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Robert Downey Jr., to Make His Broadway Debut in Pakistani American Ayad Akhtar’s Play ‘McNeal’

Robert Downey Jr., to Make His Broadway Debut in Pakistani American Ayad Akhtar’s Play ‘McNeal’

  • The Oscar-winning star of “Oppenheimer” will headline Prize-winning playwright’s work in the fall.

It may not be as big as splitting the atom, but the bombshell news coming out of Broadway is that “Oppenheimer” star Robert Downey Jr., will be making his debut on New York center stage with “McNeal,” a new drama by Pulitzer Prize-winning Pakistani American playwright Ayad Akhtar. 

Being staged by the renowned Lincoln Center Theater, the production is scheduled to have its previews beginning September 5, with the official opening night on September 30, the New York Times reported.

Directed by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher, the play by Akhtar centers around a gifted novelist, played by Downey, grappling with a complex family life and an intriguing yet potentially problematic interest in artificial intelligence.

Playwright Akhtar is known for his exploration of complex and thorny subjects, particularly his stories about assimilation, which the Economist described “are as essential today as the work of Saul Bellow, James Farrell, and Vladimir Nabokov were in the 20th century in capturing the drama of the immigrant experience.” 

Akhtar has a longstanding relationship with Lincoln Center Theater, which first produced his 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Disgraced” on their Off Off Broadway stage, and also presented his plays “The Who & The What” and “Junk” on Broadway.

Akhtar is the author of “Homeland Elegies,” which The Washington Post called “a tour de force” and The New York Times called “a beautiful novel…that had echoes of The Great Gatsby and that circles, with pointed intellect, the possibilities and limitations of American life.” His first novel, “American Dervish”, a coming-of-age story about a Pakistani-American boy growing up in Milwaukee, was published in over 20 languages.

According to his website, Akhtar is the recipient of the Steinberg Playwrighting Award, the Nestroy Award, and the Erwin Piscator Award, as well as fellowships from the American Academy in Rome, MacDowell, the Sundance Institute, and Yaddo, where he serves as a Board Director. In 2021, the New York State Writers Institute named Akhtar the New York State Author.

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Robert Downey Jr., who is fresh off his Academy Award win earlier this year, has had a prolific and immensely successful career in film, overcoming significant challenges such as substance abuse and time spent in prison on drug charges. He has achieved commercial success, starring as “Iron Man” in multiple Marvel movies, and critical acclaim, winning the Best Supporting Actor award for his widely praised performance as Lewis Strauss in “Oppenheimer.”

However, Downey’s stage experience is limited, with his sole Off-Broadway credit being the short-lived “American Passion” in 1983. In a statement, he acknowledged, “It’s been 40 years since I was last on ‘the boards,’ but hopefully I’ll knock the dust off quick.”

The Staten Island-born and Milwaukee-raised Akhtar, known to be the most produced playwright in the country, is currently working on a musical adaptation of the film “La La Land,” serving as one of the book writers for the stage production in development.

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