Downtown Dramatics VIII: SoHo Rep

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Thuli Dumakude and Jonathan Peck in “Generations” at Soho Rep. Credit Ruby Washington.

By Emma Gold, Highlighter Staff Columnist

Tucked away on a side street in SoHo is a small storefront that contains rather boisterous theater — theater that can’t seem to be contained by its own cramped walls. Soho Rep is known for premiering adventurous new works, although that wasn’t its original mission. Initially, its artistic directors sought to feature rare classical works; that quickly evolved to modern plays, and then eventually totally new pieces. Soho Rep’s current artistic director, Sarah Benson, has directed and produced incredibly prolific works from most of today’s most prevalent playwrights, including Sarah Kane, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Annie Baker, Young Jean Lee, Lucas Hnath, and Anne Washburn.

Soho Rep only features two to three shows in its season, but this only reinforces the theatrical heft that each piece carries. When looking at previous seasons, the quantity of directors and playwrights involved in their creation that are now skyrocketing in their careers is impressive. One of the most significant works from the current era of Soho Rep’s history was a production of Sarah Kane’s (literally) explosive and harrowing play “Blasted” in 2008, directed by Sarah Benson. The show was met with praise for its incredibly shocking content paired with seamless direction. Its 2013/14 season featured two shows with lengthy titles: “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915” by Jackie Sibblies Drury, and “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney” by Lucas Hnath. Both were theatrical and heady pieces, epitomizing Soho Rep’s driving force of thought provocation and challenging an audience.

In more recent seasons, Soho Rep has produced the original piece “An Octoroon” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and “10 out of 12” by Anne Washburn, both of which were positively heralded and made a mark not just downtown, but throughout the New York theatre scene. This season, too, has been impactful. In the fall, Soho Rep premiered “Futurity” by César Alvarez, which found its origins at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. Described as an “avant-Americana musical,” it blended the backdrop of the Civil War with technology to create an incredibly unique musical experience. The spring has brought “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.,” a work that is enjoying its American premiere. Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, who recently directed “Red Speedo” at New York Theatre Workshop, this play was unlike any theatrical experience I’ve had, and is running until May 15th. I highly recommend it to anyone who is passionate about feminist works, or is in the mood for something completely wacky in both form and content while making demands of its audience to enact change.

In the interval between shows, Soho Rep has recently added its “Write With Us” series, comprised of free playwriting workshops with some of downtown’s more popular playwrights. This year, workshops were led by Annie Baker, Anne Washburn, Jackie Sibblies-Drury, César Alvarez, and Lucas Hnath, among others. Not only is it incredibly enlightening to peek into the minds behind some of the most ingenious works in New York, but using their ideas and ideologies as a platform to create your own work is very exciting. They will hopefully continue this series due to high demand, so keep your eyes peeled for when reservations become available next winter; seats go fast. Amongst Soho Rep’s other offerings are a lab series of developmental readings by up and coming creators and a modest bookshop of plays from past seasons.

Soho Rep does a good job at making their theatre financially accessible, as their primary demographic is comprised of young theater makers and frequenters of new works. For each show, there are two Sunday performances for which the entire audience pays only 99 cents. Student rush is $20 and released 15 minutes before the performance. However, because the venue only seats 73 people, rush can be a gamble, so make sure to get on the list early.

Soho Rep is located at 46 Walker Street. For more information, visit sohorep.org.

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