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 busy folks at Ars Nova have combed through a heap of open submissions, piling dozens of the best into a performance anthill teeming with music, comedy and theater works by early-career artists. Participants include Kenny Finkle, Jennifer Kidwell, Diro Van Riegersberg, Seonjae Kim and John Jarboe; Cole Escola (June 8) and Nicole Spiezio (June 22) host special editions of the variety explosion Showgasm.
Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble attempts to infuse internet romance with a sense of the sacred in a ritualistic song cycle that mixes text from online dating profiles and phishing scams with the verse of ecstatic poets. This is the latest episode of the collaborative troupe's ongoing experimental exploration of modern love.
Dominique Salerno thinks outside the box while performing inside one. In her intensely creative collective of vignettes, The Box Show, she crams herself into a cupboard-like cube for 90 minutes, and like a magician pulling rainbow-colored strings from her mouth, she keeps surprising you with what she can produce in the space. One sequence is set inside the Trojan horse at the gates of Troy; Achilles has cold feet, and Odysseus and his motley crew—all portrayed by Salerno—must give him a pep talk. In another, Salerno puts jeans and shoes on her arms, then plays out a West Side Story–style dance-floor courtship between her arm-legs and her leg-legs. Other highlights find Salerno portraying a fetus and a self-deprecating Frida Kahlo. It’s often hilarious, but what makes the show most memorable are its moments of darkness, expressed in fleeting, poignant side thoughts and comments. This interplay between light and dark helps The Box Show achieve what every vignette show wants: It is even greater than the sum of its parts.—Gabe Cohn
Two middle-aged men, a theater director and a college administrator, strike up a fraught fling against a backdrop of tragedy in this romantic drama by Scott C. Sickles. Fritz Brekeller, who directed an acclaimed workshop production of the play in 2015, takes the reins again.
HERE's Dream Music Puppetry Program welcomes France's Stereoptik to share its "live animated feature" about a calamity-prone circus. Live music, shadow puppetry and object theater are among the tools employed by creator-performers Jean-Baptiste Maillet and Romain Bermond.
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.
Project Y Theatre Company offers a double bill of one-act plays commissioned and written in response to the 2016 election: Crystal Skillman's Test and Chiori Miyagawa's In the Line. The diptych constitutes the bulk of the company's Women in Theatre Festival, which also includes two evenings of The Hrosthvitha Project, an anthology of seven short pieces inspired by the work of a 10th-century female playwright.
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.
Sophie Melville delivers a flinty, funny, thoroughly impressive performance as an out-of-control Welsh woman in Gary Owen’s solo roar, directed sparely by Rachel O’Riordan. The theme is sacrifice—or at least the loving or angry satisfaction that can come from seeing oneself as a sacrifice.
Artists gather to celebrate the artistic heritage of the Lower East Side in this annual free-for-all. Celebrants at the 22st edition include Penny Arcade, Gretchen Cryer, KT Sullivan, Luba Mason, Tammy Faye, John Grimaldi, Infinity Dance Theatre, Chinese Theater Works, National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene and a host of other performers, poets, personalities and playwrights.
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.
The documentary-minded performance collective Sister Sylvester uses the tortuous journey of a real-life Turkish woman as a jumping-off point to investigate the difficulty of capturing the complexities of real life (and the Middle East) in art. Company leader Kathryn Hamilton directs.
Every two years, Ensemble Studio Theatre presents a buffet of one-acts, divided into three programs. In this 36th edition, Series A (May 12–June 5) includes playlets by France-Luce Benson, Maggie Bofill, David Zellnik, Emily Chadwick Weiss and Cary Gitter; Series B (May 28–June 26) features works by Lloyd Suh, Julia Specht, Leah Nanako Winkler, Christina Gorman and Christopher Shinn; and Series C (June 10–30) includes pieces by Zakiyyah Alexander, Edith Freni, Amy Fox, Donald Marcus and Elyzabeth Wilder.
Mia Katigbak and Alyssa Simon play salon selectors Stein and Toklas—with Jan Leslie Harding as Pablo Picasso and Grant Neale as Ernest Hemingway—in a high-low literary farce by Untitled Theater Company No. 61 writer-director Edward Einhorn.
The Drilling Company disports itself at Bryant Park with an outdoor production of Shakespeare's minor farce, which plucks Falstaff from the Henry IV plays and plunks him down in a ribald comedy. Director Hamilton Clancy relocates the action to a modern Upper West Side co-op.
In a new work by the gifted Christina Masciotti (Social Security), Joel Perez (Fun Home) plays a shoe salesman and military veteran battling through a divorce, a custody fight and an addiction to prescription drugs. Elevator Repair Service's Ben Williams makes his directorial debut with this world premiere.
In its eighth season of summer Shakespeare, Smith Street Stage sets up camp at Carroll Park with Shakespeare’s history play, in which a malicious hunchback clambers to power on the corpses of his family and friends. Jonathan Hopkins directs a gender- and race-neutral production.
