The God on the doorpost between the years looks forth toward the future yet back toward the past, so this is the time for resolutions, and ten-best lists. Last year, for instance, I resolved to see an average of two plays a week --- and I failed. As year's end approaches, I can count only 98 programs in my file; so I came up six plays short. Mea culpa...
I won't even try to winnow out ten, with a best in the #1 spot. There are always too many good ones, and each one deserves to top the list for its own unique reasons. Take new plays, for instance. The five I picked are, every one of them, THE Best new play I saw all year:
HUNGER --- written, directed, and produced by Milton
Coykendall for his Java Theatre at the BCA, was a tensely
expressionistic, minimalist reduction of a series of eating-
disorders into the pressure-cooker of a single disfunctional
family. It was spare, with every irrelevance shaved and
DIRT, however --- written directed and produced by Abe Rybeck for his Theatre Offensive at the BCA --- was an all-over-the-place explosion of incident and ideas, bitingly insightful and blindingly hilarious at the very same time.
JACK THE RIPPER --- Music & words by Steven Bergman & Christopher-Michael DiGrazis, by Centastage at the BCA --- was an imaginatively serious musical making this serial murderer and his time intensely alive and compelling. (I saw it twice.)
WHEN THE WORLD WAS GREEN (A CHEF'S FABLE) --- by Sam Shepard & Joseph Chaikin for A.R.T. at the Puidding --- was, again, a boiled-down concentration of text to poetically powerful, gradually expanding ideas flawlessly acted.
TIMEPIECE --- by Emerson student members of The Other Theatre --- was several months of creativity-workshops finally facing an audience. Everyone learned something about theater at these performances, whether performing or attending.
Then there are plays new to ME, and perhaps new to Boston.
THE EIGHT: REINDEER MONOLOGS --- Directed by Fran Weinberg for TheatreZone --- was a New Yorker-style send-up of Clement Clark Moore's beloved cliche's.
VITA AND VIRGINIA --- Threshold Theatre at the BCA --- told me things about Virginia Woolf I had never known, and introduced me to a woman I'd hardly known anything about called Vita Sackville-West.
GOOSE & TOMTOM --- Harvard/Radcliffe Summer Theatre --- was a wierdly wired drug-dream of fantasy and paranoia demanding and getting fearlessly honest performances by students.
FIRES IN THE MIRROR --- Wharf Rat Productions --- was Anna Deveare Smith's set of significant monologs doled out to a handfull of performers regardless of color or sex. Done by a not- for-profit-but-for-charities company out in Salem dedicated to doing good work and contributing to good works. Everything about this show was unique.
LUCKY STIFF --- Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty at Worcester Foothills Theatre Company --- was a year's-end triumph of silliness and farce, Directed and Choreographed by Dennis Courtney, that should be revived more often.
And then there's a whole set of plays, all but one of which,
I had seen before, which were made new again:
THE MAIDS --- Portal Theatre Company, at the BCA --- was the culmination of five months of work by the three ladies in the cast and Director Rachel Rahav Shatil. Their depth and dedication made every line of this old warhorse gleamingly new.
A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN & AMERICAN BUFFALO --- Directed by Rick Lombardo for The New Repertory Theatre --- were examples of what professional theater people can accomplish in smaller houses affording intimate contact with audiences so close to the action they must be involved.
WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? --- Directed by Joseph Zamparelli, Jr., for The Delvena Theater Company at the BCA --- was a second mounting for this company, with two new cast-members. Neither an Atma Theater production years ago, or the surprisingly good movie version, prepared me for this re-creation of a play that gets better every time I see it.
FALSETTOS --- Directed by Russell R. Greene for The Footlight Club --- was so much better than a Jerry Zachs production I saw on the professional stage that it was a whole new play.
CABARET --- Directed by Julianne Boyd foor Barrington Stage/Cambridge Theater at The Pudding --- was a real re-making of this musical, in selected cuts and inclusions, and in original interpretations and readings of familiar lines.
LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART --- Directed by Nancy Curran Willis for The Vokes Players --- came close on the heels of a fine SpeakEasy Stage production done at The Lyric Stage, but this community theater crew made the characters people, and let the messages percolate up through their humanity.
COMPANY --- by the Huntington Theater Company --- de- emphasized the dancing and used huge character-portraits to turn the central character into a believable painter/photographer, as well as making his final decision --- to marry despite all that those good and crazy people his married friends had taught him about matrimony --- believably the correct one.
THE ZOO STORY --- Frank Annese for his New Neighborhood Theatre --- again proved the power of Edward Albee's writing, as well as its enduring freshness.
Two one-woman shows at the Little Flags Theatre in Cambridge
both reduced theater to essences and proved its enduring power.
PLUM PUDDING saw Paula Plum doing three different monologs/plays by three different authors demanding three different styles of presentation.
GREETINGS FROM HOLLYWOOD was a set of interior monologs written and performed by Cindy Freeman and arising out of her own personal experience.
My list of excellent directors comes directly from my list of
"plays made new":
Rachel Rahav Shatil (Portal's THE MAIDS), Rick Lombardo (New Rep's artistic director), and Julianne Boyd (Barrington's CABARET) shaped their shows so that their work seemed all but invisible. Fran Weinberg's work with THE EIGHT stood out only because past plays done by TheatreZone paled by comparison. And both Joe Zamparelli, Jr., and Russell R. Greene paid their casts the ultimate compliment of insisting it was their acting and not the direction that made the productions shine.
I hope to see the work of all these directors often in the future.
When it comes to naming great performances I'm hesitant and
confused, because I can't often separate out one performance from
the whole. My most heartfelt award goes not to stand-out jobs, but
to ensemble playing.
The honors here go to everyone connected with THE MAIDS, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, HUNGER, A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, AMERICAN BUFFALO, and TIMEPIECE.
Still, the scope and variety and subtleties necessary to play
Josie Hogan in Eugene O'Neill's A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN make
Ann-Marie Cusson's performance stand out from anything this season
had to offer.
Likewise Lynne Moulton's Martha in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF; and Paula Plum's three monologs in PLUM PUDDING were unforgettable.
But women play against men, and it was John FitzGibbon's
James Tyrone Jr. in MOON and Fred Robbins as George in WHO'S
AFRAID who stood out.
Christopher Yates in CABARET made the writer/narrator Clifford Bradshaw a pivotal force in the plot, and Frank Annese simply made THE ZOO STORY compellingly real.
Techies tend to get short shrift because their best work is
meant to emphasize rather than upstage the action and the actors,
and it often gets overlooked.
Nevertheless, Janie Fliegle's sets for MOON and AMERICAN BUFFALO added immeasurably to their success.
Christiana Pepin's set for THE ZOO STORY at the New Neighborhood Playhouse was so solidly designed and deftly detailed that it looked like real marble and concrete. In fact, they looked so real I thought she had cleverly used permanent parts of the theater for her set!
Judy Stacier took the oddly shaped BCA space and forced it to accommodate JACK THE RIPPER'S many period scenes quite expressively.
And Helen Shaw likewise put the audience in both sides of the Loeb Experimental Theatre to give GOOSE & TOMTOM a starkly spare non-set that perfectly expressed the play's odd unreality.
Finally, John Malinowski's lighting effects for A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN at New Rep were remarkable most because they did Not upstage the action. The slow march of moonlight first through trees and then into clear light, and the slow progress of oncoming dawn, gave that play's action a physical counterpoint every inch of the way.
But let me close with one observation: Six of the unforgettable productions I got to see last year were presented at The Boston Center for The Arts, which may be the busiest theater complex in the city. I've got to go there more often in the year to come. Maybe, if I do, I can finally break a hundred before next December....