2006_01_arts_whatthen.jpgThe Phantom of the Opera may be nearing the ripe old age of 18, but most shows in this city don’t even play 18 shows. That doesn’t mean that they’re unworthy, of course – far from it, at least in our book. For instance, there’s Clubbed Thumb’s new production What Then, which (including previews last weekend) has 16 showings at the Ohio Theatre. Written by Rinne Groff and directed by Hal Brooks, who recently got accolades for his work on Thom Paine, this is the story of a dysfunctional family and their attempts to stitch their relationships and psyches back not through therapy but rather through creating and exploring new realities through dreams and drugs. It’s a powerful vision that will leave you questioning your own perception of existence.

Another surreal drama with 16 performances is Vicki Caroline Cheatwood’s new play Fits & Starts: The Sacred Heart, beginning previews tonight at the Access Theater. In the wake of a huge storm, everything in the life of a once ordinary family changes big time: there’s a new star in the sky and the mother expects impending Rapture. From the sound of it, you may not come out of the theater a whole lot more enlightened about what happens than you are now, and we say that not to criticize in advance – cryptic can be good, and this show sounds intriguing.

Somewhat away from the altered-reality vein, and with many fewer performances, is Josh Lefkowitz’s solo show Help Wanted, which is this weekend and next at Dixon Place. The subtitle (“A Personal Search for Meaningful Employment at the Start of the 21st Century”) gives a pretty good idea of what to expect: Lefkowitz performs an autobiographical monologue about life and panic after the BFA, including how Spalding Gray’s work and example, and unfortunate recent death, impacted Lefkowitz’s life. The show aims to bring home the reality of this rough transition in a way that’s likely to strike a chord with quite a few people in this city of strivers.

Then there’s another play about one man, but with more than one man in the cast. Anton, by Pierre Van Der Spuy, is the story of the final years in the life of Chekhov, who gave us so many wonderful stories. (In case you’re wondering, this one has 15 performances altogether). Van Der Spuy is a doctor, and he has drawn on his medical background to understand Chekhov – who was also a doctor – and compose this rich portrait of a complicated, fascinating man.

The House of Desires tops all those – 19 performances, more than one for every year of Phantom’s run! This is a translation by Catherine Boyle of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz’s baroque romantic comedy with mistaken identities and overeager lovers to spare. The Storm Theater shares its building with a church, which strikes us as appropriate since Sor Juana was a nun, but this production doesn’t look like it will be deferent to religion in any way – like Sor Juana, the play is multifaceted, and there’s plenty of bawdiness to go around.

As we said, just because these shows are playing a tiny fraction of the number of times Phantom and other Broadway behemoths have doesn’t mean that they’re a fraction worth seeing, but it does mean that you have a lot fewer chances to go, so catch them while you can!

Details after the jump...


What Then is at the Ohio Theater, 66 Wooster St., through Jan. 28. Performances are Thurs.-Mon. 8pm; tickets are available at Smarttix.

Fits & Starts: The Sacred Heart is at the Access Theater, 380 Broadway, also through Jan. 28. Performances are Tues.-Sat. 8pm; Tickets are available via Smarttix.

Help Wanted is at Dixon Place, 258 Bowery, this Friday and Saturday and next Friday and Saturday. Call 212.219.0736 for ticket information.

Anton is at the Greenwich Street Theater, 547 Greenwich, until Jan. 29. Shows are Wed.-Sat. 8pm, Sun. 3pm. Tickets are available at Theatermania.

The House of Desires is at the Storm Theater, 145 W. 46th St., 3rd Floor, through Jan. 28, Wed.-Sat. 7:30, Sat. also 2pm. Tickets at Smarttix.