Jules Becker's 'Best of Theater' 2012
Diversity found a substantial place on
Hub stages in 2012. Several of the best efforts- on small and large area stages-
gave compelling voice to a variety of LGBT and African – American points of
view. Demanding theatergoers could find such compelling options as a Centastage
production of a world premiere from out playwright Joe Byers and a Huntington
Theatre Company revival of a modern classic from the late great black dramatist
August Wilson. Herewith, in alphabetical order, are this critic’s choices
of the best of 2012, small and large stage:
Avenue Q-Lyric Stage Company of Boston- Sublime area
premiere of this Tony Award –winning musical celebration of neighbors-gay,
straight, black and white-as a kind of extended family; with inspired
puppetry, all sharply helmed by artistic director Spiro Veloudos.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson-SpeakEasy Company 9 (Boston
Center for the Arts). Rocking premiere of provocative Broadway musical look
at Jackson as a bank-fighting populist who targeted native- American tribes,
with Gus Curry a standout as Jackson.
The Fakus: A Noir – Centastage(BCA). Life as a
competition of cons in Joe Byers’ vivid new homage to 1950’s films and
ambience; fiery Bobbie Steinbach and crisp Joe Antoun direction. Paul
Melendy and Craig Mathers have strong chemistry as con artists drawn to each
other as much as to their work.
Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde- Bad
Habit Productions (BCA). Brilliant work by John Geoffrion as Wilde in Moise
Kaufman’s moving portrait of tormented Wilde and telling look at homophobia.
Love Person-Company One. Trilingual play- American Sign
Language, English and Sanskrit – by Aditi Brennan Kapti with uncommon
insights about love and language-influenced perceptions. Breakthrough
performance by Sabrina Dennison as an emotionally rich deaf lesbian named
Master Harold and the Boys- Gloucester Stage Company.
Johnny Lee Davenport viscerally majestic as Cape Town, South Africa tea
house black waiter Sam in Athol Fugard’s masterful anti-apartheid drama.
Parade- F.UD.G.E. Theatre Company (Arsenal
Center).Smartly intimate revival of the honored Broadway Jason Robert
Brown-Alfred Uhry musical (Tonys respectively as composer and author) about
the early 1900’s blood libeling and murder case framing of Jewish defendant
The Pillowman-Flat Earth Theatre(Factory Theatre).
Audience members on the threshold of the interrogation room in director
Sarah Gazdowicz’s powerfully intense revival of the Kafkaesque Martin
McDonagh play. Superb puppet design by Matthew Woellert for visualized
Rock ‘n’ Roll-The Longwood Players (Cambridge YMCA
Theatre). A strong production of the Cambridge and Prague-set Stoppard drama
that made the play’s insights about music, dissent and freedom more
compelling than they seemed in an earlier Huntington Theatre Company effort.
Sarah Ruhl’s Passion Play -Circuit Theatre Company(seen
at YMCA Theatre;also staged at Davis Square Theatre and Oberon, A.R.T.)
Transcendent production by an ambitious and talented young company of Ruhl’s
time (1575,1934,1969) and place (England, Germany,U.S.A.) –spanning triptych
on religion, hatred, fear, courage and love. Justin Phillips a standout as a
gay German soldier and a traumatized American veteran.
Runners–up –The Diary of Anne Frank (the
Wendy Kesselman adaptation)- Roxbury Repertory Theatre; The Elaborate Entrance
of Chad Deity-Company One(BCA); Of Mice and Men, Moonbox Productions (BCA); Our
Class ,Tufts University Drama Department; Time of My Life- Zeitgeist Stage
The Andersen Project- Arts/ Emerson(Paramount Center)
Multi-media rich and envelope-pushing odyssey by gifted author-director
Robert Lepage inspired by the title writer’s tales. Superb solo work by Yves
Billy Elliot The Musical-Broadway Across America-Boston
(Opera House). Strong tour of the Tony Award Elton John-Lee Hall show about
dance, youthful dreams, father-son understanding and straight-gay
Daddy Long Legs-Merrimack Repertory Theatre(by
arrangement with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and others).Affecting
musical adaptation by Paul Gordon and John Caird of the Jean Webster novel
(Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron in the movie).
FELA!-tour presented in association with Arts/Emerson at
Cutler Majestic Theatre. Out director-choreographer Bill T. Jones’ heartfelt
and vibrant tribute- with co-author Jim Lewis- to the late Nigerian
Afro-beat music maker and activist Fela Anikulapo –Kuti, played with
commanding authority by Sahr Ngaujah.
Guys and Dolls -North Shore Music Theatre.Stylish revival
of the Frank Loesser musical.
The Luck of the Irish-Huntington at Calderwood(BCA).
Forceful world premiere of Kirsten Greenidge’s thoughtful Hub –based drama
about African-American homeowners, family tranquility and personal
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom-Huntington. Huntington’s
tenacious completion of August Wilson’s Century Cycle plays-here Wilson’s
first Broadway play. Yvette Freeman is formidable as songstress Rainey ,
traveling with a young female love. Jason Bowen is electrifying as
iconoclastic musician Levee.
Our Town-Huntington. David Cromer, dazzlingly ingenious
as director and disarmingly low-key as Stage Manager(in December) in this
landmark Off-Broadway revival of the Thornton Wilder gem. Premier Boston
actor Joel Colodner (the rabbi in Lyric Stage’s recent “The Chosen”)
continues as Stage Manager through January 27.
Ragtime The Musical-The Strand Theatre. Very moving
revival of the immigrant and minority championing musical by out author
Terrence McNally, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens.
Fiddlehead artistic director Meg Fofonoff gave a new radiance to the
historic Boston theater.
War Horse-Boston Across American-Boston (Opera House).
National tour of the Lincoln Center World War I-set powerhouse that was
virtually as magnificent as its Tony Award predecessor.The puppetry that
brought title horse Joey and his buddy Topthorn to life was once again
Runners-up - Betrayal-Huntington;Festen-Gamm
Theatre; Green Day’s American Idiot-Broadway Across America(Opera House) ;
Hamlet- Arts/Emerson(Paramount Center); Lily’s Revenge-Oberon/A.R.T.;Sequence
8-Les 7 doigts de la main (Cutler Majestic); South Pacific-Ogunquit Playhouse.
(Our Town, Huntington Theatre at Calderwood Pavilion, BCA, through January 27.
617-266-0800 or huntingtontheatre.org.)