Let’s go back to the beginning of NYC’s theater season last September, you remember that kind of September: the time of back to school, back when we had schools, and Septembers, and also time. The season kicked off with Ma-Yi’s premiere of Felix Starro by Jessica Hagedorn and Fabian Obispo, followed by the debut of Haruna Lee’s Suicide Forest.
The Flea’s fall season was a Mac Wellman extravaganza beginning with his Iraq war-themed The Invention of Tragedy, classic crowd-favorite Sincerity Forever with Bad Penny, The Sandalwood Box and The Fez. February gave us yet another Mac attack, TAYLOR MAC’s joyous satire-in-a-ballpit, The Fre. January brought TOSOS’ production of JEWELLE GOMEZ’s Leaving the Blues.
Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre kicked off the fall with Cusi Cram’s Novenas for a Lost Hospital, carrying audiences out of the theater to a church garden and the NYC AIDS Memorial Park across from St. Vincent’s Hospital, a spot which went from a rich history to a new condo building rich with the rich. This winter, Ren Dara Santiago’s heart-baring The Siblings Play had a limited number of performances, one of which was taped and streamed as theatres switched to Pandemic mode.
Signature Theatre Company fall openers were revivals of Anna Deveare Smith’s Fires in the Mirror and HORTON FOOTE’s The Young Man From Atlanta, and the winter season gifted us west coast import Cambodian Rock Band by LAUREN YEE and Katori Hall’s premiere, The Hot Wing King.
At the Public Theater, the fall got off to a showy and gleefully self-referential West meets East musical-wrapped in a play, Soft Power by Guild Members DAVID HENRY HWANG and JEANINE TESORI. Two more Guild Members, TONY KUSHNER and NTOZAKE SHANGE also had searing and soaring revivals, Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day and Shange’s genre-breaking choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf in late fall. Winter premieres included Richard Nelson’s The Michaels and JESSICA BLANK and ERIK JENSEN’s true-to-life Coal Country, with music by Steve Earle.
Lincoln Center’s fall/winter season included SAMUEL HUNTER’s Greater Clements which showed the devastation of an Ohio town when a mine closes. LCT3 proffered Christopher Chen’s The Headlands and Sylvia Khoury’s Power Strip about a Syrian in a Greek refugee camp. February opened Guild playwright LYNN NOTTAGE’s much-anticipated opera Intimate Apparel, an adaptation of her successful play with composer Ricky Ian Gordon. The production closed early but is scheduled to reopen in the fall. Khoury’s Selling Kabul was to arrive in the spring with Playwrights Horizons.
Playwrights Horizons brought us a group of red state millennials debating, drinking and flirting in Heroes of the Fourth Turning by recent Whiting Award winner WILL ARBERY. Their fall season included Jaclyn Backhaus’s somewhat anarchist feminist time-bender, Wives followed by Lucas Hnath’s séance cum play, The Thin Place. Interrupted by the Pandemic was DANIEL GOLDSTEIN and MICHAEL FRIEDMAN’s beautifully nostalgic Unknown Soldier.
The Daryl Roth Theatre housed The New Group’s musical Cyrano by Erica Schmidt and the band The National, (Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner and Matt Berninger) and Carin Besser. At the Jewel, TNG brought Donja R. Love’s contemporary look at the lives of three HIV+ gay black men in the unforgettable one in two and January brought the musical adaptation of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice with music and lyrics by DUNCAN SHEIK accompanying JONATHAN MARC SHERMAN’s book with additional lyrics by AMANDA GREEN.
New York Theatre Workshop’s thrilling fall double bill of runboyrun and In Old Age, from Guild’s MFONISO UDOFIA’s panoramic nine play cycle, The Ufot Cycle. Both featured stunningly nuanced performances by the extraordinary Patrice Johnson Chevannes, who hopped over to the winter production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s raucous Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven, about a handful of women on the margins surviving a halfway house, at the Atlantic Theater Company. Earlier in the season at the Atlantic was Jack Thorne’s millennial drama Sunday and the winter saw the world premiere of actor-writer EBONI BOOTH’s Paris followed by the US premiere of Alice Birch’s gritty Anatomy of a Suicide.
This winter, New York Theatre Workshop continued their string of Broadway-bound musicals with a recession-beset Dublin in 1985 in Sing Street with a book by ENDA WALSH, music and lyrics by Gary Clark and John Carney (from his film), and Celine Song’s Endlings. MARTYNA MAJOK’s Sanctuary City began performances before an abrupt pandemic closure.
NYTW’s Fourth Street Theatre was busy, housing Milly Thomas’s solo Dust, a London export, along with Boundless Theatre’s production of MIGDALIA CRUZ’s Fur. Also at NYTW’s Next Door was The Play Company and Andy Bragen Theatre Projects’ premiere of Bragen’s compellingly sparse, the autobiographical Notes on My Mother’s Decline.
ALEXIS SCHEER’s Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, a WP and Second Stage shared bill, about girls and Pablo Escobar’s ghost began in the fall and reaped a series of extensions. In January, WP premiered writer (and actor) DONNETTA LAVINIA GRAYS’s solo Where We Stand. Second Stage presented BESS WOHL’s extended Make Believe and a February revival of YOUNG JEAN LEE’s deeply felt (and catchy) concert-play, We’re Gonna Die.
