Let's face it - last year's season was not the most spectacular for new plays. By the Tony Awards, all of the nominated Best Plays had closed except for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. And Cursed Child, despite having one of the best productions of a play in ages, has faced lots of criticism for its script and treatment of a beloved series.
But the 2018-2019 season is different. There are so many new plays about various timely and intriguing topics, featuring numerous stars helping to bring them to life. I'll take you through these new plays in the order of opening and even share a few of my thoughts on them from what I know. (Although, spoiler alert: I've only read one of these plays so far. But I will change that.)
Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee
The first work by an Asian-American female playwright on Broadway, directed by a woman - Anna D. Shapiro - focuses not on any marginalized group but perhaps the opposite, as the title implies. Armie Hammer, Josh Charles, and Paul Schneider debuted in the play that focused on masculinity and empathy, which even the most liberal of families must confront. The play opened on July 23 and closed on September 9. I have heard buzz about this play for a while, and am looking forward to reading it at the first moment I can!
Bernhardt/Hamlet by Theresa Rebeck
Tony Award winner Janet McTeer plays stage performer Sarah Bernhardt in her journey to perform Hamlet at the turn of the century. Combining comedy, drama, and feminism in one, the show has certainly piqued my interest! It opened on September 25 and closed on November 18. I will certainly be looking out for the script of this one - I love a good feminist, late 19th-century piece!
The Nap by Richard Bean
By the playwright of One Man, Two Guvnors, seen on Broadway in 2012, The Nap focuses on snooker - a variation of pool - and the relationship between a father and son attempting to avoid charges of fixing a match. The play opened on September 27 and closed on November 11. I'll be honest, I haven't heard much about this play, but I know that family relationships and competition can make for some good theatre.
The Lifespan of a Fact by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell, adapted by the book by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal
Directed by Leigh Silverman, Lifespan of a Fact is, interestingly, based on a true story. It focuses on the correspondence between John D'Agata, a literary nonfiction author, and Jim Fingal, a fact-checker who searches for the truth in every detail - not to mention the editor, Emily Penrose, caught in between. The show focuses on the struggle between truth and storytelling, something which feels relevant to the notion of theatremaking but also today's focus on "fake news" and social media sharing. The show features Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, and Bobby Cannavale, and played Broadway from October 18 to January 13. You can read theatre correspondent Gigi Gervais's review of the play here.
The Ferryman by Jez Butterworth
I've read and heard so much about The Ferryman and I still feel like I know almost nothing about it. What I do know is that it takes place in 1980s Ireland and features a large ensemble that even includes (geese)! I've heard it compared to Shakespeare in its scale and complexity, but I definitely need to read it for myself. What is clear to me is that this play seems to be the one to beat when it comes to best new play of the year. The show opened on October 21 and will be on Broadway through July 9.
American Son by Christopher Demos-Brown
Starring Kerry Washington as the mother of a missing teenage biracial son, American Son tackles the racial strain all over America in an intimate and intense drama. Taking place on a stormy night at a police station, a mother's fears take hold. Featuring theatre favorites Eugene Lee, Jeremy Jordan, and Steven Pasquale, the show opened on November 4 and will close on January 27. Theatre Correspondent Gigi Gervais reviewed this piece as well, which you can find here.
Mike Birbiglia's The New One
Writer-performer Mike Birbiglia comes to Broadway in his one-man show, which found immense success and raves in its summer off-Broadway run. His piece follows his life, from his childhood to fatherhood, ranging from the hilarious to the poignant. The show opened on November 11 and ran through January 20.
Network by Lee Hall, adapted from the screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky
Bryan Cranston is an early but clear front runner for the Best Actor Tony for his role as Howard Beale (which he won an Olivier for in London). Other major names - director Ivo van Hove, actors Tatiana Maslany and Tony Goldwyn - abound in this production, based off the 1976 Sidney Lumet film. Focused on the line between news and entertainment, Network takes on questions of truth and media in a time where both seem under attack. The show opened on December 6, with performances until the end of April.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Aaron Sorkin, adapted from the novel by Harper Lee
Despite the unbelievably impressive list of new plays in the season, To Kill A Mockingbird seems to be the only one capable of potentially knocking The Ferryman off its pedestal for best new play. Boasting enormous names like Aaron Sorkin, Bartlett Sher, and Jeff Daniels, the show has been extremely successful at the box office. America seems to be flocking to the stage adaptation of one of its favorite novels, and the production seems to be up to the challenge. The show opened on December 13, and is currently selling tickets through November.
Choir Boy by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Here it is, folks: the only play on this long, lovely list that I have read. By Tarell Alvin McCraney, Oscar winner for the screenplay of Moonlight alongside Barry Jenkins and MacArthur "Genius" Grant recipient, Choir Boy focuses around Pharus, a black teen who leads the gospel choir at his prep school. The script is excellent, giving a glimpse into a story that is rarely told in major media. The show, directed by Trip Cullman, opened on January 8 and will run until February 24.
Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus by Taylor Mac
Starring Nathan Lane and Andrea Martin, directed by five-time Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe, and written by MacArthur "Genius" Grant recipient Taylor Mac, Gary certainly doesn't have to rest on the Bard's laurels. And nor does it seem to - the piece is a dark, political comedy featuring two servants who are meant to clean up the bloodshed caused by the violence at the end of Shakespeare's tragedy. I am always one for a good, deeply dark comedy, and I'm excited to see the response to this play. The show opens on April 11.
What the Constitution Means to Me by Heidi Schreck
A new addition to this list, I had been hearing about this play during its New York Theatre Workshop run. The play, written by and starring Heidi Schreck, recounts her high school experience in a speech and debate competition where she spoke about the Constitution for college tuition. With an eye on legal history and how it affected women through generations of America, the play will open on March 31 and have performances through June 9. This sounds so up my alley that I'm kind of ashamed I haven't sought out the script yet. Along the much raved about Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris, NYTW evidently hit it out of the park with their season.
Ink by James Graham
Last but not least, Ink comes across the pond to Broadway, starring Bertie Carvel and Jonny Lee Miller as Rupert Murdoch and Larry Lamb respectively. In the play, Murdoch and Lamb team up to make a struggling tabloid into a smash hit at any cost - based on real events of 1969. Winning raves in London, the show is generating momentum prior to its April 24 opening.
Over a dozen new plays. I’m in awe.
But even more beautiful is seeing the patterns of these plays. So many of them are about identity, especially marginalized identity, and represent a diverse set of playwrights. Many of these playwrights are making their Broadway debut, showing that new voices are making their path onto the Great White Way. Lots of the plays deal with truth and justice, especially in the news. Several are imported from London, while others follow acclaimed off-Broadway runs. New play making is clearly alive and well in the world.
I genuinely am interested in reading all of these plays. It's stunning to see this energy put on Broadway after a rather forgettable past season. Fingers crossed I can get even half of these in before Tony nominations come out!
For more information on these plays and more, please refer to the Hollywood Reporter article describing the shows of the 2018-2019 Broadway season.
(A scene from Choir Boy. Photo by Matthew Murphy.)