Wednesday, December 19, 2018

OFF BROADWAY 2018: Best of the Year

Among the 95 plays and musicals I saw Off Broadway in 2018, I have identified the ones listed below as representing the top ten - the best of the best.  

To see my list of the Best of Broadway, link HERE 

For my more detailed reviews, go to  and do a search under my name or by title.  

This list includes four remarkable productions by the Public Theater and two each from The New Group, Lincoln Center, and Encores! Off-Center. In alphabetical order, here they are:


Cyprus Avenue

Stephen Rea in CYPRUS AVENUE
Photo by Ros Kavanaugh

Stephen Rae gave an absolutely devastating performance in David Ireland's play at the Public Theater that starts out in the world of dark-as-pitch humor and rapidly slides into full-blown psychosis. Rae's central character was a Protestant loyalist living in post-Troubles Northern Ireland. But if you think that political rapprochement makes the hatred and rage go away, you'd best reconsider.  A stunner from start to end.  Hard to watch, but absolutely brilliant under Vicky Featherstone's no-holds-barred direction.     

Eve's Song

De'Adre Aziz in EVE'S SONG
Photo by Joan Marcus

This sizzling new play, also presented at the Public Theater, was written by Tow Foundation Playwright-In-Residence Patricia Ione Lloyd. It is a grand and glorious mix of satire, metaphor, surrealism, history, poetic language, and images from the art world that combine seamlessly to tell the story of black women who have been and continue to be condescended to, verbally and physically abused, and even killed.  It's a lot to take in, but boy is it one powerful theatrical event from a voice to be reckoned with! 

Good for Otto

Playwright David Rabe has had a long and successful career.   He is probably best known for writing with excruciating insight about the lives of soldiers during the Vietnam War era. This play explores the world of the "walking wounded," those with psychiatric disorders who are striving to keep things together by joining the sad and endless procession to a mental health center for sessions with one of the two overworked therapists. Marvelously acted by a cast that included such fine performers as Ed Harris, F. Murray Abraham, and Rhea Perlman and beautifully directed by Scott Elliott for The New Group, this was a real highlight of 2018.  

The Hard Problem

Another prolific playwright, Tom Stoppard, is still going strong with this latest addition to a long career dating back to the 1950s when he began writing radio plays. With this intriguing work, a Lincoln Center production, he tackles "the hard problem" of understanding the seemingly unmeasurable essence of human consciousness. With wit, intelligence, and heart, he examines whether we are merely the product of genetic programming and evolution, or if there might be something more profound going on? As Hamlet would say, "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy." 

Pass Over

John Michael Hill and Namir Smallwood in PASS OVER
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Also from Lincoln Center, this was a very original urban "mean streets" riff on Waiting for Godot. Though it was not anchored in the Theater of the Absurd so much as the sobering absurdity of reality. It told the tale of two young black me trapped in a plain of existence that lies somewhere between hope and despair.  Danya Taymor directed an exceptionally strong cast.  

The True

Edie Falco in THE TRUE

Thanks to a stellar cast, headed up by pitch-perfect performance by Edie Falco, this potboiler about 1970s Albany, NY politics emerged as one of the best of the 2018. The play, written by Sharr White, linked the private and political life of Polly Noonan, the outspoken "woman behind the throne" of that city's longtime mayor, played by Michael McKean. A great year for director Scott Elliott and The New Group, whose production of Good For Otto also made the Best of 2018 list. 


Songs for a New World

Photo by Joan Marcus

This was a year that saw the blossoming of Encores! Off-Center, the younger sibling of the long-established Encores! productions of seldom-revived Broadway shows at City Center. This show, a plotless but nevertheless riveting song cycle by composer Jason Robert Brown, could not have been given a better production.  A wonderful cast splendidly directed by Kate Whoriskey. The very good news is the production has been recorded. I look forward to picking up a copy of the CD very soon.  

Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope

Another winner for Encores! Off-Center was this revival of Micki Grant's sung-through show, multifaceted in content and musical styles as it explores the African American experience. Sad to say, it has not lost any of its relevance or punch since it was first produced in 1971. Savion Glover brought a great sense of style with his choreography and direction of this first-class production.  

Girl from the North Country

Photo By Joan Marcus

The third winner from the Public Theater is this remarkable coming-together of Irish playwright Conor McPherson's storytelling skill and Bob Dylan's extraordinary song-writing talent. The show deals with life among the denizens of a Minnesota boarding house during the Great Depression.  Mare Winningham's performance alone was worth the price of admission.  A stunning work that, fingers crossed, will play on Broadway in 2019.  

Twelfth Night

Cast members TWELFTH NIGHT
Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park Production

The Public Theater's fourth contribution to the Best of 2018 list was this remounting in Central Park's Delacorte Theater  of a rollicking musicalization of Shakespeare's comedy, conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and composer/lyricist/performer Shaina Taub. Non-stop fun and joy from start to finish!  

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

And there you have it, the best of the best of Off Broadway for 2018. 

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.

No comments:

Post a Comment