Saturday, December 19, 2009

2009's Top 10

2009 was, to put it mildly, not a good year for New York theatre. More than any other year in recent memory, I found myself watching my watch, thinking about my grocery list, or even fleeing at intermission rather often. However, the lack of quality productions has made one of my tasks rather easy: of the over 100 shows I attended this calendar year, exactly and only ten received a four star rating. My top ten list wrote itself. They are, in alphabetical order:

Brighton Beach Memoirs
David Cromer's mournful deconstruction of Neil Simon's classic 1983 roman a clef revealed the layers of tragedy behind the author's one-liners and comedic situations. Sadly, the production--anchored by strong performances from Laurie Metcalf, Jessica Hecht, and brilliant newcomer Noah Robbins--closed only a week after its premiere, and it's companion piece, Broadway Bound, never made it out of the rehearsal room. (Broadway - Nederlander Theatre)

The Cherry Orchard
Of the two productions presented during The Bridge Project's inaugural season at BAM, the lion's share of raves and publicity went to their stark, arresting staging of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. However, it was Sam Mendes' rendering of Chekhov's masterpiece that stayed with me for months afterward. Featuring a fluid translation by Tom Stoppard and benchmark performances from Simon Russell Beale (Lopakhin), Sinead Cusack (Ranevskaya), and Rebecca Hall (Varya), this was the best take on any Chekhov play that New York has seen in the last decade. (Off Broadway - BAM Harvey Theatre)

Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Bartlett Sher once again proved his genius with a magical statement of the late August Wilson's greatest play, set in Pittsburgh at the turn of the last century. As presented by Lincoln Center, it featured a strong cast that included Chad Coleman, Ernie Hudson and Roger Robinson, in a spellbinding, Tony Award winning performance. (Broadway - Belasco Theatre)

Mary Stuart
Over four months after it closed, I am still at a loss for words to describe this brilliant revival of Fredrich Schiller's 1800 classic, which centers around a fictional meeting between Queen Elizabeth I and her cousin, the deposed Queen of Scotland. All I can say is that Janet McTeer (as Mary) and Harriet Walter (as Elizabeth) gave two of the greatest performances I will ever see, and that I hope to once again find a theatrical production that moved me as much as this. I won't hold my breath, though. (Broadway - Broadhurst Theatre)

The Orphans' Home Cycle
This epic production, on which Horton Foote was working at the time of his death in March, began performances in November with the first three parts of a nine-play cycle. All nine parts will open within the next few weeks, culminating in marathon performances in February and March 2010. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to one of the greatest American dramatists of all time (and the $20 price tag cannot be beaten). (Off Broadway - The Signature Theatre Company at the Peter Norton Space)

Marcia Milgrom Dodge's spare new production of this classic American musical permanently raised the bar for Broadway revivals. Featuring a near-flawless cast of twenty-eight, it made me often forget the majesty of the original production. High praise indeed. (Broadway - Neil Simon Theatre)

2009's Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama brilliantly recast Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children in a present-day Congolese brothel. Special praise goes out to Victoire Charles, who performed the conniving Mama Nadi--the Mother Courage stand-in--at the performance I attended. I cannot imagine seeing the role played any better. (Off Broadway - Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center Stage I)

A Streetcar Named Desire
Is there anything Cate Blanchett cannot do? The Oscar winning actress shed her Australian actress and all pretenses to convey Tennessee Williams' most tragic southern belle, Blanche DuBois. She was brilliant, and Liv Ullmann's Grand Guignol production complimented her performance perfectly. (Off Broadway - BAM Harvey Theatre)

Twelfth Night
Easily the best Shakespeare in the Park offering in over a decade, Daniel Sullivan's simple, beguiling production of this winning comedy announced Anne Hathaway's arrival as a serious stage presence. Add to that a cast of game stage veterans--including Audra McDonald, Jay O. Sanders, Hamish Linklater, and Julie White--and you had a perfect evening in the Central Park...that is, if you could score a ticket. (Off Broadway - Delacorte Theatre)

Wishful Drinking
We all know that Carrie Fisher is funny and fucked up, but who would have thought that listening to her make light of her neurosis would be such an engrossing evening of theatre? What could have been simply a pleasant little show managed to become the most compelling one-person show in recent memory. (Broadway - Studio 54)

Here's hoping that 2010 and its offerings prove far more satisfying.

photo: Sinead Cusack and Simon Russell Beale in The Cherry Orchard at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Credit: Joan Marcus.

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