The Year in Review - Best Theater 2013
by James Yeara on December 24, 2013
Having its American premiere at Stageworks/Hudson, Stockholm was riveting. The play was a dash of Mamet, a pinch of Ruhl, a sweating of Pinter, a snap of LaBute, sprinklings of Albee, a zest of de Sade with just a hint of Ives. Set in the immaculate, cutting-edge (literally) kitchen of uber-sophisticated couple Todd (Jason Babinsky in a performance that needed to be seen to be believed) and Kali (Emily Gardner Hall in a performance that demanded to be seen), Stockholm was 70 minutes of jaw-dropping, heart-pounding, eye-popping theatrical electuary.
2. On the Town
Barrington Stage Company
Succinctly, “flat out phenomenal” was the least that should be said about John Rando’s staging of On the Town at Barrington Stage Company’s Boyd-Quinson Mainstage. As befit this late 1944 musical’s roots as a ballet by Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins, Emmy Award-winning (“Smash”) choreographer Joshua Bergasse had the large cast up on their toes through out the two hour show about three sailors’ 24-hour shore leave in the Big Apple during World War II.
3. Animal Crackers
Williamstown Theatre Festival
WTF’s Animal Crackers was damned funny. Smartly staged, sung, danced, crafted, played, and, most importantly, moved (the physical comedy direction was by Paul Kalina), Henry Wishcamper’s adaptation and direction of Animal Crackers was fun, funny, colorful, musical, and an honest homage to one of the wellsprings of modern comedy: the Marx Brothers. In a cold December the laughs from this July show are still hot.
Berkshire Theatre Group
If you only know Oklahoma! from sentimental high school or fustian community theater productions, seeing the sharply focused, smartly paced, and well-crafted version at Pittsfield’s beautiful Colonial Theatre was a revelation, one that showed why Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s first collaboration together was such a musical theatre revolution.
5. Kill Me Now
Kaliyuga Arts at the Cross Street Theater
As with Canadian playwright Brad Fraser’s True Love Lies earlier in the summer, Kaliyuga Arts brought this challenging playwright to an unsuspecting audience, taking difficult characters and subject matter head on in plays not likely to be seen in the region elsewhere. The U.S. premiere of Kill Me Now showed the best of Fraser’s plays, as frank and cruelly honest as the others, but more humorously humane or humanely humorous.
Capital Repertory Theatre
In Three Uses of the Knife, David Mamet writes, “When you come into the theater, you have to be willing to say, ‘We’re all here to undergo a communion, to find out what the hell is going on in this world.’ If you’re not willing to say that, what you get is entertainment instead of art, and poor entertainment at that.” Capital Repertory Theatre’s Race was art, and pretty fucking good art, no matter who is guilty at play’s end, because we’re all full of the world’s bullshit, and Mamet let us breathe through the b.s. by way of straw(wo)men for 80 minutes. Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill gave Race a smart, kick-ass pace and set the pieces firmly in motion.
7. Avenue Q
Adirondack Theatre Festival
The all-Equity cast under Barthart’s knowledgeable direction brought a focus that kept the colorful and diverse cast of characters distinct and lively: The human actors and the puppets mirrored each other, especially “second hander” Heather Brorsen whose “Bad Idea Bear” was a burst of cotton candy wrapped menace. But all this stellar quality happened because Avenue Q was created for the intimacy of an off-Broadway-size theater, which describes ATF’s space perfectly; a magic melding of actor and puppet occurred that would be lost in a larger venue with a less capable cast.
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Tom Stoppard’s Hapgood is the sort of thing that shines on Masterpiece Mystery; I expected the resplendent Alan Cummings to introduce the show with his eyes widening in mischief while caressing his rolling “Rrrr”s. Or if Shakespeare were alive today, Hapgood would be his “historical comedy,” a slice of 1980s Cold War espionage featuring two sets of twin spies, one set for England, one for Russia, who may also be double or triple spies (one may be a “quadruple or quintuple” spy) or totally illusionary, resulting in multiple misprisions, lots of laughs, clever wordplay, and complex scientific allusions.
9. Two by Wharton: Quicksand and The Looking Glass
Stables Theatre at The Mount
The Wharton Salon’s twin bill Two by Wharton: Quicksand and The Looking Glass were a “must see” for Edith Wharton fans and a “not to be missed” by those who appreciate fine storytelling, engaging acting, splendid costumes, and a fulfilling good time. In their fifth season of staging Wharton adaptations at her former mansion, the troupe offered another intimate production of seldom seen works for a brief two-week season.
10. The Drowsy Chaperone
Home Made Theater at the Spa Little Theater
What community theater does best: homespun goodness full of laughs, good cheer, and enthusiasm. HMT’s The Drowsy Chaperone captured the fringe festival aesthetics of this musical’s roots, and the smiles were nonstop.