Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Best Plays of 2022

As the end of the year approaches, I am once again making my list of the best productions I saw in New York City that opened this year.

If I were being just, I would include My Fellow Americans due to the amazing performance of Rebecca Ana Peña, but as the play's author, I'm probably a bit too close to it, so I'm disqualifying it.

Also disqualified is the virtual production of Kew Gardens as well as the live and virtual versions of A Christmas Carol at Passage Theatre Company. They weren't in New York City, anyway, nor were the productions of King Lear and Only Fools and Horses I saw in London.

Last year was rather lackluster in New York, though a couple good shows rose to the top of my list, including The Alchemist and The Streets of New York. It seems 2022 wasn't quite the year that theatre in this city got back into full swing, but at least there were a lot more good shows opening than there were in 2021.

So without further ado, here is my top-ten list in reverse order:

10. Cymbeline - New York Classical Theatre's outdoor production of Cymbeline was a blast, in large part due to Aziza Gharib, who played the show's heroine, Imogine.

9. Richard II - Another enjoyable outdoor production of Shakespeare was Hudson Classical Theater Company's Richard II at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Riverside Park. Nathan Mattingly played the title role.

8. Made By God - Ciara Ni Chuirc's new play that opened at Irish Rep at the beginning of this year has stayed with me. This meditation on the changing law regarding abortion in Ireland doesn't run away from tough issues of faith and society's shared responsibility for all of its members.

7. As You Like It - Generally, this is one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays, but Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery's musical adaptation was a delight this summer in Central Park. The songs perfectly captured the goofy, conflicted nature of the play's characters. I'd like to see regional theatres pick this one up for the future.

6. Ohio State Murders - Adrienne Kennedy finally made her Broadway debut this year, with help from the star power of Audra McDonald. Playing Suzanne Alexander, a fictionalized version of the playwright herself, McDonald takes us on a harrowing journey where small things take on terrifying aspects by pointing toward much darker ends. (Still playing!)

5. Candida - Gingold Theatrical Group's magnificent production of one of Bernard Shaw's most delightful comedies did not disappoint. Avanthika Srinivasan starred in the title role, while R.J. Foster and Avery Whitted played the two very different men who are in love with her. The production also featured the best set I saw in New York all year, wonderfully crafted by Lindsay Genevieve Fuori.

4. A Touch of the Poet - Irish Rep scored another hit with their revival of Eugene O'Neill's powerful exploration of one moment in American history. Robert Cuccioli was brilliant as Con Melody, but the real discovery was Belle Aykroyd, who played Con's daughter Sara. I'll have a full analysis of the production coming out next year in The Eugene O'Neill Review. The author never saw the play performed in his lifetime, but I think he would have appreciated this staging of it.

3. Downstate - In the past, I've not been a fan of the work of Bruce Norris, but Downstate, still playing through January 7th at Playwrights Horizons, deserves to be seen. The cast, including Glenn Davis, K. Todd Freeman, and Francis Guinan as convicted sex offenders living together in a group home in downstate Illinois while overseen by a parole officer (portrayed brilliantly by Susanna Guzman), is absolutely excellent. Even more important, though, is the way Norris interrogates a culture of victimhood and portrays what it might look like for people to truly take responsibility for their actions.

2. Leopoldstadt - Tom Stoppard's latest play is more conventional than most of his work, but it packs an emotional wallop, especially in these times of rising ethnic nationalism. I spoke about the production on CUNY TV, sharing my long-time love of Stoppard's plays. Though the storytelling is mostly straightforward, its enormous cast of characters would be impossible to follow were it not for the deft direction of Patrick Marber, who makes sure we understand the steady march of time through the most terrifying decades of the 20th century. Tickets are currently on sale until the beginning of July, so if you haven't seen it yet, go.

1. Paradise Square - My top choice will no doubt be controversial, but in spite of its many problems, Larry Kirwan's reimagining of Five Points during the infamous Civil War draft riots captured what contemporary theatre can be if it has the courage to try. Choreographer Bill T. Jones did an exceptional job, and Joaquina Kalukango brought down the house singing the brilliant number "Let It Burn." The music, which is inspired by the work of Stephen Foster, deserves the cast recording we've been promised, but alas, the financial mismanagement of producers could mean this show never again sees the light of day. That would be a shame, as it deserves a much larger audience than it received during its abbreviated run on Broadway.

Here's to an even better year in 2023!