Night Shift, which describes itself as a “working class theater” group, hosts this inebriated monthly reading of Shakespearean monologues. Want to see if you can recite Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” after a few brews? Step up to the mike, or just sit back and soak in the iambs.
This annual festival celebrates those vigorous American salmon preparing to swim into the shoals of the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Selections include Craig Lucas's Tales of Life and Death, Brian Parks's Enterprise, Peter Michael Marino's Show Up, Romy Nordlinger’s Places, Chris Davis's One-Man Apocalypse Now and a new musical adaptation (by Jennifer Jewell, Mark Cabus and Chris Tench) of Christina Rossetti's forbidden-fruit poem "Goblin Market."
Ducdame Ensemble presents what it bills as the U.S. premiere of an 1887 play by Victoria Benedictsson, a protofeminist writer and suicide who is commonly cited as the inspiration for both Henrik Iben's Hedda Gabler and August Strindberg's Miss Julie. The plot concerns a young Swedish woman who rexamines her life in the new light of Belle Époque Paris. Lucy Jane Atkinson directs an adaptation by Tommy Lexen.
All Out Arts presents its 15th annual LGBTQ arts fest, featuring short plays, full-length works and cabaret shows. Among the offerings are Doug DeVita's The Phillie Trilogy, about growing up gay in the 1970s; Charles Curtis's Strings, in which a white lawyer defends a black vigilante on Death Row; and Jessica and Jared Field's La Maupin, a musical about a bisexual 17th-century opera singer and swordswoman.
Dirt [contained] Theatre Company's Maria Swisher directs an interactive revival of Spanish playwright Fernando Arrabal's 1968 look inside the psyche of a disturbed actress. The production, which aspires to "both punish and delight audiences," is paired with an art exhibition on related themes.
Red Lab Productions keeps Georgia on our minds with a festival of works by playwrights from the small Caucasian nation. Offerings include two full productions—Lasha Bugadze's Navigator in Love and Tamar Bartaia's A Toy Gun—as well as free readings and special events.
The restless heir to England's throne gets mixed up with a naughty crowd in Shakespeare's history play and coming-of-age story, directed by S.C. Lucier for the peripatetic Hip to Hip Theatre Company. Presented in rep with the company's take on Measure for Measure, the production never plays the same park twice, so check the Hip to Hip website for details.
Escape your humdrum black-and-white life for the many shades of gay at Dixon Place's estimable annual festival of all things same-sex. The centerpiece of the 2017 edition is To T, or Not to T, a solo show by Sri Lankan–American trans comedian D'Lo that explores his experiences with testosterone (Fri and Sat). Other standouts include Ilene Sameth's operatic primadonna drama Bandwith: the Ups & Downs of a Lesbian Diva (Tue 11); a screening of Laura Arten's profile of trans artist Toyen at the International Women Artist's Salon (Sat 15); panel talk Out and Onstage, featuring Mindy Raf, Siobahn Hotaling and Tiides Music (Mon 17); and puppet show Gerswhin Live: Frosted Flakes (July 26).
In the helter-skelter of summer theater festivals, the cool curatorial heads of Ice Factory always provide a welcome breeze. The 2017 lineup includes work by Steven Haworth, anecdota, Bess and George, Johnny Walsh and John Bair, the Anthropologists, Melissa Tien and Built for Collapse, plus a late-night $15 performance salon on Fridays. Pioneering American astronaut Sally Ride is the subject of anecdota’s A Footnote in History* (July 5–8); in Bess and George’s True Right (July 12–15), two women of color play George and Jeb Bush in a riff on Sam Shepard’s True West. Walsh and Bair's Tear a Root from the Earth (July 19–22) is a participatory rock concert that follows three generations of an Afghan family as it copes with foreign meddling; The Anthropologists Save the World! (July 26–29) ropes survivalists, war robots and Aldous Huxley into a comedic-nihilistic look at our ability to change the future.
After more than a decade performing Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, an ever-changing collection of 30 two-minutes plays, the New York Neo-Futurists had to change course when piece's author pulled the rights abruptly in 2016. Now the troupe performs an entirely different ever-changing collection of two-minute plays called The Infinite Wrench. Click here for our full write-up.
South Brooklyn Shakespeare presents an outdoor staging of Shakespeare's marquee tragedy, in which a nobleman and his wife descend into a nightmare of mental disquiet after planning their king's murder. Dee Byrd-Molnar directs a production that evokes a 1970s landscape of war-ravaged lands and acid-tripping witches.
