“Downstate,” a Bruce Norris play that The New York Times’s chief theater critic, Jesse Green, has called a “squirmy moral-thrill-ride,” will make its New York premiere in October as part of Playwrights Horizons’s new season, the company announced on Monday.
As Adam Greenfield, the artistic director for Playwrights Horizons, put it: “If theater is here to catch us off guard, to shake our foundations, to make us rethink our values and realize the ways in which we’re hypocrites,” Norris can really point that all out.
“I sometimes think he’s like the Molière of our time,” Greenfield said in a recent Zoom interview.
The 2022-23 season will be Greenfield’s first full, in-person season since assuming the role of artistic director in 2020. And the five-show lineup, which features coproductions with Page 73 Productions, MCC Theater and WP Theater, is packed with themes emerging from the pandemic lockdown, including a variety of perspectives on “normalcy.”
The lineup includes Mia Chung’s “Catch as Catch Can,” a drama in which two white, working-class New England families examine what Greenfield called “the slipperiness of identity and the way identity can fall apart or collapse,” and the debut of Agnes Borinsky’s “The Trees,” a parable of two siblings who fall asleep in the park and wake up literally rooted to the landscape.
“Catch as Catch Can,” which, in 2018, The Times called a “tender horror story,” returns in October. This time, it is being staged with an all Asian cast playing the Irish and Italian working class — with actors also playing double roles of father and daughter, mothers and sons.
“The Trees,” which will premiere in February 2023, is special to Greenfield. He knew this Borinsky play was the first work he wanted to program when he became artistic director.
“She sees the world sweetly despite seeing all of the reasons not to,” he said.
The play, which, Greenfield described as involving two people who turn into trees and the community that forms around them, will be co-produced with the incubator theater company Page 73 Productions (the company’s latest work was the spooky political drama, “Man Cave”).
The earthy Off Broadway production will have plenty of shine from Broadway visionaries. “The Trees” will be directed by Tina Satter, whose fall 2021 Broadway docudrama “Is This a Room” received critical acclaim. And the last time Playwrights Horizons and Page 73 teamed up, it was to debut “A Strange Loop,” which won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for drama and opens on April 26 for its own Broadway run.
The other shows, slated to debut in March 2023, are the world premiere of Julia Izumi’s “Regretfully, So the Birds Are,” (a coproduction with WP Theater), described by Greenfield as a surprise-filled “Swiss Army knife of a play” with “a delicious sense of goofy comedy” centered on three siblings making sense of unreliable parents.
Also in March is John J. Caswell Jr.’s “Wet Brain” (co-produced with MCC Theater), a candid drama that follows siblings (also a set of three) struggling to find language for closure and grief — in outer space. It’s a science fiction version of the American family play that, Greenfield said, “explodes open.”