Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Top Ten of 2014: My List of the Best of Broadway, Off Broadway, and Off Off Broadway

It’s Christmas Eve 2014, close enough to year’s end, I think, for me to mark my 55th year as an inveterate theatergoer. It’s a good time to reflect on a year’s worth of visits to the many On, Off, and Off Off Broadway plays and musicals I’ve seen and to give a special tip of the hat to 10 that I found to be the most rewarding. 

According to my handy dandy pocket calendar, I’ve attended 117 performances this year, 25 more than in 2013. It’s been a good year, overall, with lots of satisfying visits to the temple of Dionysus (the patron god of theater)—starting with the Gilbert and Sullivan Players' joyous production of their namesakes’ Patience at Symphony Space back on January 4, and ending a few days ago with Ayad Akhtar’s searing new drama The Invisible Hand at the New York Theatre Workshop.

Both of these were very good, but they did not make it to the Top Ten List. What did make the cut were three Broadway productions, along with seven from the world of Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway. Two were musicals, one was a play with music, and the rest were straight plays.  Interestingly, the list includes both the longest production and the shortest production I saw all year. And so – here, in alphabetical rather than preferential order, is the long and short of it:

Dark Water by David Stallings.  This was a stunning work, dealing with the impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the marine and wetlands life in the Gulf of Mexico. It had only a brief run at the 14th Street Y, but I am hopeful it will find another venue for a longer stay.  

Father Comes Home From The Wars, Parts I, II, and III. First rater from Susan-Lori Parks about a slave drawn into fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War.  Exceptionally fine ensemble performances under Jo Bonney’s direction, first three parts of a promised nine-play cycle.  Can’t wait to see the next installment!

Fortress of Solitude. Excellent adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s sprawling coming-of-age novel, with a script by Itamar Moses and music and lyrics by Michael Friedman that did a splendid job of capturing the feel of life in Brooklyn in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s while staying true to the original source material. Dreamgirls, Hair, Rent, and In The Heights are its progenitors. Not bad company for it to be in.

generations. Running just 30 minutes and featuring Bongi Duma's glorious music, debbie tucker green's play (the playwright opts for lower-case), a co-production of the Soho Rep and The Play Company, was a polished jewel about three generations of a South African family whose lives are upturned by the devastating impact of AIDS. Great and powerful things can, indeed, come in small packages.  (Also true of big packages as well; see The Mysteries below). 

Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill by Lanie Robertson.  Need I say more than “Audra!”   

Sticks and Bones. The New Group’s revival of David Rabe’s Vietnam-era play, directed by Scott Elliott at the Pershing Square Signature Center, never let up on the sense of anxiety and dread that invades a household when its eldest son comes home from the war, damaged, unreachable, and threatening. The stories we hear of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan make this work even more vital today.  

The Fool’s Lear. Randy Neale’s take on King Lear, as seen through the eyes of the Fool. Smartly conceived, emotionally rewarding comic drama, jointly produced by the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble and the Nomad Theatrical Company at The Wild Project. This companion piece to Shakespeare’s great dramatic work featured a standout performance by the playwright’s brother Grant Neale as the Fool.

The Last Ship. Sting’s loving tribute (with a book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey) to the shipbuilders of his home town is a theatrical treasure, filled with mythic overtones, wonderful music, and terrific acting all around, under Joe Mantello’s directorial guidance. 

The Mysteries. Holy Moly.  A journey through the Old and New Testaments with contributions from 48 playwrights and a cast of 53 in a six-hour production that included dinner and dessert. An amazing experience with nary a dull moment, thanks to director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar and the Flea Theater. 

The Winter’s Tale, a production of the Workshop Theater Company.  Shakespeare’s late romance could not have been in better hands with this gimmick-free presentation that concentrated on the bard’s beautiful language to create theatrical magic. 

And there you have it, as we ring out the old and prepare for an exciting new year! 


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