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Critic: James Yeara

Best PRODUCTIONS of 2004

1. Jacques Brel

Capital Repertory Company

During a month when other troupes were doing light fare, Capital Repertory gave its audiences perfection. Featuring a lead singer with an old-fashioned aesthetic that songs should be sung to convey emotions and not simply be a series of notes to be hit forcefully, this was one of a handful of shows that I could see again and again and always find new moments to fall in love with.

2. Typo!

Cirque & Company, New York State Theater Institute

This nouveau vaudevillian extravaganza was 65 minutes of pure physical joy, the type of rush that comes when master entertainers let themselves soar. A deft demonstration of clowning, acrobatics, and comic mannerisms.

3. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Barrington Stage Company

So good that theater legend James Lapine is directing the New York City debut of this Berkshire-born audience pleaser. With music and lyrics by Tony Award-winner William Finn, this is the little musical that could, a sort of tuneful Spellbound for grown-ups.

4. As You Like It

Shakespeare & Company

Shakespeare as it ought to be: full-voiced, funny when it needed to be, aching when it was called for, intelligent throughout. This Shakespeare was a sight to behold, a stirring masterpiece that was a rare conjunction of sights, sounds, and feelings. You laughed, but there was a melancholy that hung around the fringes of this comedy.

5. Boston Marriage

Adirondack Theatre Festival

One of three Equity troupes celebrating 10-year anniversaries, and doing it with a challenging, witty and bawdy Mamet play about lesbian madames manipulating their men in Victorian Boston.

6. Omnium Gatherum

StageWorks/Hudson

Brave, controversial theater that shows what StageWorks/Hudson does best: makes its audiences think and react. A near-relation to Sartre’s No Exit, Omnium Gatherum alternated the laughs with stinging criticisms of both Red and Blue states of mind.

7. Immo+Leo

Teater Vastmanland, New York State Theater Institute

A theatrical stretch that reimagined Shakespeare’s romance Cymbeline with video screens, tracks, graffiti and movement out of angst-ridden dreams.

8. Really Rosie

New York State Theater Institute

What children’s theater can be (but far too often isn’t): The performances by a large cast of children avoided mugging and posturing and were winningly focused and honest.

9. Ain’t Misbehavin‘

Capital Repertory Company

If you didn’t like this Fats Waller pastiche, you ain’t got soul. If you could keep your feet still and your mouth shut while they were singing and dancing, you ain’t got a pulse.

Best PERFORMANCES

1. Catherine Taylor-Williams (Vita & Virginia, Shakespeare & Company)

2. Jamie Adkins and Ann-Marie Levaseu (Typo!, Cirque & Company)

3. Christopher Innvar (Cyrano de Bergerac, Barrington Stage Company)

4. Eileen Schuyler and Robert Ian Mackenzie (Counting the Ways, StageWorks/Hudson)

5. Harry Carnahan and Munson Hicks (The Woman in Black, Capital Repertory Company)

6. Kirk Jackson and Oliver Wadsworth (Stones in His Pockets, Adirondack Theatre Festival)

7. Joshua Modney (Fiddler on the Roof, Park Playhouse)

Critic: Ralph Hammann

Best PRODUCTIONS of 2004

1. Heartbreak House

Berkshire Theatre Festival

Seldom has humanity’s ambivalent embrace of self-extinction been portrayed on stage with such a rich mix of absurd humor and understated humanity as in this delectably acted and designed production of Shaw’s arguable masterpiece.

2. The Cherry Orchard

Williamstown Theatre Festival

The biggest surprise of the season, Chekhov’s rueful farewell to a passing social order was given a newly defining production that assuredly brought the classic into the 21st century, courtesy of Paul Schmidt’s supple translation in which nothing was lost. Greif gave the former Adams Memorial Theatre and transitioning WTF its most eloquent eulogy.

3. Blues for an Alabama Sky

Berkshire Theatre Festival

This iridescent production of Pearl Cleage’s remarkable play, set during the waning of the Harlem Renaissance, celebrated the human spirit’s tenacity and introduced the area to a vital playwright and memorable ensemble of actors.

A better Buddha: Berkshire Theatre Festival’s Siddhartha.

4. Siddhartha

Berkshire Theatre Festival

In his adaptation of Hesse’s novel, Hill combined the inventiveness, style and passion for which he is known to give audiences a transcendent journey that enlightened as it entertained. A true original.

5. The Miracle Worker

Berkshire Theatre Festival

Kate Maguire’s homegrown production beautifully reimagined and revitalized this small cornerstone of American theater while giving a duo of young actresses a chance to shine.

6. Design for Living

Williamstown Theatre Festival

Aided enormously by Hugh Landwehr’s stunning set designs, Boyd’s lovingly mounted production surmounted its shortcomings to bring Noël Coward’s timely play back to elegant life.

WORST PRODUCTIONS

1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Williamstown Theatre Festival

An odiously self-referential concept devolved into a misbegotten mess where chaos and shifting examples of bad taste were the orders of the night. One of the worst productions ever at the WTF, it relocated Shakespeare’s magic to a plastic-and- plywood theme park populated by puny excuses for characters.

2. American Revolution

Oldcastle Theatre Company

Jay Parini’s new play was a tract on Sartre’s Being and Nothingness with an emphasis on the latter. More revolting than revolutionary, it quickly became a soggy used teabag of a play.

3. Sweet Charity

Barrington Stage Company

This dismal, empty and thoroughly forgettable musical was given a heartless and unnecessary production leavened only by its dance numbers that cribbed what they could from Bob Fosse’s excellent original choreography.

4. The Water’s Edge

Williamstown Theater Festival

Teetering over the edge of sanity, Theresa Rebeck’s new play was a ludicrous and awkward exercise in trying to write a contemporary version of Agamemnon in which Kate Burton pulled out all the stops in an unintentionally funny bathtub slaughter. The plug should have been pulled on this in the reading stage.

5. R shomon

Williamstown Theater Festival

Michael John LaChiusa’s insubstantial musical adaptation of Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s stories and Akira Kurosawa’s film left out more than the “A” in Rashomon.

6. The Misanthrope

Berkshire Theatre Festival

Led by David Adkins’ inept Alceste, the cast (save one) turned the music of Moliere and adapter, Richard Wilbur, into a sing-song monotony in this unexpected misstep at the BTF.

7. As You Like It

Shakespeare & Company

Not as I like it, this overlong trial was only sporadically saved by Sarah Rafferty; otherwise the Forest of Arden was bereft of love and arboreal atmosphere.

8. Cabaret & Main

Williamstown Theater Festival

Squandering one of its four time slots (down from five) on this hit-and-often-miss show, the WTF began its anniversary season on a sour note with a bloated talent show masquerading as a cabaret.

Best PERFORMANCES

1. Ritchie Coster (The Cherry Orchard, WTF)

2. Sara Drew (Heartbreak House, BTF)

3. Marin Hinkle (Heartbreak House, BTF)

4. Sarah Rafferty (As You Like It, Shakespeare & Co.)

5. Francesca Faridany (Skylight, The Miniature Theatre of Chester)

6. Darryl Theirse (Blues for an Alabama Sky, BTF)

7. Cherise Booth (Blues for an Alabama Sky, BTF)

8. Reed Birney (The Cherry Orchard, WTF)

9. Tabitha McKown (The Miracle Worker, BTF)

10. Justina Trova (The Miracle Worker, BTF)


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