Features NYCNYC FeaturesOff-Broadway Published 30 January 2020

Exeunt NYC Recommends: February 2020

Off-Broadway dominates this month’s recommendations column. Our critics celebrate the diversity of material on display all over New York City stages.

Exeunt Staff

Off-Broadway offerings dominate this month’s column, and our critics’ selections show the breadth and depth of theater that exists beyond Times Square. From Lincoln Center to St. Ann’s Warehouse and beyond, Exeunt’s crew has got you covered with everything you need to see.

Ruth Negga in Hamlet. (Photo: Ros Kavanagh)

(St. Ann’s Warehouse) (February 1-March 8): Hamlet is my play for all seasons—give me Shakespeare’s number one conflicted sadboy any day, in any form, and I’ll be happy. That said, Gate Theatre Dublin’s production of Hamlet, at St. Ann’s Warehouse, should present its own particular delight in the form of its star, Academy Award nominee Ruth Negga, who has dazzled on the big screen but makes her American theatrical debut as the tortured prince. Directed by Yaël Farber, this production looks like it will be a stylish and dynamic take on the classic drama. (Maya Phillips)

Anatomy of a Suicide 
(Atlantic Theater Company) (February 1-March 15): Alice Birch’s play arrives in New York on a raft of good review from London, where critics compared her abrasive, experimental style to Caryl Churchill and the late Sarah Kane. High praise indeed. The work, which deals with the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, also won the 2018 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, presented annually to women playwrights. That’s surely enough to recommend it — but I’m also looking forward to Carla Gugino’s return to the New York stage after a too-long absence, and inventive direction from the prolific and compelling Lileana Blain-Cruz. (Cameron Kelsall)

Unknown Solider 
(Playwrights Horizons) (February 14-March 29): Since its 2015 Williamstown premiere and well before Michael Friedman’s unfathomable death two years later, I have longed to see his musical Unknown Soldier travel to New York. There is a sadness now in its arrival, but I’m as giddy at the prospect of a new Friedman as I would ever be. The always reliable Margo Seibert leads an excellent cast, which includes Estelle Parsons, hot off A Bright Room Called Day and still going strong at 92. (Joey Sims)

(Baryshnikov Arts Center) (February 13-15): One of the best things about living in New York is how much international theater tours through town. One of the worst things about living in New York is how much international theater tours through town for like TWO days. I desperately want to keep up with the work being made in other countries. I find international work so interesting because it’s often a direct conversation with a culture that I have not experienced. Even if it is a place I have visited, have I ever really seen enough or experienced enough of that culture to have truly understood it? It took 1000 trips to the UK and finally watching Doctor Who for me to BEGIN to even crack the British character. Granted, I find American culture completely foreign to me sometimes. I guess what I’m saying is I want to know more about the world I exist in (foreign and domestic) and how we can ever communicate with one another, and I’ve chosen theater as the primary way for me to do this. So I have a couple of international picks this month to serve that spirit of cultural exploration. In their NY debut, Chilean theater collective Bonobo is presenting a show about aliens landing on earth and using humor and political wit to consider what “The Other” means in contemporary life. Color me curious. (Nicole Serratore)

Eraser Mountain 
(NYU Skirball) (February 28-29): Another international item of note is Toshiki Okada’s new work. This collaboration between Japanese director Okada and visual artist Teppei Kaneuji is supposed to look at how we center humans in “problems” in the world. Maybe we need to look more holistically at the world around us. This sounds a little like a Chilean work I liked which had me consider the inner life of plants. Okada’s work has been translated and produced a few times in New York before (The Sonic Life of Giant TortoiseGod Bless Baseball, and Time’s Journey Through a Room), and he is one of the leading figures of contemporary Japanese theater. So maybe it’s time you give his work a look!  (Nicole Serratore)

It didn’t take much to convince Joey Sims to see Dana H. at the Vineyard. (Photo: Craig Schwartz)

Dana H. 
(Vineyard Theatre) (February 11-March 22): Deirdre O’Connell. That’s it, that’s the tweet.

