Thursday, December 31, 2020

Top Shows (that I missed) in 2020

In past Decembers, I have come up with a list of the best shows I saw that opened in New York City that year. Well, for 2020, that list would have to be pretty short.

Sure, I could talk about Blessed Unrest's Battle of Angels, and Irish Rep's Lady G, and end with Roundabout's standout production of A Soldier's Play, but for the most part, 2020 was a total loss when it came to live theatre.

Instead, I'm going to write about ten shows I missed, plays I was looking forward to seeing live, but couldn't experience because massive government incompetence turned a completely predictable (and predicted) outbreak into the worst health crisis since the influenza of 1918-1920.

This year was supposed to be one of world travel for me, rather than confinement to mostly just four small rooms. That's why my list is not restricted to just New York City this year. Here are ten shows I should have seen, would have seen, and likely would have loved, had it not been for the dumpster fire of 2020:

10. A Touch of the Poet. Okay, this one is partially my fault, since Irish Rep went ahead and produced this Eugene O'Neill play digitally. I was looking forward to seeing it live, though, and Zoom fatigue combined with the added work of trying to teach classes online meant that I missed the virtual performance. I still blame 2020.

9. Hangmen. Was Martin McDonough's latest play going to be a masterpiece? Maybe. Maybe not. But New York never got to find out, because it was still in previews when COVID-19 shut down theatres. Some shows vowed to reopen once the crisis passed, but as it became clear that the shutdown would last for weeks and then months, producers had to pull the plug on this one.

8. Man of La Mancha. The Astoria Performing Arts Center had planned a revival of this classic musical, to be directed by Dev Bondarin, whose work I've always loved. Fortunately, APAC is still going, though other theatre companies have been forced to fold. Theatre in Queens took a big hit when the Secret Theatre announced its closure this year. The one bright spot is that APAC will be taking over the space they've vacated.

7. As You Like It. The Public Theater has experienced tremendous success with its Public Works productions in Central Park, bringing together professional artists and amateurs in a celebration of all that's great about New York City. Shaina Taub did an excellent job composing music for 2019's production of Twelfth Night, and I was looking forward to hearing her score for As You Like It. It looks like I'll have to wait a bit longer now.

6. Richard II. The Shakespeare in the Park production I was really looking forward to seeing this year, though, was Richard II. Though I've seen multiple filmed versions of the play this is the only one in the Shakespeare canon I've never experienced live. After the shutdown, director Saheem Ali organized a radio version of the piece that aired on WNYC. You can listen to each of the four episodes, which are available as podcasts, though it's certainly not the same thing.

5. The Prince of Egypt. After attending a Shaw conference in Spain this May, I was supposed to spend some time with my sister in London. She had already gotten us tickets to see the stage adaptation of Stephen Schwartz's The Prince of Egypt at the Dominion Theatre. The movie was delightful, and the score does seem to lend itself to a stage transfer, so I was looking forward to seeing how it works on stage, as well as spending some time with my sister. Instead, I've only been able to see her virtually this year.

4. Leopoldstadt. Even more exciting than The Prince of Egypt was the other show my sister had gotten us tickets to see. Tom Stoppard's new play Leopoldstadt opened this January in a production directed by Patrick Marber, who had done such a brilliant job directing Stoppard's Travesties. Of all the shows playing in London this year, this was the one I really, really wanted to see. It tells the stories of members of the Jewish community in Vienna during the first half of the 20th century. We had tickets, but now I don't know if I'll ever have a chance to see it.

3. The Devil's Disciple. Though the Shaw conference in Spain was cancelled due to COVID-19, I briefly entertained hopes of attending another Shaw conference in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada. Instead, that conference went virtual, and the Shaw Festival decided to postpone its summer season for the summer of 2021. That means I might still get a chance to see the Shaw play they were supposed to do this year, The Devil's Disciple. Incidentally, Gingold Theatrical Group had planned to produce the same play this autumn. Will it be possible in 2021? We're still not sure.

2. Great Expectations. This play isn't an adaptation of the work by Charles Dickens, though I would have been excited about that, too. No, this Great Expectations is a reworking of my own short play The Rainbow, but for two older actors. A friend of mine, Ellen DiStasi, approached me earlier this year about doing The Rainbow with Theater of Light, which brings live drama to communities of older folks here in New York. Ellen asked if I could update the script to be performed by more mature actors, so a woman who had recently had a break-up became a widow, and there were a few other changes as well. The biggest thing, though, was that Ellen wasn't sure that a long monologue about a D.H. Lawrence novel would work for her target audience, so I changed it to a monologue about Great Expectations instead, which naturally changed the title of the play as well. I'd love to be able to do this show in 2021, but a play performed by members of a vulnerable community for other members of a vulnerable community....

1. The Love Songs of Brooklynites. I've been working on a full-length version of my one-act play that was workshopped in 2019 at the Theatre of Western Springs. Meanwhile, the one-act version was accepted for the theatre trail at the Arundel Festival of the Arts in the United Kingdom. The Drip Action Theatre Company in Arundel says they want to do the show this upcoming year. That would be wonderful. Though I've had my work performed in Canada, Australia, and even Japan, I've never had a production in the U.K., and Arundel looks like an amazing place to visit. Perhaps I'll be able to go this August and see it. Whether that happens or not, I'm still holding out hope for the full-length version of The Love Songs of Brooklynites to have a New York production once the theatres reopen. That means we're all going to have to wear masks, limit unnecessary travel, and get vaccinated. It also means that the government needs to get its act together and actually distribute and administer the vaccines being produced. Only then are we going to be able to have great theatre back.