New York Classical Theatre's Stephen Burdman directs an outdoor account of Shakespeare's nasty, brutish and short Scottish tragedy, about a regicidal lord and the wicked women who goad him on. The production plays in Battery Park until its final week, when it relocates to Brooklyn Bridge Park.
For more than 15 years, starting in 1997, Martin Denton chronicled and championed indie theater on his sprawling website, NYTheatre.com. Now writer-actor Chris Harcum shines the spotlight on him in a bioplay that charts Denton's journey from Washington, D.C. accountant to online pioneer. Marisol Rosa-Shapiro plays his mother; Aimee Todoroff directs.
Hip to Hip Theatre Company moves from park to park with this staging of Shakespeare's rather creepy play about sin and sacrifice, directed by Owen Thompson and presented in rep with the company's take on Henry IV, Part 1. The production roams through multiple boroughs but never plays the same spot twice, so consult Hip to Hip's website for details.
The Fringe Festival is on hiatus this year, but the 18th annual edition of producer John Chatterton’s theatrical grab bag fills some of the gap with brief runs of 100 productions, including multiple solo shows and musical works. For an exhaustive list, visit MITF's website.
The scrappy Piper Theatre moves the action from Australia to modern-day Arizona in a free outdoor production of the campy 2011 Broadway musical, the tale of three fishy-out-of-water drag queens on a road trip through culturally hostile terrain. John P. McEneny directs.
Eugène Ionesco's 1959 absurdist classic concerns ordinary citizens inexplicably transformed into horned beasts. The Rhinoceros Collective's free version, adapted by Wesley Savick and directed by Nate Speare, takes the herd outdoors at Astoria Park and features life-size pachydermal puppets.
Theater review by Helen Shaw When you walk into Say Something Bunny!, you enter another time. You might not notice that at first, because the brick office space where it takes place is so determinedly ordinary-looking. The small audience sits around a doughnut-shaped conference table, and as Alison S.M. Kobayashi begins her multimedia docuplay, some spectators are already paging through the scripts that have been placed in front of each chair. The text turns out to be the full transcript of a real, unlabeled 65-year-old recording that Kobayashi found hidden in an antique wire recorder: the audio relic of a teenage boy in Woodmere, Queens, enthusiastically taping two dozen family members and neighbors. Kobayashi has listened to the recording hundreds of times and has a seemingly boundless interest in the people whose voices it preserves, including amateur recordist David, mother Juliette and neighbor Bunny. She conducts us through a pair of after-dinner conversations, the first in 1952—she deduced the date from song lyrics mentioned on the wire—and the second in 1954. Aided by coauthor Christopher Allen, she pursues hints and half-heard jokes to determine who these people were and what befell them; she shows us the census records she used to find their old houses. The play unspools unhurriedly, leaving space for Kobayashi to make jokes, play short films and highlight points of historical interest. It takes a while for it to sink in that—of course—many of these vibrant people
The Riant Theatre offers a new crop of one-acts in the 30th edition of its now biannual festival, which doubles as a short-play competition whose finalists are chosen by audience vote. (Though the quality is highly uneven, admission is pricey by Off-Off Broadway festival standards, squeezing audiences that show up to support their friends.)
The 11th annual edition of this festival of new American playlets shows off its legs by harnessing established talents to debut short works alongside those of relative newcomers. The six pieces are divided into two series, presented in rep. Series A includes work by Graham Moore (who won an Oscar for The Imitation Game) as well as Melissa Ross and SNL pioneer Alan Zweibel; Series B features pieces by Lindsey Kraft and Andrew Leeds, Kel Haney and that inevitable short-play-festival mainstay Neil LaBute.
The Drilling Company wraps up its Bryant Park summer with Shakespeare's late romance, a jigsaw-puzzle drama whose pieces include a sorcerer’s revenge, young lovers, a shipwreck, a monster, a fairy slave and two regicide plots. The production includes songs by Natalie Smith and Andrew Gombas.
Hudson Warehouse reprises its 2013 production of Alexandre Dumas's swashbuckling 1844 novel, adapted by Susane Lee and directed by Nicholas Martin-Smith. The play is the first installment of the Dumas Adventures, a four-year project that is slated to include future productions of The Man in The Iron Mask and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Long Island City's Secret Theatre provides an alternative to the sprawl of the Fringe: 10 shows in rep, presented at more traditionally schedule-friendly hours. Offerings in the 2016 edition include works inspired by Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, John Cheever and Greek myth. There are several performances per day; check the festival's website for details.