Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Memorable Highlights of the Theatre Season

So the season-end awards are almost all given out now (only the Tonys remain); I felt it was time for me to weigh in with some of the productions that I will cherish from the 2007-08 season.

I called our nonprofit company "The New York Theatre Experience" for a very specific reason -- namely, that every single audience member's experience of the theatre scene in NYC is necessarily different. There is so much to choose from, and so much diversity, that not only is it impossible for two observers to have the exact same experience...it's also downright silly to want them to. All of this award-giving is reductive, taking the thousands of wonderful artistic contributions of the year and distilling them to a few "Best" or "Outstanding" ones.

What I choose to do is celebrate the variety. I had many, many terrific theatre experiences this season, and I want to share them with as many people as I can in the list that follows. The idea is that if some of these folks do work next season (as I sincerely hope they will), perhaps people reading this list will be moved to check it out.

The only rule I am adhering to in assembling this list is to not include anybody who won one of the theatre awards recently given out.

So herewith, a random and almost certainly incomplete list of the stuff to cherish from the past theatre season:
  1. Jeremy Shamos giving the finest performance yet of his career in Kate Fodor's very smart play 100 Saints You Should Know.
  2. Mia Katigbak giving another of her astonishing performances as the short-sided mother in Jorge Ignacio Cortinas's play Blind Mouth Singing.
  3. Teddy Bergman as an editor who falls in love with a mysterious poet in Paul Cohen's delightful comedy Cherubina, which had a great production directed by Alexis Poledouris for Performance Lab 115.
  4. Joel Jeske's hilarious performances in Princess Sunshine's Bitter Pill of Truth Funhouse at FringeNYC and Parallel Exit's Cut to the Chase at 59E59.
  5. Arthur French's brilliant turn as the old Firs-like servant in Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate--this performance got lost in the shuffle this spring.
  6. NAATCO's revival of Falsettoland was the highlight of the very exciting National Asian American Theatre Festival for me last summer, particularly the affecting performances of Manu Narayan as Whizzer and Ann Sanders as Trina.
  7. Jessica Lanius's amazing physical theater piece Firecracker, from Chekhov, was definitely one of the best new shows I saw this year.
  8. The Pearl Theatre's revival of Ibsen's Ghosts featured two revelatory leading performances: Joanne Camp as Mrs. Alving and Tom Galantich as Pastor Manders. And speaking of the Pearl: Sean McNall won a well-deserved Obie for his masterful Hamlet (among other work)--but where is the Obie or other award for Pearl artistic director Shep Sobel?
  9. The Talking Band's new show Imminence, at LaMaMa, was one of the most beautiful and heartfelt musicals I saw all year.
  10. Ditto the revival of Al Carmines & Gertrude Stein's In Circles, from Kaliyuga Arts. It was directed by John Sowle and music directed by Paul Boesing.
  11. Richard Crawford's remarkable portrayal of author Louis-Ferdinand Celine in The Flying Machine's brilliant Journey to the End of the Night was among the finest solo performances I saw all season.
  12. Stolen Chair Theatre Company mounted two fascinating, ambitious, and entirely different new plays this year, both written by Kiran Rikhye and directed by Jon Stancato: The Accidental Patriot and Kinderspiel.
  13. I said in my review that Kirk Bromley's new play Me is probably the most important new play of the season, and I still think so.
  14. Joe Hutcheson's charming one-man comedy Miss Magnolia Beaumont Goes to Provincetown was one of the nicest surprises of the year for me.
  15. Nowhere on the Border, which played last fall at Repertorio Espanol, was one of the most powerful works I saw this year. It's by Carlos Lacamara and was directed by Jose Zayas; the leads--both outstanding--were Ed Trucco as Gary and Ernest De Villa-Bejjani.
  16. Another very exciting one-person show was Naomi Emmerson's American debut in Piaf: Love Conquers All, first at the FringeNYC and then at Soho Playhouse.
  17. Victor Bumbalo's wise new play Questa had its NYC debut at Wings Theatre, and sadly went under almost everybody's radar.
  18. David Rhodes's solo show Rites of Privacy, at Urban Stages last fall, offered virtuoso acting and writing.
  19. I thought Uke Jackson's activist musical Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles! was one of the most charming and provocative works of the season...and I felt privileged to hear his collaborator Terry Waldo, a great ragtime scholar, at the piano.
  20. The Devil & Tom Walker--created by director Yvonne Conybeare, playwright Anthony Pennino, and composer Rob Kendt for Metropolitan Playhouse--was a timely and very entertaining "morality musical."
  21. Terry Schreiber's production of The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams was spectacularly good, with a standout set by George Allison and a standout performance (as Nono) by long-time indie actor Peter Judd.
  22. The Mint Theatre's production of Tolstoy's The Power of Darkness was a great contribution to the season; and Randy Danson's portrayal of a Mother Courage-esque survivor was one of the best characterizations of the season.
  23. The Culture Project presented Dan Hoyle's one-man play Tings Dey Happen, a riveting and grueling look at how the West has destroyed Nigeria. This was not just important, socially conscious playwriting, but also virtuousic acting.
  24. And here's one more memorable solo show: Tom Crean, Antartic Explorer, written and performed by Aidan Dooley at Irish Rep.
  25. And finally, something from Broadway: how is it that every award-giving body ignored what was, for me, the funniest performance of the Broadway season--Rosie Perez as Googie Gomez in The Ritz?

