Starry Off Broadway Casts Give Rialto a Run for Its Money

Ed Harris, Bill Pullman, Maggie Gyllenhaal sign up for gigs beyond Broadway

Ed Harris Bill Pullman

As underscored by the recent addition of Off Broadway gigs for Ed Harris and Bill Pullman, the familiar faces won’t just be showing up on Broadway next season: Off Broadway’s 2013-14 lineup has shaped up to include parts for recognizable thesps including Maggie Gyllenhaal and Mandy Patinkin, all jostling for attention with a Rialto season that already includes Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Orlando Bloom, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Ethan Hawke and Billy Crystal.

The Off Broadway audience doesn’t entirely overlap with the demo that turns out for Broadway, which is made up of a hefty chunk of tourists who don’t often venture Off Broadway. Still, the flurry of notable names on the roster for next season, both on Broadway and off it, looks poised to force Gotham’s legit avids into some tough ticketbuying decisions.

Harris and Pullman will join Amy Madigan and Glenne Headley in reprising their roles in “The Jacksonian,” the new Beth Henley play that bowed at L.A.’s Geffen Playhouse last year. Directed by Robert Falls, a.d. of Chicago’s Goodman Theater, “The Jacksonian” is lined up for a fall run in New York as part of season slate of Off Broadway’s New Group. A darkly comic tale about a dentist whose estrangement from his wife leads him to move into a seedy hotel, the play will precede the New Group’s world preem of the latest by scribe-provocateur Thomas Bradshaw, “Intimacy,” directed by the company’s a.d., Scott Elliott.

Gyllenhaal, who’s appeared in Off Broadway revivals of “Three Sisters” and “Uncle Vanya,” will take on a contempo role in “The Village Bike,” the Brit play that won U.K. accolades when it bowed at the Royal Court in 2011. Penned by Penelope Skinner (recently tapped to write pic “Mary Stuart” for helmer Susanne Bier), the storyline follows a sexually frustrated pregnant woman whose unresponsive husband drives her to seek attention elsewhere.

The show’s U.S. bow, directed by Sam Gold and opening in June 2014, will wrap up the coming season at MCC Theater, which also has set a return run of Robert Askins’ “Hand to God” following a 2011 debut that earned raves at Ensemble Studio Theater. That show, set for a spring run and featuring original thesp Steven Boyer, joins an MCC season that already includes Mary-Louise Parker topliner “The Snow Geese,” bowing on Broadway in a co-production with Manhattan Theater Club, and a fall run for John Pollono’s “Small Engine Repair.”

Patinkin, meanwhile, becomes the latest well-known thesp to appear at Classic Stage Company, the Off Broadway troupe that has attracted increasing attention in recent seasons with its starry casting. Patinkin will co-star with downtown legiter Taylor Mac in “The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville,” in which two end-of-the-world survivors communicate through song-and-dance.

Susan Stroman will direct and choreograph the December opener, making it her third project next season after the Broadway opening of “Big Fish” earlier in the fall and “Bullets Over Broadway” in the spring.

CSC also will re-team a.d. Brian Kulick with composer Duncan Sheik (“Spring Awakening”) — whose current collaboration, “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” is now playing at CSC — for a production of Bertolt Brecht farce “A Man’s a Man,” while David Ives will adapt Jean-Francois Regnard’s comedy “The Heir Apparent” in a staging from John Rando (“A Christmas Story”). Another of Ives’ adaptations, “Venus in Fur,” bowed at CSC before going on to a Tony-winning Broadway run.

In addition, the theater has booked thesp Finn Wittrock, who gave a well-received perf in the recent Rialto revival of “Death of a Salesman,” to star alongside Elizabeth Olsen in the previously announced production of “Romeo and Juliet.” The show’s run will overlap with another starry production of the teen romance starring Bloom and Condola Rashad on Broadway.

As the past season on the Rialto illustrates, not every star-driven production manages to attract crowds, especially in a competitive lineup packed with a number of high-profile thesps. But because the productions on tap for MCC, CSC and New Group are produced by non-profit orgs, the shows are free of many of the financial pressures that can put the squeeze on commercial titles.