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Broadway and Off Broadway productions get most of the attention, but to get a true sense of the range and diversity of New York theater, you need to look to the smaller productions collectively known as Off-Off Broadway. There are about 200 Off-Off Broadway spaces in New York, mostly with fewer than 99 seats. Experimental plays thrive in New York's best Off-Off Broadway venues; that's where you'll find many of the city's most challenging and original works. But Off-Off is more than just the weird stuff: It also includes everything from magic shows to revivals of rarely seen classics, and it's a good place to get early looks at major rising talents. What's more, it tends to be affordable; while cheap Broadway tickets can be hard to find, most Off-Off Broadway shows are in the $15–$25 range. Here are some of the current shows that hold the most promise.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Off Broadway shows in NYC
Off-Off Broadway shows in NYC
Tom and Betsy Salamon’s unique adventure—part interactive theater, part scavenger hunt, part walking tour—draws participants into an amusing web of puzzles and intrigue. You can choose between the three-hour New York tour, which takes participants through various neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, or the two-hour Village tour, which travels through quirky Greenwich Village. Groups of as many as 11 are booked every half hour.
Physical-comedy expert Joel Jeske—who has worked with Cirque du Soleil, the Big Apple Circus and Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus—stars in an intimate, interactive evening of high-level clowning. Mark Lonergan directs for Parallel Exit.
In Melisa Tien's dark comedy, a poor woman of color with the power to rewind time by up to five minutes keeps trying to fix a conversation with a well-meaning rich white woman. Kenneth Prestininzi directs a cast that comprises Ayesha Jordan and Erin Anderson.
In this campy rock-musical sci-fi spoof by Dick D. Zigun and Nikos Brisco, four doctors—each bearing a resemblance to a movie star of old—wage war against a brain-eating music machine. Circus Amok's Jennifer Miller directs the mayhem for the resident Coney Island company Funhouse Philosophers.
After more than 15 years at the Waldorf Astoria, Steve Cohen, billed as the Millionaires’ Magician, now conjures his high-class parlor magic in the marble-columned Madison Room at the swank Lotte New York Palace. Audiences must dress to be impressed (cocktail attire is required); tickets start at $100, with an option to pay more for meet-and-greet time and extra tricks with Cohen after the show. But if you've come to see a classic-style magic act, you get what you pay for. Sporting a tuxedo and bright rust hair, the magician delivers routines that he has buffed to a patent-leather gleam: In addition to his signature act—"Think-a-Drink," involving a kettle that pours liquids by request—highlights include a lulu of levitation trick and a card-trick finale that leaves you feeling like, well, a million bucks.
Writer-performer Dierdra McDowell plays the unique Eartha Kitt, who rose to stardom with tongue-in-cheek persona as an exotic sex kitten, in a one-woman show that focuses on the fallout from the star's testy 1968 exchange with Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War. Marishka Phillips directs.
The Night Shift hosts this inebriated monthly reading of Shakespearean monologues. Want to see if you can recite Hamlet’s soliloquy after a few brews? Step up to the mic—or just sit back and soak in the iambs. (Sign-up begins at 7:30pm for the 8pm event.)
NOTE: En Garde Arts will broadcast a video of this performance online for three days only: March 26–28 at 7:30pm. Digital tickets can be purchased for $20 here. Theater review by Raven Snook Inspired by the real-life stories of undocumented immigrants, the heartfelt and sometimes exquisite Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes) stokes empathy, understanding and righteous ire. En Garde Arts spent two and a half years developing this docutheater piece through interviews and research; playwright Andrea Thome and director José Zayas have woven lightly fictionalized versions of the subjects into a play set at a music-filled party at a New York City community center, where émigrés from Mexico and Latin American countries commiserate and celebrate. On a no-frills set with occasional projections enhancing the message, the maternal Mariposa (a radiant Jen Anaya) oversees the festivities. Her would-be boyfriend, Rogelio (a sympathetic Carlo Albán), and his cousin Elvin (Andrés Quintero) are anxiously waiting for Johan (Roberto Tolentino), who may have been picked up by ICE. Meanwhile, Pili (Frances Ines Rodriguez, a veteran stage manager making a remarkable performing debut) and Rafaela (Silvia Dionicio) are hoping to run into an art teacher who changed their lives. It's refreshing that Fandango for Butterflies (and Coyotes), which is scheduled to play in venues throughout the five boroughs, is not just a sob story. Beautifully embodied by a winning ensemble of actor-vocalist-musicia
In this new musical comedy by Greg Kotis (Urinetown), a man crossses the country in hopes of foiling his coworker's plot to destroy modern technology. Sarah Coffey, of the indie band Stolen Jars, plays a singing waitress who joins the adventure; the Tank's Meghan Finn directs the world premiere.
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.
Kairos Italy Theater, KIT Italia and NYU's Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò present this eighth annual festival of Italian and Italian-American drama, encompassing multiple shows at venues in all five boroughs. Most of the performances are in Italian with English supertitles. Consult the In Scena! website for full details.
Thrice a week, after closing time, 20 people crowd into the city’s oldest magic shop, Tannen’s, for a cozy evening of prestidigitation by the young and engaging Noah Levine. The shelves are crammed with quirky devices; there's a file cabinet behind the counter, a mock elephant in the corner and bins of individual trick instructions in plastic covers, like comic books or sheet music. The charm of Levine's show is in how well it fits the environment of this magic-geek chamber of secrets. As he maneuvers cards, eggs, cups and balls with aplomb, he talks shop, larding his patter with tributes to routines like the Stencel Aces and the Vernon Boat Trick—heirlooms of his trade that he gently polishes and displays for our amazement.
For more than two decades, this proudly old-school series has offered a different lineup of professional magicians every week: a host, opening acts and a headliner, plus two or three close-up magicians to wow the audience at intermission. Housed since 2011 at the unprepossessing Players Theatre, it is an heir to the vaudeville tradition. Many of the acts incorporate comedic elements, and audience participation is common. (If you have children, bring them; they make especially adorable assistants.) Shows cost just $42.50 in advance and typically last well over two hours, so you get a lot of value and variety for your magic dollar. In contrast to some fancier magic shows, this one feels like comfort food: an all-you-can-eat buffet to which you’re encouraged to return until you’re as stuffed as a hat full of rabbits. For a full schedule, visit the MNM website.
Gary Ferrar performs his cozy monthly pageant of parlor magic and mentalism in a secret lounge beneath an Upper West Side bar. Harrison Kramer directs.
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 m
Three women perform monologues by male characters from around the world in this new physical-theater piece by the Hess Collective, led by Elizabeth Hess. The stories focus on the role of patriarchal worldviews in the perpetuation of violence against women.
In Sara Fellini's dark comedy, the secrets of an executed brothel madam are revealed to her mourners as riots rage around them in 1762 Dublin. Fellini directs a cast of six in the world premiere.
Henry James's poignant 1880 novella about a wealthy young lady, her coldhearted father and a fortune-hunting suitor was the basis of the 1947 hit The Heiress. Now Randy Sharp directs her own new adaptation of the story, which aims to strip away the period trappings to focus on its heroine's inner life.
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