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Catch cutting-edge performances at these five annual fests
If it weren't for the weather, you'd think it was summer due to all the performance festivals taking place this month. Adventurous theatregoers can check out experimental, mixed-genre, multimedia, and even international works at bargain-basement prices. The only rub: There's so much to choose from, what to see? Our guide helps you navigate the offerings.
FOR COSMOPOLITANS: The Public's Under the Radar
Multiple venues in downtown Manhattan
The Public Theater's 14th annual Under the Radar is the largest and oldest January festival, as well as the most international. This year's edition features 26 shows, including offerings from Cuba, Italy, Slovenia, the U.K., China, Japan, the Czech Republic, Croatia, and the U.S., too. Among the foreign-language pieces (all with English supertitles) are offbeat adaptations of classics, like Teatro el Público's take on Antigone filled with Cuban historical figures and over-the-top costumes, and Satoshi Miyagi's Japanese Noh Othello. Even the homegrown works have a worldly air, such as New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik's storytelling compilation The Gates and Toshi Reagon's funk/blues opera Parable of the Sower based on Octavia Butler's 1993 sci-fi novel of the same name.
See the full Under the Radar lineup.
FOR BROOKLYNITES: The Exponential Festival
Multiple venues, mostly in Brooklyn
Like its home borough, this third annual fest is a cornucopia of quirk with an anything-goes vibe that ranges from highbrow (a Chekhov-based song cycle, a School of Bauhaus-inspired cinema-dance hybrid) to whoa-brow (a pair of ladies clown around with a giant inflatable hot dog, the in-your-face Decolonizing My Vagina). It's like injecting Brooklyn into your veins.
See the full Exponential Festival lineup.
FOR OPERA LOVERS: Prototype: Opera/Theatre/Now
Multiple venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn
This sixth annual fest features eight operas, none of which could be confused with Wagner. The themes, musical genres, and short-attention-span lengths (most are NMNIs) are all decidedly contemporary. There's Fellow Travelers based on Thomas Mallon's eponymous 2007 novel about an illicit gay romance set during the McCarthy-era lavender scare; Sága, a theatrical song cycle exploring the concept of homecoming; and Acquanetta, which uses '40s horror movie tropes to explore identity. Madama Butterfly who?
FOR LAST CHANCERS: COIL
Performance Space New York, 150 First Avenue at 9th Street
January 10-February 4
Hello again and goodbye forever. This 13th annual fest marks the inaugural programming in PS 122's overhauled home, now rechristened as Performance Space New York. However, it's also the farewell edition as new artistic director Jenny Schlenzka plans to take the avant-garde East Village institution in fresh directions. This final COIL features just six, dance-heavy offerings, including David Thomson's he his own mythical beast, an exploration of race in contemporary society that draws on diverse inspirations; Petra, Dean Moss's meditation on desire based on Rainer Werner Fassbinder's classic movie The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant; and Heather Kravas's visions of beauty about the messiness of life. But singer/storyteller Dane Terry's wacky Jupiter's Lifeless Moons sounds like the performance to raise your last glass to.
FOR DIVERSITY SEEKERS: The Fire This Time Festival
The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street between Bowery and Second Avenue
Now in its ninth year, this fest spotlights new work by emerging playwrights of African and African-American descent. There are staged readings of full-length works in progress, and the signature 10-Minute Play Festival evenings, featuring a half dozen shorts. These playlets tackle more hot-button topics than your Facebook feed, including the dangers of stereotyping (William Watkins's Black, White & Blue), the challenges of being a bold black woman (Shelley Fort's Poppy), and the whitewashing of black artists (Sandra A. Daley-Sharif's Anonymous).
See the full Fire This Time Festival lineup.
Top image: Antigonón, un contingente épico at Under the Radar. Photo by GlassWorks Multimedia.
Jonathan Mandell is a drama critic and journalist based in New York. Visit his blog at NewYorkTheater.me or follow him on Twitter at @NewYorkTheater. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
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