Off Broadway: The Theater Industry's Overdue Reckoning Gets a Satirical Sendup

·3 min read

We may not be completely ready to return to live theater yet, but the theater is returning to us, with Broadway productions slated to open as early as August of this year. But while we’ve all been aware of the challenges faced by the theater world in the face of the pandemic, equally difficult to navigate has been an effective response to the racial reckoning of the last year, especially after being confronted by a who’s who of creators of color in a June 8, 2020 open letter and living document titled “We See You, White American Theater.”

“We see you. We have always seen you. We have watched you pretend not to see us,” it read in part. “We have watched you un-challenge your white privilege, inviting us to traffic in the very racism and patriarchy that festers in our bodies, while we protest against it on your stages. We see you ...We have watched you exploit us, shame us, diminish us and exclude us. We see you.”

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The “dark comic satire” Off Broadway, written by Torrey Townsend (The Workshop) and directed by Tony-nominated director Robert O’Hara (Slave Play) picks up where this still-unresolved conversation left off. Evoking not only the dynamics of the industry but reportedly abusive personalities like theater and film super-producer Scott Rudin and Harvey Weinstein, the play is a behind-the-scenes take on the pervasive and multi-faceted toxicity, tokenism, white fragility and gaslighting that continue to plague Broadway and beyond.

Per a press release provided to The Root:

The year is 2020 and the American theater is shut down... but it is not shut off. Off Broadway follows the staff of a non-profit theater as they come together on Zoom and scramble to stave off extinction. The show is a scathing critique of an industry desperately trying to reinvent itself in the midst of a pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, Torrey and I had been developing his brilliant new satire examining the white supremacy that has been lurking behind the walls of the American theater,” explains director O’Hara in a statement. “For months, I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I suggested that we do exactly what theater was doing during the pandemic–go digital–because, of course, the same systemic issues remain ‘offline.’ I’m so excited to share this new work as we begin to reopen our theaters and hopefully prepare to come back in a more equitable and much less toxic manner.”

Airing for free from June 24 - June 27 on new digital media streaming platform Broadstream Media, Off Broadway is presented by Tony-nominated Slave Play playwright and Zola screenwriter Jeremy O. Harris, in association with Lucas Katler (Tony nominee, Slave Play) and Jana Shea (Tony nominee, Slave Play). Its star-studded cast features (in alphabetical order): Dylan Baker (The Good Wife, Spider-Man 2 & 3), Becky Ann Baker (Girls, Big Little Lies), Jessica Frances Dukes (Ozark, Jessica Jones), Jason Butler Harner (Ozark, Changeling), Hal Linden (Barney Miller, Broadway’s The Rothschilds), Jillian Mercado (The L Word), Richard Kind (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Inside Out), and Kara Wang (Good Trouble, Top Gun: Maverick).

“Championing challenging, exciting new work during this pandemic has been my chief mission,” says Harris, of the production. “Torrey Townsend’s Off Broadway is a brilliant satire that dares to ask questions of a community that, though attempting, still has a long way to go. Knowing that arguably our country’s best satirist is directing the piece made this the most exciting piece to put my energy behind this year.”

Off Broadway is streaming now through June 27 on Broadstream Media.