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.
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.
The musical storytellers James and Jerome, a.k.a. James Harrison Monaco and Jerome Ellis, invite audiences to imagine a "live movie" about a Mexican pop star, her teenage son and an Arab-American chess-shop owner in the Village. Annie Tippe, who directed the brilliantly unconventional Dave Malloy musicals Ghost Quartet and Octet, helms the premiere at the Bushwick Starr.
A mysterious 500-million-year-old creature travels the universe on a mission of spiritual healing in an evolving performance piece written and performed by Michael Cavadias. For the May 20 edition, Claywoman returns from the Merillion Galaxy to share wisdom on love, war and East Village apartment rental with Orange is the New Black star Taylor Schilling.
The Drama League presents the 36st edition of its annual minifestival, which provides a forum for rising young directors. This year's crop—NJ Agwuna, Christian Bakalov, Chika Ike, Rebecca Marzalek-Kelly, Lindsey Hope Pearlman, Ben Randle and Hannah Ryan—will tackle works by Bakalov, Michael John LaChiusa, Matthew Dean Marsh and Oscar Lopez, Harold Pinter, Tina Howe and Marcus Gardley. The festival also includes public conversations with Rebecca Taichman, Kenny Leon and Claire Warden.
Writer-director Edward Einhorn puts the life of his famous grandfather, Dr. Alexander S. Wiener—who discovered the Rh factor in blood in 1937—under the microscope in a new play based on the author's interviews with his elderly mother, Jane, who is herself a doctor. The production includes music by Wiener, who was an amateur composer.
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.
Brooklyn’s month-long theater fest is back with shows by local emerging artists at The Brick, Chez Bushwick, Honey's, JACK, Loading Dock, Para\el, Patch Works, Target Margin's The Doxsee Theater, The Woods, Vital Joint, and one secret location. The festival promises to deliver a smorgasbord of performance options–from dance to comedy–and some really weird stuff, too.
Brooklyn's very own January theater and dance fest returns for a fifth year at 10 locations throughout the borough, including the Brick, Chez Bushwick, Honeys, Jack, Loading Dock, Para\el, Patch Works, Target Margin Theater, the Woods and Vital Joint. Among the shows to look out for are David Commander and Rob Ramirez's Fear in the Western World, underlords' Bloodshot, Kate Kremer's Term of Art, Shadi Ghaheri's Slow Sound of Snow and Benjamin and Mason Rosenthal and Alex Romania's Tent (Skin).
Horse Trade presents its 11th annual festival showcasing early-career African-American playwrights. The centerpiece is a $25 collection of 10-minute plays by seven writers: Cyrus Aaron, Niccolo Aeed, Natyna Bean, Tyler English-Beckwith, Jay Mazyck, Deneen Reynolds-Knott and Mario (Mars) Wolfe. The lineup also includes one-night readings of full-length plays for just $5 each.
Theater review by Helen Shaw [Note: This is a review of the 2017 production of The Hunger Artist. The show returns to the Connelly Theater in January, 2020, for an encore run.] In Franz Kafka’s jet-black 1922 fable “A Hunger Artist,” one of the last stories he wrote, the title character is both a sort of holy man and physical freak, a fame-hungry ascetic who can starve himself for 40 days straight. Sitting in a cage, this living skeleton hypnotizes paying audiences with his extreme self-denial; but when abnegation falls out of favor, he withers away for good. As a metaphor for life in the theater this is almost too perfect, and it’s hard to come away from the story unscarred. But at the Connelly Theater, where the physical-theater company Sinking Ship is presenting a surprisingly lovable version of it, any scarring is light. Josh Luxenberg’s sweetly drawn bouffon adaptation of Kafka’s parable is full of jokes and sudden sympathy. It’s a one-man show, but there’s a communal feeling to it; the athletic Jonathan Levin plays the starving artist and a plump impresario and the artist’s eventual circus master with just a little quick-change magic. And there are helping hands, too, first through audience participation and then from a pair of overcoats, which Levin’s deft puppetry turns into cloth giants. Director Joshua William Gelb and the company use “poor theater” conventions of making much with little—props emerge from battered suitcases, a big set reveal involves four strin
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.
Jewelle Gomez continues her trilogy of plays about black artists of the 20th century with this portrait of the great jazz singer Alberta Hunter, who gave up performing and worked as a nurse for two decades before enjoying a remarkable career renaissance in her 80s. Mark Finley directs for the LGBT-oriented theater group TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence).
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.
Four would-be astronauts compete for a single slot on an outer-space journey in a play by Johnny G. Lloyd. William Steinberger directs the premiere for InVersion Theatre.
In Renee Philippi's puppet-theater opus, commissioned by Dixon Place and inspired by Watership Down, a rodent with a propensity for hoarding human objects is exiled from the animal community after a forest fire. The production, which seems especially timely in light of the recent Australian inferno, features puppet design by Carlo Adinolfi and original music by Lewis Flinn.
In Nick Mecikalski's dystopian vision of America's obsession with celebrity, two women share unlikely dreams of stardom in a dreary postapocalyptic world. Miranda Haymon directs the world premiere at the Tank.
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
Puppet-epic auteur Theodora Skipitares builds her latest multimedia spectacle around the history and legacy of the free 18th-century African-American astronomer, surveyor and engineer Benjamin Banneker. The show includes choreography by Edisa Weeks and music by LaFrae Sci.
This immersive play, written and directed by Mara Lieberman for Bated Breath Theatre Company, focuses on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the short-lived artist whose depictions of the Parisian demimonde in the Belle Époque have helped shape our collective vision of the period.
Olivia Levine chronicles her experiences as a queer woman with obsessive–compulsive disorder in a comedic solo show directed by Molly Rose Heller.
Kara Feely's futuristic mind-bender, produced by the Brooklyn theater collective Object Collection, finds five performers preparing to make the transition into life in outer space at a time when the Earth has become uninhabitable. Travis Just's experimental score, performed by three vocalists and two musicians, draws inspiration for John Cage's Music of Changes.
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