Theater

Fall’s Must-See Plays and Musicals

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Critic’s Pick: How long would it take to tell your entire life story? In the hands of the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, quite possibly seven years. The New York–based theater ensemble is currently presenting the final three installments of its epic, interdisciplinary performance project Life and Times, kicking off the annual live arts festival Crossing the Line (crossingthelinefestival.org). Life and Times, launched in 2009 and led by co-directors Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, narrates the story of company member Kristin Worrall, from her birth to age 34. What’s so special about Kristin Worrall? Everything and nothing. Life and Times is the story of an ordinary American life: the sights and sounds and smells of a suburban childhood, the travails of puberty, the angst of teenage friendships. The piece is told in Worrall’s words, culled from marathon interview sessions, and then transformed in wildly imaginative ways onstage, inhabiting the visual worlds of, say, Agatha Christie murder mysteries or sci-fi tales featuring extraterrestrials. Some installments depart from theater altogether: Episodes 4.5 and 5, detailing Worrall’s sexual coming-of-age, were presented as, respectively, an animated film and a hand-drawn, Kama Sutra–style book, which audiences read, seated together, in a dark theater. Episodes 7, 8, and 9 — playing this week, in their New York premieres, at the French Institute Alliance Française (September 22, 55 East 59th Street, fiaf.org) and Anthology Film Archives (September 24, 32 Second Avenue, anthologyfilmarchives.org) — are films inspired by the aesthetics of Citizen Kane, early CinemaScope, and rap videos, among other forms. Been on the edge of your seat for seven years? Now’s your chance to see how it all turns out. — Miriam Felton-Dansky

The Black Crook Through October 7 In 1866, still licking its wounds from the Civil War, America invented the book musical when Charles M. Barras’s Faustian melodrama The Black Crook opened at Niblo’s Garden at the corner of Broadway and Crosby. The original spectacular was full-on bonkers, running north of five hours and featuring a saucy ballet troupe of seventy ladies. But while downtown never forgets, it also has a limited budget, so a band of experimenters (led by adapter-director Joshua William Gelb) has reimagined and shortened Crook, cramming it into the tiny downstairs space at Abrons. I can think of no better way to celebrate a form’s 150th birthday. Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street), abronsartscenter.org — Helen Shaw

Nat Turner in Jerusalem Through October 16 New York Theatre Workshop opens its season with Nat Turner in Jerusalem, Nathan Alan Davis’s two-hander about a jailhouse conversation between the leader of a doomed slave rebellion and the attorney who would later tell his story. In a year in which Nate Parker’s screen portrait of Turner has dominated headlines, it’s a thrill to think we’ll see the same person played by Phillip James Brannon, a consistently bright light in plays like Love and Information and Bootycandy. Sometimes it’s a single man who leads you: Brannon’s presence makes this work necessary viewing. New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, nytw.org — Helen Shaw

The Cherry Orchard Through December 4 This season, the Roundabout puts Chekhov’s protosymbolist masterpiece The Cherry Orchard on Broadway, where its message about generational inaction and environmental exploitation will no doubt strike a plaintive chord. The production boasts an embarrassment of talent riches: Tony Award–winning playwright Stephen Karam (The Humans) adapts; splashy British helmer Simon Godwin directs; and the cast includes Diane Lane, mighty John Glover (so brilliant this summer in Troilus and Cressida), Celia Keenan-Bolger, and sweet Susannah Flood. And the cherry on top? Wunderkind composer Nico Muhly did the music. American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, roundabouttheatre.org — Helen Shaw

The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family Through December 4 Any theater buff will tell you that community is the soul of live performance, and so it is with the extreme sense of togetherness engendered by Richard Nelson’s family dramas. Once again he gathers us around a family’s table for a trilogy: This fall, the Public Theater offers the second and third parts of his three-play cycle, The Gabriels. As it happens, the greatest strength of Nelson’s hyperrealist works (in the first part, someone really baked a pie) has been the company assembled for them. Every show, actors like Jay O. Sanders and Maryann Plunkett offer a master class in the art of openhearted listening — a good lesson for a year like this one. The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, publictheater.org — Helen Shaw

