Thursday, December 22, 2016

2016 Top Ten: Liz Wollman

In years as rough and depressing as 2016 has been, I am extra-super-duper thankful for the theater. I have no desire, after a year as harsh as this one was, to come up with a "worst" list--enough with the snark! Anyway, I've found that even productions that disagreed with me most were automatically more enjoyable than the news of the world, so I won't be dissing anything here.

I do, however, want to celebrate the shows that brought me particular joy during these dark times, so here's my top ten "best" in chronological order.

Bedlam's Sense and Sensibility at the Judson Theater. A wacky, highly energetic adaptation of the Austen book, performed in a church gym with minimal scenery or props, a few ancient chairs with wheels on them, and bleacher seating for the audience. Who knew there was so much comic potential in the word "cottage"?

The Royale at the Mitzi Newhouse. Gorgeous, moody, creatively staged and beautifully performed. This is one of those shows I was in no mood to see and then ultimately incredibly thankful for.  

The Gabriel Plays at the Public (Hungry, What Did You Expect? and Women of a Certain Age). I admit that this is sort of a cheat--three for one!--but then again, Richard Nelson wrote them as a trilogy, so there. Who knew that watching other east-coast middle-class white people fret over the looming election (and all sorts of other things) while they cooked dinner around a big wooden table would be so rewarding, gratifying and moving? I'll miss the Gabriels way more than I'll miss 2016.

Head of Passes at the Public. Holy mother! Phylicia Rashad's performance in this modern-day Job story was easily one of the most strenuous and emotionally challenging I have ever seen.

Turn Me Loose at the Westside. Joe Morton kicks major ass. Seriously, now, I'd pay good money to watch him water plants or make a sandwich, but watching him embody Dick Gregory at various ages and stages of his career was genuinely delightful.

Hadestown at New York Theatre Workshop. I met the producer before the show! Stephen Sondheim was sitting right behind me! Thomas Schumacher was there, too, in orange glasses that matched his socks! And while the show itself didn't fully win me over initially, it has grown on me ever since--and made me a huge Anais Mitchell fan in the process.

The Healing at the Clurman. A sensitive and frank play by Samuel D. Hunter, The Healing reunites a group of adults with disabilities, who return to their hometown to mourn a friend who has committed suicide. The surviving friends, all of whom went to the same summer camp as children, wrestle with their conflicting memories of the evangelical camp director, who insisted that they'd all be healed of their disabilities if they prayed fervently enough. If this production is representative of the work by Theatre Breaking Through Barriers, a company of actors with disabilities, then sign me up for more.

Men on Boats at Playwrights Horizons. Fun, feminist, and fucking hilarious.

Sweat at the Public. Hardly an escape from reality, Lynn Nottage's play, which is moving to Broadway in the spring, examines the lives of factory workers in a small, declining Pennsylvania town between 2000 and 2008. I have my quibbles with some of the plot developments and thought that some of the roles were miscast. But the show is timely, compelling and important. And also frustratingly sad, which is no excuse not to see it when it reopens uptown.

Dear Evan Hansen. I am at work on a full review, which I'll link to here when I finish it. But in the meantime, believe me, this one's a gem.

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