Let's make my very personal and very inadequate list even bigger! Send a comment with the stuff you cherished from your last 12 months of theatre-going. The only rule, once again, is that whatever/whoever you cite can't have received an award from anybody.

There is so much excellence in NYC theatre to celebrate. So let's celebrate it together. (And looking back on this wonderful work is a lot of fun, too.)


jan@broadwayandme said...

What a terrific list! I wish you'd consider doing it monthly so that there might be a chance for those of us who have missed these performances to rush out and see them before they close. But in the meantime cheers, cheers, cheers

Alexander Evans said...

The wildly fun and talented 14-person multiculti ensemble from Signature Theatre Company's "Queens Boulevard (the musical)" was one of the most memorable casts I saw all season--actors like Arian Moayed, Debargo Sanyal, William Jackson Harper, Jon Norman Schneider, etc are all ones to watch. (Same goes for the brilliant set designer of that show!)

Heather Rogers said...

Agreed that Queens Blvd. was a wonderful and unique experience. Also loved Clubbed Thumb's Amazons and their Men, The TEAM's Particularly in the Heartland at PS 122, and in the Fringe: Antarctica and PB&J.

Martin-nytheatre.com said...

(This is from Daniel Talbott)

Hey Martin,

This is in no particular order and /or doesn’t even begin to represent how much great stuff I think and thought was out there, but is just some stuff that came to mind and that I thought was really wonderful and inspiring to me over the last twelve months or so for many different and scattered reasons.

1. Brian Mertes’s production and direction of The Greeks at Juilliard.

2. Trip Cullman’s direction of Bad Jazz at the Ohio for The Play Company (one of my favorite theatre co’s out there).

3. Mark Schultz’s play Deathbed.

4. I love me some LAByrinth Theater Company and thought the acting in Little Flower of East Orange was really wonderful and inspiring.

5. Keith Reddin’s play Human Error at the Atlantic.

6. David Adjmi’s play Evildoers at Yale Rep and the stunning acting of Matt McGrath, Stephen Barker Turner, Johanna Day and Sammy Soule.

7. Lucy Thurber’s plays Stay at Rattlestick and Scarcity at the Atlantic (another two of my fav comanies out there).

8. The rockstar production and what it attempted to do of John Belluso’s play The Poor Itch at The Public directed by the wonderful Lisa Peterson and featuring an extraordinary cast.

9. Daniel Reitz’s beautiful play at EST Self- Portrait in a Blue Room, wonderfully directed by Pam Berlin and incredibly acted by Chris Stack and Larry Pine.