Gay monologist Rimalower revives his two hit shows, presented back to back: the dishy, high-energy Patti Issues, about his fraught relationship with his gay father and his obsession with Broadway überstar Patti LuPone; and the purgative, taboo-flouting Bad with Money, in which he entertainingly (and excruciatingly) itemizes his monetary sins.
Theater review by Raven Snook It’s a strange sensation, watching a show get dated before your eyes. That’s what happens at Jon Brittain’s Rotterdam, a sincere but overlong British dramedy about gender and trans sexuality. Our understanding of these issues is in a state of tremendous flux, and the play—which has had acclaimed runs in the U.K. over the past few years and recently won an Olivier Award—feels very B.C.: Before Caitlyn. Next to the Amazon series Transparent or queer playwright Taylor Mac’s antibinaristic Hir, at times it seems positively quaint. Even so, Rotterdam poses pertinent questions about what makes us who we are, with surprising humor and knockout performances from its cast of four. Having formerly identified as a lesbian, Fiona (a ferocious Anna Martine Freeman) begins transitioning to a male identity while living in the Netherlands, much to the chagrin of her longtime love, Alice (a wonderfully uptight Alice McCarthy). Though Alice attempts to be a supportive partner, she’s still in the closet to her family back in England. Now that Fiona is becoming Adrian, does that make Alice straight? Adrian’s menschy brother Josh (Ed Eales-White)—who previously went out with Alice—lends a sympathetic ear, but Alice’s flirtation with free-spirited coworker Lelani (manic dyke pixie Ellie Morris) threatens to derail their domesticity. If this all sounds a bit Britcom-y, that’s because it is, right down to Ellan Parry’s Ikea-style set design, which is heavy on girl pin
Alison S.M. Kobayashi performs an idiosyncratic storytelling solo that pieces together the history of a suburban Jewish family in the 1950s, based on audio that was found on unmarked spools of wire in an old recording device. Coauthor Christopher Allen, of UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art, provides the technical design for this immersive production.
In Jay Stull's four-episode comedic serial, directed by Andrew Neisler, 14 characters who have been played by Meryl Streep—including the women she played in Sophie's Choice, The Devil Wears Prada and Kramer vs. Kramer—share a house on a reality TV show. Drag and pop music add the the mirth. Two episodes are presented at a time; binge marathons on June 18 and 24 include all four episodes and brunch.
Clubbed Thumb mounts its 22nd annual new-works festival, one of the best ways to see which local playwrights have their fingers on the pulse. Ariel Stess's The World My Mama Raised (May 20–30) kicks things off, directed by Kip Fagan and with a cast that includes Annie McNamara, Mike Iveson, Danny Wolohan and Ben Beckley. It is followed by Alex Borinsky's Of Government (June 5–15) and Heidi Schreck's What the Constitution Means to Me (June 21–July 1).
New York Classical Theatre begins its 2017 summer season of free alfresco theater with Richard Brinsley Sheridan's bawdy 1775 comedy, whose gifts to the world include the word malaprop (named after a deliciously error-prone character). The production, directed by NYCT founder Stephen Burdman, plays for a month in Central Park (enter at 103rd St and Central Park West), then spends a week apiece at two other locations.
Theater review by Jenna Scherer You're asked to choose your racial designation at the door to James Scruggs's incendiary interactive carnival-performance, and that's just the beginning of 3/Fifths’s funhouse-mirror reflection of American racism. Depending on whether you choose to be "black" or "white" (designated by a mark on your forehead), you'll have a radically different experience at SupremacyLand, a hellish midway that shines a garish light on the darkest corners of whiteness. And Scruggs pulls no punches. Carnival booths—staffed by cheery African-American actors with the n-word printed on their nametags—include a noose-making station, a push-button minstrel show and a "Selfies with the Homies" photo booth. Your guide? A smiling blond woman in a shiny Confederate-flag dress. The insidious brilliance of SupremacyLand lies in the way that Scruggs, along with directors Tamilla Woodard and Kareem Fahmy, co-opt the conventions of immersive theater to deliver a powerful message. In shows like Sleep No More and Then She Fell, you're encouraged to let yourself be led by actors handing you objects and ushering you into mysterious rooms; participation is encouraged, but you walk away blameless. In 3/Fifths, the performers are every bit as inviting—everything in SupremacyLand is gamified—but what they're asking you to participating in is horrifying. Yet you do it it anyway, because it would be impolite not to, right? A trip to SupremacyLand forces you to think about your relatio
Two astronauts get lost in space and wind up on a planet of Amazonian warrior women in a new musical by Ben Budick, Dave Ogrin and Steve Mackes, staged interactively at a Lower East Side bar. Audiences are encouraged to wear outer-spacey costumes, especially in purple and green.