Thursday, December 26, 2019

Top Plays of 2019

I've come up with this year's list of the top plays I saw that opened in New York in 2019.

Of course some plays didn't qualify, like What the Constitution Means to Me, which opened last year Off-Broadway, or Timon of Athens, which I actually saw in England.

Last year, Travesties and Twelfth Night topped the list, and this year included pieces produced by Roundabout and The Public Theater as well. Here's this year's top ten, in reverse order:

10. Antony and Cleopatra - Hudson Warehouse provides a mixed bag of free classical theater in Riverside Park, but this year's modernized production of one of the great tragic love stories of all time was definitely worth seeing.

9. The Importance of Being Earnest - Another great free outdoor production this year was New York Classical Theatre's clever take on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. This year they performed the play in both traditional and gender-swapped versions.

8. Midsummer: A Banquet - Food for Love Productions turned Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream into a tasty treat with this immersive production directed and choreographed by Zach Morris. The Art Nouveau aesthetic worked brilliantly, but it was the remarkable acting that sold the show.

7. Cyrano - Yes, this musical adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac by the New Group was all over the place, but it still managed to make me cry... a lot. If they end up releasing a cast album, definitely buy it. And yes, Peter Dinklage can sing. (We already knew Jasmine Cephas Jones and Grace McLean could.)

6. King Lear - Glenda Jackson gave a performance of a lifetime in this Broadway production of Shakespeare's bleakest tragedy. Sam Gold's direction was problematic at times, but a supporting cast including Jayne Houdyshell and Ruth Wilson made up for it, and the production was thoroughly enjoyable, if rather long.

5. Caesar and Cleopatra - Gingold Theatrical Group scored a hit again this year with their Off-Broadway revival of an epic historical comedy by George Bernard Shaw. Director David Staller's imaginative staging featured seven amazing actors and one hysterical puppet. I'm looking forward to seeing what GTG does next year!

4. Hillary and Clinton - Lucas Hnath's play about the 2008 presidential primary had already been making the rounds before landing on Broadway this year. His writing is always clever, but Broadway audiences had the added benefit of seeing Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the title roles.  The play succeeded by eschewing historical accuracy in favor of a more metaphorical truth.

3. Much Ado About Nothing - The stand-out Shakespeare production of the year was undoubtedly The Public Theater's production of Much Ado About Nothing in Central Park. Director Kenny Leon assembled an incredible cast, and fortunately their performance was recorded and aired on PBS to be shared with the entire nation. If you missed it in the park, make sure you see the recorded version.

2. Scotland, PA - A lot of people have been crowing about Hadestown, which I saw both Off-Broadway and in London, though I have not yet seen in its new Broadway incarnation. The best new musical that I saw this year was Adam Gwon's Scotland, PA, a brilliant adaptation of the 2001 film, which was itself based on a certain Scottish Play. Alas, Roundabout has closed this production, but it deserves to have a longer life elsewhere.

1. Juno and the Paycock - Though I'm not a huge fan of Sean O'Casey, this spring Irish Repertory Theatre presented his three Dublin plays in rep, which is an opportunity not to be missed. Of the three, Juno and the Paycock is O'Casey's best play, and this production was masterfully directed by Neil Pepe to navigate the layers of comedy and tragedy for maximum effect. Irish Rep has a great line-up of shows for the coming year, including Dion Boucicault's classic farce London Assurance, which is running now.

I'm looking forward to that and lots of other great shows in 2020!