New York Theater Takes a Fresh Look at the Classics This Season

James Earl Jones doing press for You Can't Take It With You.
James Earl Jones doing press for You Can't Take It With You.

Could 2014 be the season when New York reinvigorates its classical theater at long last? There's plenty of red meat for those who like big names and revivals, starting with Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's comic chestnut You Can't Take It With You, starring James Earl Jones. A remounting of The Real Thing, by less-than-obscure author Tom Stoppard, will star Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Cynthia Nixon. Star branding prevails in progressive precincts across the East River, too—for instance, BAM's Next Wave festival features familiar mainstays Rufus Wainwright and Robert Wilson teaming up for Shakespeare's Sonnets.

See also: The 2014 Fall (Arts) Issue: An Index

There also promise to be significant advances in repertory. Too often, theaters limit homegrown productions of non-Shakespeare classics to a handful of Molière, Ibsen, and Chekhov favorites. But this season Theatre for a New Audience expands the perimeter, offering a rare full staging of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine, Parts I and II (starring John Douglas Thompson), not to mention The Valley of Astonishment, a version of Farid Attar's epic mystical poem directed by the cosmopolitan master Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne.

Other classics reflect a fresh sense of theater's engagement. The Public Theater will premiere Todd Almond's musical adaptation of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale as part of Public Works, which brings together approximately 200 professionals and local community members for the collaboration. LaMama unveils its Earth Season, looking at Hurricane Sandy's implications with three very different versions of The Tempest (from the Italian company Motus, South Korea's Mokwha Repertory Company, and New York's own Karin Coonrod).

For bold innovation with classics on a larger scale, New York usually needs international aid — and this autumn it's on the way. Among many others, Ireland's Pan Pan Theatre supplies BAM's Next Wave festival with Embers, based on Samuel Beckett's 1959 radio play. St. Ann's Warehouse will host Poland's TR Warszawa (who bring their knockout version of Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis), and the U.K.'s Kneehigh for a musical version of Tristan & Yseult (based on an ancient Cornish epic).

Of course, not everything springs from poems, scripts, or texts. The French Institute Alliance Française's citywide festival Crossing the Line will offer encounters with some of the finest interdisciplinary experimenters: This year, festivalgoers can meet 600 Highwaymen's Employee of the Year (with songs by David Cale and an ensemble of young women under the age of 11), catch a Xavier Le Roy retrospective, or climb into seven beds alongside a performer at various public locations in Fernando Rubio's Everything By My Side. Who knows which new concoction will one day look like a classic that premiered all the way back in autumn 2014?

Trade Practices
Performances begin August 31

Business is booming for immersive, site-specific theater. At their best, such projects make hidden parts of the city visible, illuminating architecture and history. For Trade Practices, an episodic theater event produced by HERE Art Center with input from a coterie of downtown artists, you'll need to board a ferry to Governors Island. There, visitors will explore a series of rooms in Pershing Hall while participating in the life of a fictional currency company. Audiences discover economic values from the perspective of owners, managers, marketers, or workers—and surely that's worth a boat ride and more. Pershing Hall, Governors Island,

E Pluribus
Performances begin September 4

Last year, the Obie Award-winning Theater:Village festival brought together four small companies (Axis, Cherry Lane, New Ohio, and Rattlestick theaters) to present five works by playwright Lucy Thurber in tandem. This year, the fledgling alliance offers E Pluribus, four new plays contemplating American diversity. Randy Sharp's musical Solitary Light deals with the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Lisa Ramirez's To the Bone looks at immigrant women working in poultry plants. It takes many playwrights to evoke Jackson Heights' polyglot in I Like to Be Here, while Juárez: A Documentary Mythology takes an up-close look at the U.S. border. Theater:Village, various locations,

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Performances begin September 10

What do you do when you're 15 and possess extraordinary powers of intelligence, but are accused of killing your neighbor's dog? Duh —you try to solve the mystery yourself, and maybe unlock your own family's secrets at the same time. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a West End hit originally launched (like War Horse) from London's National Theatre, promises to make a visually thrilling theatrical journey out of Mark Haddon's bestselling 2003 novel. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street,

Scenes from a Marriage
Performances begin September 12

Sure, you might know director Ivo van Hove's stylish and arousing versions of classics (Roman Tragedies) and midcentury naturalism (The Little Foxes, A Streetcar Named Desire). But until now, the Flemish master hasn't explored his most abiding interest—stage interpretations of 20th-century cinema—with a New York ensemble. For his seventh collaboration with the New York Theatre Workshop, van Hove mounts Ingmar Bergman's 1974 film Scenes from a Marriage—and makes us get up off our duffs. To track Johan and Marianne's relationship over time, viewers will move from room to room, taking a gentle walk from youthful bloom to autumnal age. New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street,

On the Town
Performances begin September 20

There's something about old-timey Broadway shows that can make you love New York all over again—or at least some idyllic version of it. On the Town, created 70 years ago by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jerome Robbins, may just be the NYC musical, with three lusty sailors swaggering from Coney Island to Carnegie Hall. John Rando's revival, which will be housed in the atmospheric Lyric Theatre, boasts the largest live orchestra on Broadway, delivering standards like "New York, New York" and "Lonely Town." The Bronx is up, the Battery's down, and the brass is back on the Great White Way. Lyric Theatre, 213 West 42nd Street,

Shakespeare's Sonnets
Performances begin October 7

Summer's lease hath all too short a date. But October offers some special poetry of its own: Director Robert Wilson and dramaturge Jutta Ferbers have chosen 25 Shakespeare sonnets to stage with the Berliner Ensemble. All are set to an original score by Rufus Wainwright that blends classical, pop, and cabaret. Expect stanza after stanza of Dark Ladies, queens, fools, and cupids—and possibly dreamlike magic and a brush with immortality. Thy eternal summer shall not fade. BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn,

Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, and 3)
Performances begin October 14

A new play by Suzan-Lori Parks counts as a historic occasion. Parks — perhaps the most inventive American dramatist today — places herself in a dizzying dialogue with history via her evocative and twisty wordplay. Father Comes Home from the Wars consists of three dramas in a single evening, each set at a different point in the Civil War. Ostensibly, we follow a slave, a Confederate colonel, and others across the battlefield. But if this is anything like her previous forays (The America Play), we'll be going places far, far beyond—maybe even taking an adventurous plunge into what Parks calls the Great Whole of History. Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street,

4.48 Psychosis
Performances begin October 16

Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis can be a haunting work, fashioned as it was by the playwright as she underwent treatment for severe depression. True, her subsequent suicide hovers over this fluid, nonlinear text. But if you suspect it's too dark to handle, think again. Kane's startling visions reawakened European drama in the 1990s for a reason. I saw this version, by the acclaimed Polish ensemble TR Warszawa (directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna), in Poland several years ago, and can report that it's exciting and moving. An astonishing performance by Magdalena Cielecka lies at its troubled and racing heart. St. Ann's Warehouse, 29 Jay Street, Brooklyn,

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