Chekhov/Tolstoy: Love Stories 
(Theatre Row) (January 23rd-March 14th) The creative Mint Theater Company brings a production of two short plays adapted from stories by two of Russia’s greatest writers to Theatre Row. It’s the first time these two poignant adaptations have been staged together. The cast includes the wonderful Vinie Burrows with the Mint’s regular sound designer and composer, Jane Shaw, making her directing debut. (Juliet Hindell)

House Plant 
(NYTW Next Door) (February 5-22): Do you like smart theater? Sarah Einspanier is writing it and Jaki Bradley is directing it all over town. I vaguely remember this play from a reading years ago, and if I remember correctly, a house plant is one of the main characters. Einspanier has further honed her voice, which was already rigorous and playful, since then, and a great downtown cast seems primed to delight. (Dan O’Neil)

Intimate Apparel 
(Lincoln Center Theater) (February 27-May 3): I’ve long considered Intimate Apparel Lynn Nottage’s masterpiece, and it never fails to move me even though I’ve seen it in a half-dozen different productions. In collaboration with LCT and the Metropolitan Opera, Nottage and composer Ricky Ian Gordon have adapted the 2004 play into a chamber opera, which will premiere at the intimate Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. I don’t know what to expect yet, but Nottage’s story of an African-American seamstress in the early twentieth century has always been somewhat operatic — it’s just been waiting for the right music to come along. (Cameron Kelsall)

The Courtroom 
(Waterwell) (monthly: upcoming February 12th, March 9): I am fascinated by the theatricality of close reenactments, and Waterwell’s intimate recreation of the deportation proceedings of Filipina immigrant Elizabeth Keathley, with transcriptions arranged by Arian Moyaed and directed by Lee Sunday Evans, is the reenactment for our times. The Courtroom was named in the Times’ round-up of the best theater of 2019, but Waterwell’s credentials as one of the few remaining independent NYC companies is recommendation enough. Their productions meld political urgency with theatrical polish in energetic work that avoids a belabored “message,” yet maintains the bite of relevance. (Alison Walls)

Dracula and Frankenstein
 (Lynn F. Angelson Theater) (January 6-March 8): Halloween has long passed but the dark, gloomy days of winter seem as good a time as any for a creature feature. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein received some renewed attention two years ago, as it celebrated its 200th anniversary. (The National Theatre in London celebrated with an adaptation directed by Danny Boyle and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, alternating roles.) Here, Classic Stage Company presents Tristan Bernays’ adaptation of the story about men and monsters, directed by Timothy Douglas, and also starring just two actors, in repertory with a production of Dracula, adapted by Kate Hamill and directed by Sarna Lapine. Known for her lively and comical adaptations of classic novels like Pride and PrejudiceSense and Sensibility, and Vanity Fair, Hamill (who also takes the role of the insane, grotesque Renfield) is sure to bring her charm and flair — and a bit of feminist spark — to Bram Stoker’s seminal work. (Maya Phillips)

Coal Country
 (Public Theatre) (February 18-March 29): In 2010, twenty-nine people died in an explosion at Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. This new play is based on interviews with survivors and family members, and it promises to offer a searing account of the effects of the disaster on a close-knit community. Mining has become a political football of late, as climate change deniers try to prolong this outdated industry. Writers Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen have collaborated with three-time Grammy-winning country musician Steve Earle to memorialize the worst mining accident in recent U.S. history on the stage. (Juliet Hindell)

Dengue Fever. (Photo: Marc Walker)

Cambodian Rock Band (Signature Theatre) (February 4-March 15):  The Cambodian/American indie band Dengue Fever is a longtime favorite of mine, with a sound that improbably blends Khmer rock, garage rock, a little psychedelia, and a kick-ass horn section and lyrics in both Khmer and English. Combine their music with a book by Lauren Yee, who’s a Doris Duke winner and the second-most-produced playwright in America last season, but rarely produced in New York thus far. Cambodian Rock Band kicks off Yee’s residency at Signature, and I’m excited. (Loren Noveck)

We’re Gonna Die 
(Second Stage) (February 4-March 22): The original production of Young Jean Lee’s We’re Gonna Die was staged at Joe’s Pub, in a cabaret environment, with Lee herself fronting the band Future Wife. It was intimate and weird and more than a little heartbreaking, and definitely best experienced over a cocktail. This new production, directed and choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly and performed by a full cast, promises to be something else entirely–but if the songs hold up, it should be something equally intriguing. (Loren Noveck)

I second Loren’s recommendations of We’re Gonna Die and Cambodian Rock Band. Both shows promise to blur generic lines and explore deep dark ideas and life questions in an energized and challenging way. That is exactly what I need right now. Young Jean Lee is also the kind of playwright who is always going to pique my interest. She is daring in subject matter and form, and possesses a confidence in her own personal style that maintains a sense of fun and energy even around highly politicized topics. I am less familiar with Lauren Yee (although having learned that she is the second most produced playwright in the country for the 2019/20 season, I am embarrassed to admit it), but her works seem to offer a similar courageousness, and the collaboration with Dengue Fever and Chay Yew should be an exciting one. (Alison Walls)

Exeunt Staff is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine


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