Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 in Review (The Best)

Whew! Another year has jetted by with astonishing speed, leaving me some 80 shows in its wake. While reviewing the year as a whole, it strikes me that the lesson of 2013, as of the past few years, is that Off-Off-Broadway and Off-Broadway are the future of New York theatre, while Broadway is largely its past.
The Three Alisons of Fun Home

I saw 15 Broadway shows, all at deeply discounted prices (except for Pippin, for which I paid $69 for the second-to-last row balcony). Once upon a time, I saw nearly everything that opened on Broadway; now I see only a fraction. And yet my theatre life is still full, if not fuller. And that's due to Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway.

I saw 54 Off-Broadway shows. (I'm including Encores! here, and shows at St. Ann's. Sometimes I find the definition of Off-Broadway inexact.) People often write that Off-Broadway is dead, and I suppose that, in the sense of original new commercial productions, it's at least seriously ill. But in terms of nonprofit theatres, it is as vibrant as can be. Playwrights Horizons. New York Theatre Workshop. The Mint. The New Group. The Public. 59e59. The CSC. The low-price small theatres at Roundabout (Roundabout Underground) and Lincoln Center (the Clair Tow). The Pearl. The Signature. Each of these produces work that is sometimes exciting, sometimes challenging, sometimes fascinating, often excellent, and rarely a waste of time. That sounds like good health to me.

The rest of the shows I saw were Off-Off-Broadway. OOB can be a crapshoot, of course, particularly when you stumble onto a vanity production that should only be forced upon loved ones. But that's true of Broadway and Off-Broadway as well. And the best OOB theatre is as good as the best anywhere, with intimate spaces, low prices, and that wonderful sense of discovery that gets harder and harder to experience when you've been going to the theatre for decades. But Flux, Gideon, and HERE surprise and delight me with some regularity, and I love them for it.


Intimate Apparel. I missed this show's run a few years back, but I was lucky enough to catch a benefit reading starring the amazing Quincy Tyler Bernstine. The show is everything the reviews had said, and Bernstine gave the sort of performance that touches your heart and causes your head to start muttering, "Why isn't she being given the lead in, well, everything?"

 Katie Roche. One of The Mint's many successes, this revival did indeed revive--as in breath new life into--this fascinating exploration of life in 1930's Ireland. Wrenn Schmidt was superb in the titular role.

Alisha Spielmann in Sans
(photo: Titus Winters)
Sans Merci. Possibly the best thing I saw this year, Sans Merci bravely explored the realities of grief and guilt. It's one of the many reasons I consider the Flux the most exciting theatre company around today.

Honey Fist. Yet more proof of the quality of Flux's productions!

Dog Act. Okay, I actually saw Dog Act in 2011, but it's worth mentioning here for two reasons. Number one: it is probably my favorite Flux production, and I'm clearly on a Flux roll here. Number two: I kept thinking during the excellent Mr. Burns that Dog Act covered much the same ground, but more subtlely, heartbreakingly, entertainingly, and effectively. (I didn't write about Mr. Burns, but here's a link to Liz Wollman's smart and fascinating review.)

Frankenstein Upstairs. Although I had some reservations right after seeing this, I find that its strengths have grown with time. It's wonderful how a play can live with you longer than just the evening you see it.

Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road. An unexpected delight.

You Never Can Tell. Who knew that Shaw could be so Wilde?

Tamar of the River. A lovely, evocative piece.

Jenny Jules, Harriet Walter in
Julius Caesar (photo: Pavel Antonov)
Julius Caesar. Let's do all of Shakespeare with women-only casts! Hell, let's do all of Shakespeare with this women-only cast.

Fun Home. Beside Sans Merci, this was the other best thing I saw this year. A ground-breaking, rule-breaking, heart-breaking musical, and funny and beautiful beside.

The Pigeoning. Seventy minutes of amazing creativity.

Stay tuned for my take on the disappointments and the downright forgettable.

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