Ten Off-Broadway Productions From 2019 That Would Enrich Broadway In 2020
To this very frequent theatre-goer, the most exciting and gratifying development on New York stages since 2010 has been the growing number of productions that, before hitting it big on Broadway, graced the stages of the city's non-profit Off-Broadway companies.
In the past ten years, six Tony Awards for Best Musical have gone to shows first seen in New York courtesy of non-profit Off-Broadway: ONCE, FUN HOME, HAMILTON, DEAR EVAN HANSEN, THE BAND'S VISIT and HADESTOWN. Four Best Play winners also came to Broadway via non-profit Off-Broadway: CLYBOURNE PARK, VANYA AND SONYA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, THE HUMANS and OSLO.
In terms of subject matter, diversity and frequently the quality of writing and acting, non-profit Off-Broadway has become, in this reviewer's opinion, the place to see the best theatre that this theatre town has to offer.
Of course, there are many factors, sometimes intangible, that may prevent an Off-Broadway success from thriving on Broadway, but here are ten non-profit Off-Broadway productions from 2019 that would certainly enrich the quality of Broadway in 2020.
(In order of appearance)
In Bekah Brunstetter's sweet and provocative multi-layered comedy/drama THE CAKE (Manhattan Theatre Club) North Carolina native Jen returns from New York, excited to get married in the same place as her deceased mother. Della, the local baker, regards her as practically a daughter and offers to bake a special wedding cake for the occasion, but she suddenly has excuses not to when she finds out Jen's marrying a woman. We've all read such news stories, but Brunstetter's variation adds the twist that these two people truly love each other and abhor the thought of hurting the other.
I'm going to stretch the rules a bit to include playwright/performer Maddie Corman's extraordinary autobiographical solo piece ACCIDENTALLY BRAVE, though it was produced commercially by Daryl Roth and Wishnie-Strasberg Productions. A steadily working actor and mom, Corman's world was changed when her husband, well-known in the entertainment industry, was arrested for downloading and sharing child pornography. Despite everyone around her assuming this is the end of their marriage, Corman reasons that her husband has a sickness, and she vowed to stick with him in sickness and in health. It's truly unique love story about regaining trust and reinventing a relationship.
Halley Feiffer wrote THE PAIN OF MY BELLIGERENCE (Playwrights Horizons) during a time when, after success in handling her alcohol addiction, she was beginning to feel the effects of Lyme disease. The ailment affecting her play's central character, who she played herself, is never mentioned, but the similarity to Lyme disease is apparent, though there's the suggestion that her deteriorating health could be the result of living as a woman during Donald's Trump's presidency. Or perhaps it's because she's addicted to a charming and handsome man who is exceedingly unfeeling and subtly emotionally abusive. The dialogue is snappy and clever, but underneath is the struggle to immunize oneself from societal sickness.
Poet-turned-playwright Aziza Barnes' fast and furiously funny debut stage piece, BLKS (MCC) has a trio of black Brooklyn women in their 20s "out on a mission to resurrect our fly back." As an answer to the whiteness of female bonding TV shows like "Sex And The City" and "Girls," Barnes whips up crazy romantic adventures on a wild night that begins with screenwriter Octavia asking her standup comic roommate Imani to inspect a suspicious mole on her clitoris and ends with a sweet and half-dressed young fellow in their apartment, unsure of who exactly he's expected to spend the night with.
Michael R. Jackson's gloriously neurotic musical A STRANGE LOOP (Playwrights Horizons) zeros in on the exclusive side of inclusiveness, as a gay and black composer/lyricist/bookwriter who earns his living as a theatre usher maneuvers through the difference between letting your underrepresented voice be heard and saying what the powers that be want to hear from your particular underrepresented voice. His epiphany is reached through an offer to earn a lot of money by ghostwriting a Tyler Perry gospel play.
Jonathan Spector's sharp and empathetic social commentary EUREKA DAY (Colt Couer) contains the funniest scene this reviewer has seen all year. When the executive committee of the decidedly progressive Eureka Day School, where all voices are to be respected and important decisions are made by consensus, learns that a student has the mumps, they hold a live Facebook Town Hall with parents to discuss the issue of vaccination. As the committee gathers around a laptop, trying to explain options in calming tones, the audience can see projections of posts made by parents indicating that all hell has indeed broken loose.
David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori's smartly done SOFT POWER (The Public Theater) comments on the well-intentioned ignorance of those who see themselves as allies to inclusiveness with its satirical reversal of Rodgers and Hammerstein's THE KING AND I. In this version, a Chinese businessman travels to New York and winds up advising Hillary Clinton in her bid for the presidency. Just like in THE KING AND I, they clash on social issues while struggling with attraction for each other, only this time it's the Asian who is seen as the wise teacher, bringing civilized thought to a vulgar, overtly militarized America where violence, religious fundamentalism, racism and homophobia are the norms.
Director Tina Satter's chilling docu-drama IS THIS A ROOM (Vineyard Theatre) is a staged performance of the unedited text taken from the audio recorded by FBI agents as they questioned a woman named Reality Winner who, since June 3rd, 2017 has been imprisoned for leaking a classified government report suggesting that Russian hackers had accessed a voting software supplier, enabling them to interfere in the 2016 United States presidential election.
Sylvia Khoury's tense and engrossing POWER STRIP (LCT3) centers on a how a 20-year-old Syrian woman protects herself while living in an overcrowded and underserved refugee camp. Rather than address the political issues of protecting those escaping hardship from their home countries, the playwright is fully concerned with sexual attitudes in a patriarchal society where human actions cannot be effectively policed.
Donja R. Love's urgently-toned absurdist drama one in two (The New Group) is unique when compared with more famous AIDS-related plays in that it was prompted by a 2016 report surmising that one in two black gay men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. This playgoer would be very interested to see how its untraditional ending would play out in a Broadway house.
But that's only ten. What Off-Broadway shows have you seen this year that would enrich Broadway in 2020.