Oh, Hello on Broadway September 23–January 8 This comedy crushed it at the Cherry Lane, and based on the actual weeping fits people went into downtown, the folks uptown should be in stitches. Oh, Hello on Broadway starts its limited run (yes, on Broadway) in late September, so we’ve all got another chance to catch Nick Kroll‘s and John Mulaney‘s old-fogy alter egos, Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland, as they hold forth on matters pertaining to the Upper West Side, their own theatrical ambitions, and — we hope — the dangers of too much tuna. Director of the hour Alex Timbers is at the helm, ensuring what should be a sheen of professionalism over the cavalcade of intentionally terrible jokes and groan-inducing puns. Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street, ohhellobroadway.com — Helen Shaw

Miles for Mary October 2–29 For perfect period-specific melancholy, there has been no better company than the Mad Ones, the superb Off-Off-Broadway troupe that devised The Essential Straight & Narrow (heartbreak at a Seventies highway motel) and The Tremendous Tremendous (heartbreak at the 1939 World’s Fair). Now the team, which includes exquisite performers like Joe Curnutte, Marc Bovino, and Stephanie Wright Thompson, brings the tragicomic Miles for Mary to the Bushwick Starr, diving into the “camcorder” Eighties with all the deliciously terrible hair and jeans choices that implies. My hopes are as high as my newly sprayed bangs. Bushwick Starr, 207 Starr Street, Brooklyn, thebushwickstarr.org — Helen Shaw

Letter to a Man October 15–October 30 The last time experimental-theater titan Robert Wilson teamed up with uber-danseur Mikhail Baryshnikov, it was for 2014’s bravura work The Old Woman. So it’s particularly exciting that the maestro of stillness — Wilson is known for crafting every photon of every light cue with excruciating care — has made another work for the greatest mover alive. The new Letter to a Man takes its inspiration from the schizophrenic crackup of Vaslav Nijinsky, the Ukrainian dancer-choreographer whose angular-erotic movement for The Rite of Spring inspired riots. Relatedly, BAM politely asks that you not tear up your seats, no matter how much the show arouses you. BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, bam.org — Helen Shaw

Notes From the Field October 15–December 11 We wait a long time between solo shows from Anna Deavere Smith, the documentary-theater artist who made Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles. But the wait’s always worth it. For her brand of radical civic engagement, Smith dives deep into her topics, interviewing people far and wide, then performing them all as a kind of one-woman impact report. In Notes From the Field, Smith explores racism, the implications of our incarceration-obsessed system, and the school-to-prison pipeline. In her second act, she creates a facilitated discussion with the Second Stage audience — so if you’re not woke now, this’ll fix it. Tony Kiser Theatre, 305 West 43rd Street, 2st.com — Helen Shaw

The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World Begins October 25 The Signature Theatre’s Suzan-Lori Parks residency (see “Matters of Life and Death,” page 30) starts with a bang: her 1990 jazz-influenced opus The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World. For those audiences who know Parks from her most recent work, the relatively gentle Father Comes Home From the Wars, this earlier, incandescently strange work is going to strike like a thunderbolt. Positioned by the Great Hole of History, Black Man With Watermelon dies again and again as a chorus wonders, “Where he gonna go now that he done dieded?” Rage, minstrelsy, humor, lynching — it all roils in this cataclysm of a play, which promises to electrify the theatrical season. Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, signaturetheatre.org

Kings of War November 3–6 The peripatetic Amsterdam-based Ivo van Hove has been everywhere lately, from downtown with Lazarus up to Broadway with The Crucible. But even if those left you cold, you must rally your troops for Kings of War, another of van Hove’s marathon Bard-a-palooza events at BAM. Again, as with the magisterial Roman Tragedies, Toneelgroep Amsterdam crams together a bunch of Shakespeare histories (this time Henry V, Henry VI, and Richard III); again, van Hove’s incomparable Dutch company charges through the modern-dress adaptations without a break. Yes, it’s four and a half hours, but this stuff is as exciting as programming gets. Once more unto the breach, you theatergoers, and close up your hunger with the handily purchasable snacks. BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, bam.org — Helen Shaw

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