10. Anything Didi O’Connell does.

11. Sand at The Women’s Project (another fave in town)

12. Sarah Ruhl’s play Dead Man’s Cell Phone and especially the acting of Mary-Louise Parker and T. Ryder Smith.

13. Peter and Jerry and Pam MacKinnon’s simple and beautiful direction and of course the incredible cast .

14. Chuck Mee’s Paradise Park at Signature and the extraordinary direction of Daniel Fish.

15. Elizabeth Marvel in anything she does.

Stacey Kwon said...

Carmen Herlihy's impressive performance in the Women's Project production of "Crooked"

Andrew Worthman said...

Jeanine Serralles in her two fabulous Off-Broadway performances at New York Theatre Workshop last summer/fall--"The Black Eyed" and "The Misanthrope".

Stacey Givens said...

I thought Clay McLeod Chapman & Kyle Jarrow's indie rock musical "Hostage Song" was a remarkable evening of theater. Hanna Cheek and Paul Thureen, in the two lead roles, were fantastic.

Danielle Krause said...

Christina Kirk was brilliant as the leading lady of "God's Ear" at the Vineyard Theater. I also thought Palestinian-American actor Waleed Zuaiter was fantastic in his trio of performances this season: as the eldest brother in "Masked", in the Public Theater's "The Fever Chart: Three Visions of the Middle East", and in "Betrayed" at the Culture Project.

William Ogawa said...

Fabulous Filipino actress Ching Valdes-Aran was dynamite in NAATCO's "The House of Bernarda Alba" last June, and also in Reverie Productions' "Widows" in January.

Michael Frakes said...

I was impressed by the performance of Korean American actor Paul Juhn in the show "Vengeance Can Wait" at P.S.122 earlier this spring--he was both hilarious and frightening, which is a tough thing to pull off.

Namrata Bansal said...

It was a lovely treat to see the fine work of actors Ranjit Chowdhry, Sakina Jaffrey, Alok Tewari, and Sarita Choudhury as the quartet of British Indian parents in the New Group's production of "Rafta, Rafta". It is not too often that we get to see South Asian actors in their age range get a chance to shine on a New York City stage--hopefully theatre casting people will take note of their wonderful talents and put them up on other stages again sometime very soon.

Connor D. said...

Kristin Griffith (as Nixon's loyal Watergate scandal secretary, Rose Mary Woods) was marvelous in her leading performance in "Stretch (a fantasia)", produced by New Georges, at the Living Theatre.

Melanie Ramirez said...

I agree that the cast of Chuck Mee's "Queens Boulevard" was an incredibly funny and charming assortment of actors! My favorite moments and characters were the hilarious Russian bathhouse towel dance, the Indian push-cart vendor, the Chinese mom singing "Dancing Queen" as an opera, and the joyous opening and closing dance numbers. What a fun and thoughtful production that was!

Eileen F said...

I brought my husband and kids to see two productions by Union Square last fall that we all just loved--one was called "Jump", which was like a nonstop-action Korean cartoon come to life on stage at the Union Square Theatre, and the other was "Fuerzabruta" at the Daryl Roth Theater, which was an exhilirating experience from start to finish. Both shows featured incredibly athletic and energetic performers that held the audience's attention throughout. It's not often that my pre-teens and my husband and I all equally enjoy the same evening of theater--these two shows were wonderfully entertaining exceptions.

Bryce Jacobs said...

In random order...

1) Iris Bahr's one-woman show "dai (enough)"

2) Tom Nelis in "Iphigenia 2.0" at the Signature

3) "Untitled Mars" at P.S.122

4) The Maieutic Theatre Works production of "Providence"

5) Waterwell's "The/King/Operetta"

Jamie R said...

I saw two shows in February that I thought were terrific: "U.S. Drag" by Gina Gionfriddo (produced by stageFARM) and "RUS(H)" (produced by HERE Arts Center).

Uke Jackson said...

Martin, Thanks for the praise and encouraging words. Much appreciated!