Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fifteen for '15

It's humbling, really, just how much theater happens in this town--and just how much talent there is making it. Because I've been on sabbatical this year, I've seen many, many more shows than I typically do over the course of a year. Even so, it's a little overwhelming to think of the fact that I haven't even scratched the surface of what's out there--and that for all I've seen, I've still missed plenty of must-see shows that were gone before I could find time to get to them. How do the critics do it?

Even though I'm not a critic, it's fun to play one at this time of year. So here's my top 15 list for 2015. The shows are in rough chronological order. Links to the original posts I wrote about them, if I wrote about them, are embedded in the titles. I've embedded links to preview clips, interviews and the odd critics' review in the body of the text in case you prefer to skip my yammering and go right to the visuals. 

Happy new year, all. Here's to the theater--and to a happy, peaceful 2016!

Into the Woods, The Roundabout.
A creative, scaled-down revival by the Fiasco, with more emphasis on play and less on special effects. Warm, lively, and fun during a January that was actually cold. 

Hamilton . The Public Theater.
Due to the nature of the research I do, I can be a little (or a lot) cynical when it comes to even the hottest of contemporary stage musicals, but this really is one hell of a musical, produced by one hell of a place.

An Octoroon. Theater for a New Audience.
Word was that when this show first was produced at Soho Rep in 2015, it was kind of a mess, but by the time it reopened at the gorgeous Theater for a New Audience in Brooklyn, it was a revelation. Please, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, keep writing brilliant, challenging plays because you are awesome at it. 

Guards at the Taj. Atlantic Theater Company.
This one just leveled me. A tender, funny, ultimately devastating meditation on the nature of work, art, and friendship, Taj had a surprisingly bloody second scene that turned a lot of people off. The production worked perfectly for me, though, especially since its characters were so loveable, so masterfully depicited by the exceptional actors Omar Metwally and Arian Moayed...and so unbelievably real. 

Heisenberg. Manhattan Theater Company.
A sweet, quiet play about two mismatched people who meet strange when she impulsively kisses him on the neck, and end up making perfect sense to one another. Mary Louise Parker and Denis Arndt, alone on a tiny stage, with two tables for a set and no props that I remember, were mesmerizing. Lovely.  

John. Signature Theater.
Annie Baker's John was one of those plays I couldn't stop thinking about, discussing, and questioning for weeks after seeing it. Baker is not for everyone--as with The Flick, plenty of people had no idea why the hell this show was so long, and why things don't necessarily resolve tidily by the end. Me? I don't remember three hours flying by as quickly as they did the afternoon I saw John since I sat through Angels in America

The Legend of Georgia McBride. MCC.
Everything I read about this show set off ick alarms for me, so I went expecting to just loathe every goddamn minute of it. Lo and behold, I was once again proven dumb and wrong! Georgia turned out to be a warm, funny, clever little show with a charming cast. To make matters even better, it featured Matt McGrath, who is currently just as phenomenal in Steve, now running through the new year at Signature courtesy of the New Group.  

Spring Awakening. Brooks Atkinson Theater.
Bits and pieces of the original production resonated with me, but I've never been a huge fan of this musical, which doesn't fully translate from the Wedekind original: it has an almost ludicrously heavy-handed second act, and some updated or softened character motivations and plot points that I've just never bought. But Deaf West's interpretation of the musical as a parable about the societal unacceptance of disability breathed life into it for me, and struck me as newly resonant, relevant, and deeply personal. See it before it closes, if you can.  

Gloria. The Vineyard.
Another feather in the cap for Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. A cynical meditation on the ways contemporary society copes (or doesn't) with random acts of violence, Gloria was such a departure from An Octoroon that it could be difficult, at times, to remember that they were by the same guy. I hid my eyes during the climactic end of act I because the intense scene was so brilliantly directed and performed; I continue to regret that I hid my eyes during the climactic end of act I because the intense scene was so brilliantly directed and performed. How the hell did they do it?

Eclipsed. The Public Theater. 
A haunting play performed by a superb ensemble. This one's moving to Broadway in the spring, so if you haven't seen it, check it out. 

The Humans. The Roundabout. 
Ditto everything I said about Elipsed above, including the part where it's moving to Broadway. Yippee!

Kill Floor. LCT3. 
The play itself felt a little underwritten, but its characters were worth getting to know anyway. Marin Ireland was absolutely riveting as a woman recently out of prison, who takes work in a slaughterhouse and tries (often way too hard) to reconnect with her broody, wary adolescent son (Nicholas Ashe). The cast of five was excellent, their characters totally believable. Ashe was particularly striking because he's so, so young, and was so, so good in the role. 

Dada Woof Papa Hot
Yes, yes, whatever, yet another play about affluent, white New Yorkers and their affluent, midlife problems. And yes, I wanted to live in the set (which was bigger and more tastefully appointed than my apartment or, frankly, any place I will ever live). But cultural shifts fascinate me, and this play was all about contemporary gay life as it's weathering them, so I was hooked. Also, John Benjamin Hickey is a wonderful actor whom I would watch watching paint dry, and this was consistently more interesting that that would be, so there you go.

Hir. Playwrights Horizons. 
Taylor Mac's weird, rough, funny, sad, disturbing play about gender, power, and the decline of the American middle class is intense stuff to sit through; on the night I saw it, a few people got up and walked out even before waiting until intermission, and I'd bet that's pretty much been par for the course with this production. But the more I think about it--and I've been thinking about it on and off since the near-sleepless night I spent after seeing it--the more it has impressed me. Go see it for the meta-Kristine Nielsen performance; stay for the horrifically tragicomic Daniel Oreskes one.  

Marjorie Prime. Playwrights Horizons
The last play I'll see in 2015, and a second sublime performance by Lois Smith (who was a far crazier character in John). An unsettling piece about the humanization of machines and the preservation of memory, Marjorie Prime is science fiction at its meatiest and most effective. Great performances all around were only bolstered by some of the crispest and most stunningly good direction I've seen all year, maybe ever.

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