Monday, December 30, 2013

Best Plays of 2013

It's that time of year when people put together their lists of the best plays they've seen over the past 12 months. I've decided to limit myself to performances in New York City that opened in 2013. (Sorry Sleep No More and Heute: Kohlhaas, but you don't qualify.)

So in reverse order, here they are:

Theatre for a New Audience clearly knew what it was doing when it brought over this one-woman show featuring Kathryn Hunter from The Young Vic in London. Franz Kafka's "A Report to an Academy" came to life like I'd never imagined.

Aquila Theatre revived this ancient play by Euripides using interviews with actual war veterans in lieu of the choral numbers. Unfortunately, there were only a handful of performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in March. Still, those who saw the show will not easily forget it.

Helen Sneed's comedy about a Texas woman having a mental breakdown in the dressing room of a Neiman Marcus was surprisingly emotional. The Abingdon Theatre did a great job with this piece, which featured fine performances by Lee Roy Rogers, Polly Lee, and Lori Gardner, among others.

Not everyone I've talked to has loved this show, but I find Dave Malloy's songs to be enchanting. Plus, that Tolstoy guy really knew how to tell a story! This immersive theatre experience was a triumph for the non-profit Ars Nova, and has moved on uptown with a commercial production near Times Square.

How could anyone possibly perform this outrageous late play by Tennessee Williams? By casting Penny Arcade and Mink Stole, of course. This all-too-brief run at the New Ohio Theatre deserved all of the praise it received, and then some. It's a pity the Christmas-themed show had to close before the holidays.

As much as I enjoyed the musicalized version of Love's Labour's Lost this summer, the Public did an even better job with The Comedy of Errors, setting Shakespeare's tale of mis-matched twins in upstate New York. Hamish Linklater and Jesse Tyler Ferguson were hysterical, and Heidi Schreck made a wonderful Adriana.

Bedlam's production of the classic by George Bernard Shaw uses only four actors to tell a magnificent story. This stripped-down, bare-bones version gets to the heart of the story of Joan of Arc, and breaks the audience's heart in the process. Special praise goes to Eric Tucker, who both directs and plays Warwick. It's still running, so get your tickets now!

Sam Carner and Derek Gregor have been working for years on this musical based loosely on Alexander Pope's mock epic poem The Rape of the Lock. Though the material does not seem the most likely candidate for becoming a musical comedy, they pulled it off with panache in Prospect Theatre Company's world premier of the work this summer. Just when you think you know where the play is headed, it goes in a delightful new direction. This show deserves to be done all across the country.

Perhaps I'm a little biased, but Marisa Michelson and Joshua H. Cohen gave this town one of the most innovative new musicals it has seen in a long time, beating out even Unlock'd. Kudos to Prospect Theatre Company for producing two of the top plays on this list! I saw Tamar three times, and enjoyed it more with each performance. I know of no immediate plans for a larger production, but some bright producer needs to bring this musical to a larger stage, though hopefully keeping most of the brilliant staging by director Daniel Goldstein.

This Poulenc opera blew me away when I saw it at the Met in May. They nailed the final scene, where the nuns are guillotined one by one, and all of those voices singing "Salve Regina" go quiet, one after another, until there is only one left, and then.... The world today still faces religious oppression, and far more serious attacks than the "War on Christmas" hyped by Fox News, or the bogus pseudo-attacks on "freedom of religion" that have the American Catholic Bishops constantly crying wolf. This tale of Sister Blanche (not quite a historical figure, but there were plenty of women like her) reminds us that true Christianity calls for self-sacrifice, not constant self-aggrandizement.

So that's my list. Honorable mentions go out to Atlantic Theater Company's The Jammer, La MaMa's Iphigenia at Aulis, Roundabout's The Winslow Boy, and Signature's Cheri.