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Fire Up Your Laptop: A Curated Guide to Theater Now Online


Fortunately, online initiatives appeared almost immediately to pick up the slack, like Richard Nelson’s new Apple family play devised for Zoom, “What Do We Need to Talk About?” It’s not the same, of course. But it is something.

The latest institution to open its vault is Lincoln Center, which begins to explore its sterling theatrical catalog with Dominique Morisseau’s 2017 drama, “Pipeline,” which will be presented free via BroadwayHD, May 15 to 22. (On Wednesday, that powerhouse platform will premiere “The Goes Wrong Show,” a BBC series by the crew behind “The Play That Goes Wrong” that was shot in front of a live audience.)

In general, bigger companies have been well positioned. The National Theater in London is making the most of its treasures with its popular At Home program. Right now, you can watch both versions of Danny Boyle’s “Frankenstein,” with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating the roles of Victor Frankenstein and his creature. On Thursday, it will be replaced by “Antony and Cleopatra,” starring Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo (through May 14).

Below is a selection of archival and new shows. Some are grass-roots Zoom projects and some are big-budget, multicamera ventures. Some are free and some are not. All will remind us of what we are missing.

Fans of Daniel Fish’s Tony Award-winning revival of “Oklahoma!” should jump on the stream of Michael Gordon and Deborah Artman’s chamber opera, “Acquanetta,” which Fish directed at Bard College’s Fisher Center last summer. The production made abundant use of video for its tale of 1940s horror — including movies starring the real-life starlet Acquanetta, née Mildred Davenport — so an online presence feels like a natural extension. The free webcast will be available for a month beginning Wednesday.

We don’t see much contemporary Japanese theater in the United States — or much Japanese theater at all — so the Japan Society’s JS-Encore free streaming series is a rare opportunity. The spotlight is squarely on the Seinendan Theater Company, which was to have performed in New York in May, with the double bill of one-acts “Robot Theater” (recorded in 2013) — yes, there are robots onstage — and “Ronin Office Ladies” (2006). Both shows are up until May 28; the next day, the Japan Society will upload a capture of the company’s “Control Officers.”

Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago is streaming its 2017 production of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s Tony-winning musical “Fun Home,” a tender, somber but also often funny coming-of-age story directed for Victory Gardens by Gary Griffin. (May 12-24, $20.)

The ambitious Homebound Project teams up actors and playwrights in short new pieces spread over three editions. The actors in the first round include Amanda Seyfried, William Jackson Harper, Marin Ireland, Thomas Sadoski and Alison Pill, and they will be paired with 10 playwrights like Sarah Ruhl, Rajiv Joseph, Martyna Majok and Qui Nguyen. The first installment streams May 6 to 10, the second May 20 to 24 and the last June 3 to 7. Tickets start at $10, with proceeds going to No Kid Hungry.

Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron’s hit play — inspired by Ilene Beckerman’s book about the role clothes play in women’s lives — has welcomed a parade of stars over the years. May 4 to 25, the 92nd Street Y will stream, for a $10 donation, a 2017 performance featuring Lucy DeVito, Tracee Ellis Ross, Carol Kane, Natasha Lyonne and Rosie O’Donnell (the last two were in the original 2009 Off Broadway cast). The play’s minimalist format should translate well to the screen.

On Thursday at 7 p.m., Frances McDormand, Oscar Isaac, Jeffrey Wright, Frankie Faison and John Turturro will read scenes from the Sophocles tragedy “Oedipus Rex,” in which a mad monarch confronts both a plague and thorny family issues. The performance — presented by Theater of War Productions, which specializes in drawing connections between classic texts and contemporary issues — will be followed by a moderated discussion with audience members. The event is free but registration is required.

The Geffen Playhouse, in Los Angeles, is venturing into uncharted waters with “The Present,” a new show by the illusionist Helder Guimarães (whose “Verso” played New World Stages in 2016). Directed by Frank Marshall, this “live, virtual and interactive” experience has previews (starting May 7) as well as opening (May 14) and closing (July 5) dates — just like regular theater in the good old days, two months ago.

The Manhattan space the Tank has gone virtual with CyberTank, where emerging theater-makers can show their moxie. Among the most intriguing programs is a Zoom version of the established Rule of 7×7 series, in which seven writers come up with one rule each (past examples: “bright sunshine”), then must use them all in 10-minute plays. The next installments are Friday and Saturday, May 22-23 and June 4, all at 8 p.m. Sign up at RuleOfShow@gmail.com if you want to write, direct or act.

One silver lining to this pandemic: easy access to wildly different takes on Shakespeare. Here’s your opportunity to compare and contrast.

Through May 10, the Virginia-based American Shakespeare Center is streaming multicamera captures of shows recorded at its Blackfriars Playhouse, a reproduction of the indoor theater where Shakespeare often plied his trade. Included are “Much Ado About Nothing” (through May 10) and a family-friendly 90-minute adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (through May 31). And they don’t just do Shakespeare: A stage adaptation of “The Grapes of Wrath” is also up through May 31. Tickets start at $10.

In Canada, the Stratford Festival is running a free 12-play Shakespeare Film Festival until the end of July, with excellent captures and much new content, like behind-the-scene featurettes and live chats. Up now are “King Lear” (through May 14) and Robert Lepage’s stunning “Coriolanus” (through May 21); “Macbeth” starts Thursday, and new shows will follow weekly.

Since 2011, La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego has been producing immersive works that step out of traditional theater’s physical boundaries in its Without Walls program. So it makes conceptual as well as practical sense for the new commissions to be virtual. The first, starting May 14, is Mike Sears and Lisa Berger’s video installation “Ancient,” in which nine actors will explore the repetition of daily tasks. Three more projects, including David Israel Reynoso/Optika Moderna’s interactive “Proyecto: Portaleza,” will follow in June-July. Tickets are either free or $25, depending on the event. (Note, the La Jolla Playhouse also offers content related to some of the hits that have premiered there, like “Come From Away” and “Miss You Like Hell.”)

Gustave Flaubert and a nude public-access show? If anybody can pull off that mash-up, it’s the Wooster Group. This vaunted experimental company is now sharing some oldies but wackadoodlies free until May 15. In addition to five of its best productions, including “Brace Up!,” “To You, the Birdie! (Phèdre)” and “House/Lights,” curious viewers can catch Willem Dafoe, Ron Vawter, Kate Valk and company in that mash-up video, “Channel J,” which is as jaw-droppingly bonkers now as it must have been in 1988 — true eccentricity is timeless.

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