The Fall Season: Six Shows I’m Looking Forward To

Broadway’s fall season doesn’t immediately inspire me. Several of the most high-profile new shows come from people whose work I’ve not been crazy about in the past. But I’m always looking for surprises, and here are six upcoming shows that might provide some:

Meteor Shower (opening Nov. 29): Steve Martin’s new play, first staged last year at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater, is about the sparks that fly when two married couples get together for an evening of stargazing. Despite his renaissance-man talents, Martin’s theater work (Picasso in the Lapin Agile, Bright Star) has been pretty disappointing. But this time he has recruited a don’t-miss cast, including two talented comedians making their Broadway debuts, Amy Schumer  and Keegan-Michael Key, and one Broadway vet who has shown unexpected comedy chops  — Laura Benanti, perpetrator of a dead-on impression of Melania Trump on the Late Show With Stephen Colbert.

Time and the Conways (Oct. 10).  There are, as always, too many revivals on Broadway this season. But it’s nice to encounter an old play that you’re actually looking forward to discovering for the first time. J.B. Priestley (An Inspector Calls) is one of those “old-fashioned” mid-century British playwrights — along with Terrence Rattigan — whose work is having a welcome rediscovery. This 1937 drama follows the travails of a British family over a 19-year span in the years after World War I; Elizabeth McGovern and Gabriel Ebert are among the cast.

The Band’s Visit (Nov. 9): Small seems to be beautiful for Broadway-bound musicals these days (see Dear Evan Hansen). Even so, I was a little surprised when this modest show, based on a 2007 Israeli film about an Egyptian police band that winds up stranded in an Israeli town by mistake, won the New York Drama Critics Circle award for best musical almost by acclamation. I found the show (which debuted off-Broadway last December) pleasant but perhaps a bit too modest. Still, I’m curious to see if it blossoms on Broadway, with most of its original cast (headed by Tony Shalhoub) returning.

M. Butterfly (Oct. 26). I happened to be sitting next to director Julie Taymor at a movie screening a few months ago. When I asked what she was working on, she was excited to tell me about her Broadway reimagining of David Henry Hwang’s 1988 play inspired by Madame Butterfly.  Despite some recent misfires, when Julie Taymor (The Lion King) gets excited, we all should be.

Junk (Nov. 2). Ayad Aykhar has won critical raves for his plays (Disgraced, The Who and the What) that explore the cultural tensions facing Muslim-Americans in this country. As sharp as he is as a social-cultural observer. his plays have struck me as rather contrived and didactic. But I’m eager to see him branch out into fresh territory in this new play, about a junk-bond king plotting a corporate takeover in the go-go 1980s.

SpongeBob SquarePants (Dec. 4). Even at a time when Broadway seems laser-focused on the family audience (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is still running), this new musical based on the popular cartoon show seems like a stretch. But with estimable director Tina Landau at the helm and an array a songs by composers like David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper and Sara Bareilles, the show is getting surprisingly good buzz. Stranger things have happened.

And then there’s Springsteen on Broadway (Oct. 12). You’ve heard of him?










Is Amy Herzog Our Best Playwright?

I am a big fan of Amy Herzog. For the variety, humanity and sheer storytelling craft of her work (After the Revolution, 4000 Miles, Belleville), I think she may be the best playwright currently at work in America.  Which is why I was just a little disappointed with her new play, Mary Jane, down at the New York Theater Workshop. This one-act, about a single mother trying to cope with a three-year-old child severely disabled by cerebral palsy, is (as usual) impeccably crafted, sharply observed and often moving. But it seems a little slight and safe to me; easy to empathize with, hard to embrace. Constructed as a series of encounters between the mother (Carrie Coon) and various friends, caregivers and hospital personnel, the play doesn’t set up any compelling problem (a hard decision about treatment, say, or how to pay for home health care),  or move in any surprising directions — only sadly, inevitably downward.

Still, it is a touching and insightful play. In contrast to so many current playwrights, who plop their main character at center stage and have them tell the audience what’s going to happen (most recent offender: Sarah Ruhl, in her sappy For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday), Herzog creates characters and backstory that emerge naturally from dialogue, in scenes that build organically, even suspensefully.  Nothing in the play seems false or forced, and it’s much more honest about the way people cope with a medical catastrophe (a mixture of stoicism and denial) than most disease-of-the-week dramas.  (Again, compare it to Ruhl’s play, which opens with a family deathbed scene that struck me as cliched and phony.) So if Mary Jane didn’t entirely satisfy me, it doesn’t lessen my eagerness to keep following Herzog’s exciting career.

Let’s Get This Started

I have been a writer and editor at TIME Magazine for more than 30 years. For the past several of them, I’ve been the magazine’s theater critic. But I don’t get to write about nearly everything that I see. And so I’m starting this blog, as an outlet for some of my views about shows, playwrights, and other theater-related issues. And also, occasionally, other topics that interest me: comedy (I’m the author of two books: Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America and Hope: Entertainer of the Century), television (I was TIME’s television critic for much of the 1980s and ’90s), movies (I learned a lot from Pauline Kael and Richard Corliss), and maybe more.