New York’s theater scene is exiting its summer doldrums and marching into fall with gusto. There are certainly some big-name stars popping up and the usual lineup of sure bets on Broadway. But sometimes, the shows you’ll remember most fondly aren’t necessarily the biggest headliners, but the ones that speak to your heart — and funnybone. Here’s what we think is worthy of your to-do list this season.
Plays to see because you can’t look away…
When you hear that a new stage adaptation of A Clockwork Orange is coming, especially straight from an acclaimed London run, you know that you already want to hear more: How exactly are they going to present all of the work’s signature grit and gore live onstage? The possibilities alone make it one of our immediate picks (Sept. 25; newworldstages.com).
On the other hand, a surefire hit is BAM’s latest twist on one of Shakespeare’s most twisted tragedies: Richard III (Oct. 11; bam.org). In the hands of Germany’s Thomas Ostermeier, he’s a would-be rock star among men who strides across a mud-covered stage in his own glittery milieu, reaping the reward of a society on the decline, no less depraved than the people around him, just less hesitant to benefit from the spoils.
Plays that put a new take on an old story...
Then there are the social justice plays, which strike hot and fast to make a timely impact on society — and you’ve got to be there. Exploring Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Suzan-Lori Parks’ two newest are showing in conversation as The Red Letter Plays. Hester is a modern abortionist who is branded for her sins in F-cking A (Sept. 11), while In the Blood (Sept. 17) shows her as a mother of five who is condemned by their fathers (signaturetheatre.org).
Similarly, Broadway sees the long-awaited but timely revival of M. Butterfly, the true story of a man’s romance with a woman who turns out to be male, starring Clive Owen and directed by Julie Taymor — bound to be one of this season’s must-sees (Oct. 26; mbutterflybroadway.com).
The nostalgia factor really kicks in for what happens to be a new play: Sarah Ruhl crafted For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday as a gift to her own mother, who used to fly across the stage as Peter Pan. The story follows five adult siblings as they bring J.M. Barrie’s classic to life just so their aging mom can don the green tights one last time (Sept. 13, playwrightshorizons.org).
Plays you see because you deserve joy in your life…
Let’s be honest, sometimes you go to the theater just to have a good time. That’s certainly the case with off-off-Broadway’s Cruel Intentions: The Musical, a staging of the 1999 film that’s loyal to the cult classic, with all of the era’s hit tunes intact but also light enough to call it the guilty pleasure that it should be (Dec. 11; cruelmusical.com).
To get a little more highbrow, head to the Public Theater for Measure for Measure — with a twist. Elevator Repair Service is known for its quirky spin on classics, such as the epic seven-hour read-through of The Great Gatsby, and here they take the Bard’s comedy one step further by experimenting with tempo, sped-up scenes and creative digital effects (Oct. 10; publictheater.org).
Or head to Broadway for the revival of Once On This Island, a musical that theater-lovers can’t help but moon over for its catchy tunes and simple but tragic love story that even touches the gods, starring newcomer Hailey Kilgore as the plucky Ti Moune and Lea Salonga as the Goddess of Love (Dec. 3, onceonthisisland.com).
Plays you see because of who’s working on them…
There are a handful of people who work in theater worth following anywhere, even if their upcoming projects look like, well, Junk (opening Nov. 2; lct.org). But that’s actually the name of the newest play by Ayad Akhtar, who won the Pulitzer for his Broadway debut, Disgraced. His prior works make him well worth following on his newest venture, which is about a financial kingpin rising to power in the 1980s, starring Steven Pasquale.
Then again, you can’t be sure what you’re going to get with The Parisian Woman (Nov. 7, parisianwomanbroadway.com), which is actually about an American woman helping her husband get ahead in D.C. — and it’s being updated week to week based on our actual political climate. If it sounds risky, consider that it stars Uma Thurman and is directed by fearless feminist Pam MacKinnon, which means it’s worth buying an early ticket just to see what emerges.
Lastly, the hottest ticket of the season is Meteor Shower (Nov. 29; meteoronbroadway.com), the latest from Steve Martin, featuring comedians Amy Schumer and Keegan-Michael Key in their Broadway debuts as two halves of married couples who clash in the hot California desert; they’re paired with Alan Tudyk and Laura Benanti.