Fall Theater Preview: A Dozen Shows Gets You Back to (Drama) School

From Broadway to Off Off, from musicals to mind games, here are 12 reasons to become the theater's most valuable resource: a ticket buyer.

Clockwise from top left: Stereophonic, Leslie Odom Jr., Infinite Life, Guttenberg! The Musical!, Room Room Room. Chelcie Parry, Marcus Middleton, Ahron R. Foster, Mandee Johnson, Acacia Handel

By now, enough hair-tearing articles and social media posts have appeared that even a casual observer knows: theater’s in rough shape. Audiences are staying home, streaming infinite content; inflation is bleeding budgets; and donations are shrinking. Putting on artful plays or musicals—not just pop-culture spectacles—has never been a great business model, but the vibe is markedly dire. This is all to say, if you’re reading a fall preview for theater, do your duty. Go see a show or three. Here are twelve—from Broadway to Off-Off—that promise a better time than falling asleep in front of Netflix.

Christina Kirk (left) and Marylouise Burke in Infinite Life. Ahron R. Foster

Infinite Life at Atlantic Theater Company (opens Sept 12; through Oct 8)

Theater nerds already have their tickets. Annie Baker’s look at aging and desire among five women sitting outdoors in northern California, a co-production with London’s National Theatre, is crammed with A-list talent. James Macdonald directs Marylouise Burke, Kristine Nielsen, Brenda Pressley, Mia Katigbak, Christina Kirk and Pete Simpson. Just go.

Leslie Odom Jr. Marcus Middleton

Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch at the Music Box Theatre (previews Sept 7; opens Sept 27)

What’s Leslie Odom Jr.’s follow-up to Aaron Burr in Hamilton? He’s taking on the title role in Ossie Davis’ 1961 period dramedy, about a preacher who returns to his Southern hometown intending to buy a church and start an integrated congregation. Playing Purlie requires boatloads of swagger, charisma and iron lungs for blasts of gospel and rhetoric. You’ll want to be in the room where it happens.

Anne E. Thompson, Kirsten Fitzgerald and Mary Beth Fisher in Swing State. Liz Lauren

Swing State at Minetta Lane Theatre (Sept 8–Oct 21)

Last year Robert Falls stepped down after leading Chicago’s Goodman Theatre for 35 years—but the master director is anything but retiring. He and Audible Theater are bringing the Goodman production of Rebecca Gilman’s small-town drama to NYC for a limited run. The story orbits around people in rural Wisconsin coping with loss and searching for hope. 

Kate Brehm in Psychic Self Defense. Paula Court

Psychic Self Defense at HERE (Sept 12–30)

Longtime performance imp of the downtown scene, Normandy Sherwood invites audiences to traverse a series of veils and journey deep into the “guts” of a theater. The descriptor “immersive” gets thrown around a lot, but this performance/séance/vibe promises to activate the space and mysterious objects around you. This could only be theater: live, sensory, and weird. 

Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells Mandee Johnson

Gutenberg! The Musical! at the James Earl Jones Theatre (previews Sept 15; opens Oct 12)

Hardest-working director on Broadway Alex Timbers (Moulin Rouge!, Here Lies Love) revisits a show he presented Off-Broadway in 2006. Now starring Book of Mormon original cast members Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells, the satirical spoof follows two creatives pitching their song-and-dance extravaganza about the 16th-century inventor of movable type.

Malika Samuel Courtesy of Malika Samuel

Bite Me at WP Theater (Sept 23–Oct 22)

Young Los Angeles-based playwright Eliana Pipes explores the fraught bond between a troubled white boy (David Garelik) and a bookish Black girl (Malika Samuel) in this two-hander directed by Rebecca Martínez (Sancocho, also at WP Theater). Remember all the mind games and peer pressure you had to survive in high school? Probably hasn’t changed much, but we’re curious to see how the teen drama unfolds—and the emotional aftermath at a reunion years later.

Micaela Diamond Justin Patterson

Here We Are at The Shed (previews Sept 28; opens Oct 22)

Even to call this Stephen Sondheim’s final musical might start arguments. Was it even finished when he passed in 2021? He said he was still tinkering in an interview with Stephen Colbert two months before his death. We’re both excited and a little scared—Assassins was his last great show (sorry, Passion partisans). Regardless: book by David Ives, based on movies by Luis Buñuel, directed by Joe Mantello, insanely stacked cast includes Micaela Diamond (Parade); let’s see Steve finish that hat. 

Aaron Monaghan and Caitríona Ennis in Juno and the Paycock as part of DruidO’Casey. Ros Kavanagh

DruidO’Casey at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (Oct 4–14)

Post-pandemic, was your attention span diminished from binging and staring at screens? Here’s a way to restore your focus—and your soul. The peerless Irish troupe Druid returns with one of its stunning all-day cycles focused on one writer. Sean O’Casey’s “Dublin Trilogy” chronicles the hopes and heartache of tenement dwellers in the tumultuous years between 1915 and ’23. Garry Hynes directs this mammoth undertaking which has drawn raves across the pond.

The cast of Stereophonic.  Chelcie Parry

Stereophonic at Playwrights Horizons (previews Oct 6; opens Oct 29)

Dazzling David Adjmi deconstructed the sitcom Three’s Company and put Foucauldian theory in Marie Antoinette’s mouth. His new work sounds totally different. Using granular realism, Adjmi explores the creation of a masterpiece album over the course of two years. Arcade Fire’s Will Butler provides the music and we watch the actors riff and build songs live on stage. Daniel Aukin directs this deep dive into band dynamics and the creative process.

Maureen Sebastian Maureen

Poor Yella Rednecks at Manhattan Theatre Club (previews Oct 10; opens Nov 1)

Last year, Qui Nguyen hit it big as screenwriter of Disney’s gloriously inventive Strange World. Now the writer returns to his roots, in every sense. This new play continues his irreverent, comic-book-inflected chronicle of his immigrant parents in America. A young Vietnamese couple (Maureen Sebastian, Ben Levin) settles in Arkansas, trying to keep their love alive despite, well, living in Arkansas. Nguyen’s longtime collaborator May Adrales directs.

Philip Santos Schaffer, syd island, and Andy Boyd in Room, Room, Room.  Acacia Handel

Room, Room, Room, in the many Mansions of eternal glory for Thee and for everyone at The Brick (Oct 12–28)

And you thought Purlie Victorious had the longest title. Performance trio Philip Santos Schaffer, syd island, and Andy Boyd channel the historical figure Publick Universal Friend, an American mystic who in 1776 had an angelic vision that today we’d call nonbinary, anarcha-queer, and Chaotic Good. Press materials state they want to turn the Brick into “a temporary genderless/genderful utopia with our audience,” i.e., folx pursuing their happiness. 

Michael Shannon Courtesy of Michael Shannon

Waiting for Godot at Theatre for a New Audience (Nov 4–Dec 3)

A critic once described Samuel Beckett’s absurdist classic as “a play in which nothing happens, twice.” I can’t think of two actors I’d rather see do nothing than Michael Shannon and Paul Sparks. For decades, these earthy, intense men—menacing, funny, haunted, vulnerable—have done wonders in edgy new plays. Now they get to shine (well, grumble and shuffle) in the grandaddy of all experimental drama, as two tramps on an apocalyptic wasteland contemplating life’s meaninglessness. Spoiler alert: Godot doesn’t show up.


Fall Theater Preview: A Dozen Shows Gets You Back to (Drama) School