Roundabout Theatre premiered MICHAEL MITNICK’s and ADAM GWON’s bloody musical comedy Scotland, PA about a very ambitious couple in a small town who bear more than a passing resemblance to Lord and Lady MacBeth and is inspired by the film of the same name. Roundabout also premiered Hillary Bettis’s 72 Miles to Go… and opened the musical Darling Grenadine by Daniel Zaitchik.
Manhattan Theatre Club presented Guild Member JEFF AUGUSTIN’s premiere The New Englanders about family and intersectionality in a small town. Harvey Fierstein’s ode to Bella Abzug, Bella Bella and this winter, Richard Greenberg’s The Perplexed graced MTC’s stages.
Guild Member THERESA REBECK’s Seared debuted in Manhattan Class Company’s season with a real kitchen, tempting and inspiring hungry audiences. MCC’s fall included Ross Golan’s musical The Wrong Man, about a black man framed for a murder he didn’t do and in February, C.A. Johnson’s All the Natalie Portmans. Jaqueline Novak had an extended run with her hilarious solo Get On Your Knees at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
Theatre for a New Audience presented Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne’s with the U.S. premiere of Why? Next was a very necessary revival of MARIA IRENE FORNES’s deservedly celebrated Fefu and Her Friends, an exploration of womanhood, aggression and sexuality set in 1935 New England. Fornes had another outing with La Mama and Mabou Mines’ staging of two one acts, Mud and Drowning. TFANA was bringing WILL ENO’s premiere of Gnit this March.
In a very verbatim season, fall at the Vineyard saw Tina Satter’s stunning (and extended) production of taped testimony by (the still imprisoned without a trial) citizen Reality Winner in Is This a Room. The show moved from Off-Off last year with a standout performance by Emily Davis. Another Vineyard jawdropper was Deirdre O’Connell in Dana, Lucas Hnath’s solo show, a verbatim reconstruction of interviews of his mother conducted by Steven Cosson.
Holding down Midtown East, (Middy as a nickname, anyone?), 59E59 Theaters presented Michael Tucker’s Fern Hill, Liba Vaynberg’s Round Table and Sean Daniels’s The White Chip, about a writer’s journey from rock bottom to sobriety. In the multi-theater complex, was the premiere of REBECCA GILMAN’s A Woman of the World, a play about Emily Dickinson with the dirt spilled by her editor, Mabel Loomis Todd. January brought Rick Miller’s BOOM.
ZOEY MARTINSON took over HERE Arts Center’s available space—not just the theaters, but hallway, dressing rooms, and the lounge—to present The Black History Museum... According to the United States of America and HERE Arts Center also premiered Looking at You, an opera by Kamala Sankaram, ROB HANDEL, and Kristin Marting.
Longtime legend CHARLES BUSCH’s The Confession of Lily Dare was the winter offering of Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
Keen Company produced Atlantan PEARL CLEAGE’s Blues for an Alabama Sky, which was cut short, but hopefully along with other Cleage plays will return.
KATE HAMILL’s Dracula adaptation debuted in January at Classic Stage Company to be followed by Tristan Bernays’s adaptation Frankenstein.
Soho Rep jumped in with both feet with Zawe Ashton’s for all the women who thought they were mad, with cast of women from ages eight to 65. Their production of HANSOL JUNG’s Wolf Play was cut short.
Ars Nova premiered Liza Birkenmeier’s Doctor Ride’s American Beach House, a dive into Sally Ride’s space launch in 1983 at Greenwich House Theater. Birkenmeier was set for a return with Islander at NYTW’s Next Door.
Anna Moench’s Mothers about systemic inequalities in child-rearing played the Duke, produced by The Playwrights Realm. Red Bull offered KEITH HAMILTON COBB’s solo show American Moor, which he wrote and performed. Ensemble Studio Theatre introduced the world premiere of Georgia Mertching is Dead by Catya McMullen. Martin Moran’s gripping All The Rage returned to the Barrow Group. Repertorio Español premiered MARCO ANTONIO RODRIGUEZ’s Spanish-language adaptation of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
The off-Broadway revival of HOWARD ASHMAN and ALAN MENKEN’s Little Shop of Horrors continued from fall into the winter season.
We raise a glass and hope for the return of the following shows cut short or postponed: Claudia Rankine’s Help, The Civilians musical Whisper House with book by KYLE JARROW and music by DUNCAN SHEIK, MONA MANSOUR’s The Vagrant Trilogy at the Public along with TOM KITT, BRIAN YORKEY, and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s musical The Visitor, JOCELYN BIOH’s Nollywood Dreams at MCC, NATHAN YUNGERBERG’s Esai’s Table at Cherry Lane, Sarah Einspanier’s return engagement of her Clubbed Thumb hit The Lunch Bunch with The Play Company, CHARLY EVON SIMPSON’s Jump.
BARBARA HAMMOND’s Terra Firma from The COOP had shades of Beckett in a post-war era, presented at Baruch Performing Arts Center; Irish Rep presented the world premiere of Robin Glendinning’s Kingfishers Catch Fire and a revival of Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol; JAYMES JORSLING’s jazzy (A)loft Modulation, with a live band played A.R.T/New York Theatres; and Édouard Louis’ memoir, History of Violence reached New York audiences via St. Ann’s Warehouse.