Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best Plays of 2016

There weren't too many good things about 2016, but there were a few stand-out theater productions in New York, so once again I'm compiling a list of the best shows I saw that opened in New York City this past year.

Remember, these are shows that opened in 2016, so I couldn't include Sense and Sensibility, The Woodsman, and some other great plays I saw this year. Here are my picks in reverse order:

10. Blackbird - David Harrower wrote Blackbird more than a decade ago, but the play didn't make its Broadway premiere until this past February. That's a sad commentary on the state of American theater, but better to arrive late than never. Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams were excellent in this two-hander (or is it?) and the play kept audiences guessing right until the end.

9. Othello: The Remix - This hip-hop update of Shakespeare's tragedy re-imagines the story with a comic twist, but the Q Brothers manage to create a few touchingly dramatic moments as well. This show is still playing at the Westside Theater off-Broadway, and if you haven't seen it yet, get your tickets now! It's only running until January 15th, so you better act fast.

8. The Bacchae - The Faux-Real Theatre Company does some magnificent work re-imaging the Greek classics, and this year's production of The Bacchae at La Mama was no exception. The masks were excellently done, and the moments when they came on and off of the actors were especially powerful. Lynda White's puppets brought added excitement to Euripides' tragedy. Be sorry if you missed it!

7. The Humans - Stephen Karam's off-Broadway hit The Humans transferred to Broadway this year, winning a Tony Award for Best Play in the process. While the cast of The Bacchae was filled with young up-and-comers, this production features veteran actors Reed Birney and Jayne Houdyshell giving performances of a lifetime. The Humans is also closing January 15, so get your tickets if you haven't seen it yet!

6. The Place We Built - Kudos to The Flea for staging this play about a right-wing takeover in Hungary that seems scarily prescient of our own country's position today. Sarah Gancher's script gives a shocking account of recent events in Hungary told through the eyes of a young American filmmaker (played touchingly by Isabelle Pierre). The play's use of music also added tremendously to the performance. Particularly given recent events, we need more plays like this.

5. Widowers' Houses - The Actors Company Theatre is known for their quality revivals of classics, and this co-production they did with Gingold Theatrical Group earlier this year even surpassed expectations. George Bernard Shaw's first performed play doesn't get done much anymore, and this production proved what a shame that is. Widowers' Houses exposes not just the corruption of our economic system, but also how all of us are implicated. More than a hundred years after the play was written, it is still sadly relevant.

4. Puffs - Yes, this show has been around for a while, but it only opened off-Broadway this year, so I'm including it on the list. If you haven't seen it yet, Puffs tells the story of a certain boy wizard during seven increasingly eventful years at a magical school that shall not be named for copyright reasons. The brilliance of this play by Matt Cox is that instead of focusing on Harry and his friends, it gives us an account of three losers at the school who belong to the one house that perpetually comes in last. If you're a Potterhead and haven't seen it... where have you been! Get your tickets now!

3. Hadestown - New York Theatre Workshop's production of Hadestown has got to be the best new musical to come out of 2016. Based on a concept album by Anais Mitchell, the show tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice against the background of Depression-era rural America. When Patrick Page as Hades asks the musical question "Why do we build the wall, my children?" chills will definitely run through your body. Though the brilliant production directed by Rachel Chavkin is closed, a cast album is being released, and I'm holding out hope that this show will eventually return, perhaps even on Broadway.

2. Butler - Richard Strand's comedy about the Civil War general Benjamin F. Butler has been making the rounds at regional theaters, but when New Jersey Repertory Company brought their production to 59E59, it was the first time New York City audiences got a chance to see the play. Ames Adamson was perfect as the title character in this comedy about how history-shaping decisions really get made. Strand proves that serious topics like war and slavery can be laughing matters after all. Though theater in New York City may be struggling, this production proves that in many places, regional theater is still going strong.

1. A Doll's House - My favorite production this year was Theatre for a New Audience's magnificent staging of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. Starring Maggie Lacey and John Douglas Thompson, this play could not have asked for a better cast. Director Arin Arbus placed the audience on two sides of the stage, making sure that everyone had an intimate experience with the classic play. This rendition was funny, sexy, and ultimately heartbreaking. Thorvald and Nora's marriage made sense in this version, though that didn't mean it wasn't still doomed from the beginning. Make a note to check out TFANA's shows next year. They could be just as surprising!

Honorable mentions this year go to Mabou Mine's Imagining the Imaginary Invalid and Ivo van Hove's Broadway production of The Crucible. Hopefully 2017 will be a better year, for the theater and for the world!