Theater & Arts

Off-Broadway is all over the map

Off-Broadway's boundless new season takes audiences everywhere from heavenly Paris to the gates of hell

Special to Newsday

October 1, 2006

Broadway is a geographical place as much as a brand name, but by definition, Off-Broadway sprawls - from Times Square-adjacent venues to the West Village, from Brooklyn to Lincoln Center. This year's Off-Broadway offerings likewise travel everywhere from Paris to the Gaza Strip, from Colombia to Colorado, and from Washington, D.C., to the gates of hell (not a long distance, it could be argued).

Herewith a sampling of some of the season's highlights.

Halloween frights come early to St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, as postmodern pranksters Les Freres Corbusiers stage an interactive "Hell House," based on the real-life horror exhibits staged by evangelical Christians to educate teens on the evils of extramarital sex and "Harry Potter." Opens Oct. 10.

Proof that the powerful don't go gently into that political night, Russell Lees' "Nixon's Nixon" imagines a resignation-eve strategy meeting between Tricky Dick and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. For the play's 10-year anniversary, Manhattan Class Company has reunited the original director, Jim Simpson (best known as artistic director of the Flea Theatre Company, and as Mr. Sigourney Weaver) with original actors Gerry Bamman and Steve Mellor. Opens Wednesday at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Another Nixon, Cynthia of "Sex and the City" fame, headlines a revival of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," Jay Presson Allen's adaptation of the Muriel Spark novel about an outspoken teacher at a conservative Scottish girls' school, which previously has provided a showpiece for such divas as Maggie Smith and Zoe Caldwell. The New Group production, directed by Scott Elliott, opens Oct. 9 at Theatre Row.

Controversy dogged young American activist Rachel Corrie in life and in death, so it's not surprising that it attends efforts to memorialize her, as well. "My Name Is Rachel Corrie," the London stage hit based on journals she kept while participating in aggressive protests in occupied Gaza, was slated to run at New York Theatre Workshop until artistic director James Nicola backed out, citing advice from Jewish colleagues about the work's purported biases. The uproar provided reams of free publicity for the show's inevitable New York premiere, under Alan Rickman's direction, Oct. 15 at the Minetta Lane Theatre.

American theater's favorite misanthrope, Neil LaBute, returns with "Wrecks," a solo play about - what else? - love, family and marriage. Ed Harris stars at the Public Theatre under the playwright's direction. Opens Oct. 10.

American theater's other resident crank, David Mamet, surfaces at the theater he co-founded, the Atlantic Theatre Company, with an adaptation of Harley Granville-Barker's social drama "The Voysey Inheritance," opening Nov. 15.

After acclaimed runs at distinguished regional theaters, Sarah Ruhl's comedy "The Clean House," about the relationship between a have-it-all woman and her Brazilian domestic, comes to Lincoln Center with a star-studded cast, including Blair Brown, Concetta Tomei and Jill Clayburgh. Plays Oct. 30-Dec. 17 at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater.

Diana Hansen and Brian Feinstein's quirky musical "Mimi le Duck," about a Mormon housewife from Idaho who runs away to have adventures in Paris, started out at the New York Fringe Fest. For its premiere at New World Stages, it's picked up nine-lived diva Eartha Kitt. Opens Oct. 31.

Making a long-overdue return to New York stages is Paul Rudnick, with the comedy "Regrets Only," starring Christine Baranski and David Rasche as a Manhattan power couple, George Grizzard as their fashion-designer friend and the acerbic Jackie Hoffman as their sassy maid. Opens Nov. 19 at Manhattan Theatre Club's City Stage II.

A widow and widower find that it's never too late for love in Kathleen Clark's "Southern Comforts." Primary Stages' production was delayed because of actor William Biff McGuire's back injury; he's been replaced by Larry Keith, who stars opposite Penny Fuller in the play, already a hit at Florida's Coconut Grove Playhouse. Judith Ivey directs at 59E59. Opens Nov. 4.

Two Jewish-themed hits are making transfers. "A Jew Grows in Brooklyn," about a man reconciling his 1960s youth with his Holocaust-survivor parents' experience, moves to 37 Arts for an open-ended run starting Oct. 11. And standup comic Judy Gold's one-woman show, "25 Questions for a Jewish Mother," opens at St. Luke's Theatre Oct. 12.

Blythe Danner and Carla Gugino star in the Roundabout's revival of Tennessee Williams' hothouse drama "Suddenly Last Summer," directed by Mark Brokaw, at the Laura Pels Theatre starting Nov. 15.

When members of the scrappy Untitled Theater learned that Václav Havel would spend eight weeks at Columbia University this fall as an artist in residence, they decided to mount a festival to present the Czech playwright/president's complete works. The "Václav Havel Festival" runs Thursday through Dec. 4 with 17 full productions at various locations, including such classics as "The Memorandum" and "The Garden Party."

Finally, for a bloody twist on the holidays, there's "Carrie: A Period Piece," Theatre Couture's adaptation of Stephen King's horror classic, featuring Sherry Vine and the puppetry of Basil Twist. Runs Dec. 5-30 at P.S. 122.

Cynthia Nixon Cynthia Nixon (Newsday/ Ari Mintz)

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