Critic: James Yeara
Best of 2011
Capital Repertory Theatre
Crowns was the type of show that created a new community that hummed, swayed, and looked for hats all of its own. This was a show that deserved its standing ovation simply from its rhythm alone. This fascinating history of African-American women told in vignettes, anecdotes, songs, dances, soliloquies, monologues, poems created out of the souls and sweat of director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill’s excellent seven-actor cast was a joy to see and thrilling to hear. Crowns was as unique and enticing entertainment as you will ever find in the Capital Region.
2. The Producers
The Producers was “a satiric masterpiece,” and “a surprise smash!” as Mel Brooks writes in the show, and PPH’s most original production in 23 years more than lived up to Brooks’ praise. In a year when PPH’s political and corporate funding hit a drought, the folks at Park Playhouse hit a home run with this visually pleasing, laugh-out-loud-funny, grin-like-a-drunk prom-date musical. This is most definitely not the friendly pabulum of yesteryear. This was one of the best shows I’ve seen at PPH in 20 years of reviewing there, and certainly the bravest and most engaging.
3. Play by Play: Shadows
Always surprising, the 15th Annual Play by Play one-act festival at Stageworks/Hudson offered its usual mix of something for everyone: something comforting, old-fashioned, maudlin, funny, avant-garde, and/or quirky. No theater in the area offered such boldness. This is theater for people who not only say they love theater, but know good theater.
4. Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougement (As Told by Himself)
Capital Repertory Theatre
Set decidedly in a theater of Victorian vintage, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Marguiles’ 2007 play was equal parts meta-theater and picaresque ripping good yarn. Shipwrecked! was fascinating, fast-paced family fun entertainment perfectly performed by director Terence Lamude’s three-person cast led by the protean Stacey Linnartz in multiple roles, including a peg-legged pirate captain who out-swashbuckles Capt. Jack Sparrow.
5. Four Dogs and a Bone
Berkshire Actors Theatre
Berkshire Actors Theatre presented a stiletto production of John Patrick Shanley’s 1993 smackdown of moviemaking, Four Dogs and a Bone. An Academy Award winner for Moonstruck and a Pulitzer Prize winner for Doubt, Shanley also wrote and directed Joe Versus the Volcano, so he knows the ins and outs as well as the ups and downs of filmmaking, and he plumbed mostly the downs and outs here to comic effect. Alexander Volkoff directed with a light touch B.A.T.’s four-person cast in a stripped-to-the-bare-bones, fast-paced production that jolted to life each of the four scenes. This was a promising premiere for a new area troupe.
6. As You Like It
Shakespeare & Company
Having spent a week in New York City watching the Royal Shakespeare Company, I didn’t think anything locally could come near their comically theatrical production of Shakespeare’s great merry comedy. That Shakespeare & Company’s production did with its mix of familiar stars and bright newcomers set the benchmark high for local troupes. This was just as you liked a Shakespeare comedy to be.
Critic: Ralph Hammann
Best of 2011
1. Three Hotels
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Jon Robin Baitz’s exploration of personal responsibility and the dark machinations of multinational corporations that blithely disregard the value of human lives received an elegant production as the first mainstage offering under Jenny Gersten’s brave leadership as the new artistic director of the WTF. Nuanced performances by Maura Tierney and Steven Weber filled Thomas Lynch’s beautifully barren hotelscapes under Robert Fall’s deft direction.
Berkshire Theatre Group at the Colonial Theatre
Eric Hill raised the roof of the stately Colonial Theatre in this go-for-broke spectacle that was both a visual and aural sensation. It was as much a celebration of the power of rock (and the Who) as a piece of musical theater, and Hill never let the focus leave the actors, thanks to a ridiculously multitalented cast.
Berkshire Theatre Festival (Unicorn Theatre)
Michael Weller’s classic time capsule of the mid-’60s campus life became a timely reconsideration in this lovingly directed production, which marked Karen Allen’s directorial debut. The play lived and breathed with an uncanny freshness—and a relevance missing from many of the year’s offerings in the Berkshires.