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The Year In Review 2009

Best of 2009

Critic: James Yeara

1. The Orestia: Agamemnon, Choephori, and The Eumenides

Bard College Summerscape

Enough acts of murder—matricide, patricide, genocide, and one relatively simple homicide—mutilations, curses, cannibalism, invocations, revenges, prophecies, and startlingly vivid bloodshedding to satiate devotees of The Lord of the Ring trilogy and the Saw franchise. The use of multimedia, the changing of the very physical form of the stage, and the clarity of the stage pictures all supported the action of the play—a rarer area theatrical occurrence than you’d suppose. The acting by the English cast of 10 actors was peerless: diction, action and focus all made Aeschylus’ ancient plays clear.

2. Pinter’s Mirror

Shakespeare & Company

Judging from the results of this unique collection of three seemingly disparate one-act plays—“A Slight Ache,” “Family Voices,” and “Victoria Station”—Shakespeare & Company’s Harold Pinter production shouldn’t be their last of his plays. Director Eric Tucker, in his debut effort at S&Co., had his three actor cast smartly attuned to Pinter’s poetic prose, static animation, and other similar “Pinteresque” contradictions.

3. My Fair Lady

Capital Repertory Theatre

Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill’s My Fair Lady was an intimate, enticing affair. Instead of bloated spectacle and the “chuck a cast up onstage to fill it and the audience with relatives and friends,” Mancinell-Cahill’s smart aesthetic allowed the words and the notes of this well-known musical chestnut to be not just heard, but felt.

4. Faith Healer

Berkshire Theatre Festival, Unicorn Theatre

The sounds, syntax, and words of the Irish “Faith Healer,” Frank (Colin Lane), his upper-class English mistress (a former barrister) Grace (Keira Naughton, one of the busiest actresses in the Berkshires), and his elder Cockney barker, Teddy (David Adkins), fascinated or, to use one of Frank’s favorite words, “mesmerized” the audience. It was in their aural distinctions, their very different accents, movements, and stillness, the variations, prevarications, and epiphanies in their storytelling that made Eric Hill’s Faith Healer memorable.

5. A Streetcar Named Desire

Barrington Stage Company

Director Julianne Boyd’s Streetcar was more than a match for playwright Williams’ poetry and his stage direction. With a set that was perfection by scenic designer Brian Prather, Boyd and company wrestled and caressed Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece to full liquid life: full of beer, bourbon, sweat, tears, blood, and those more intimate emanations life is full of and stage productions too often aren’t. Barrington Stage Company’s production depended not “on the kindness of strangers,” as Blanche fluttered at play’s end, but on the talents of an excellent cast and Boyd’s firm, exacting hand to create a powerful A Streetcar Named Desire.

6. Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps

Proctors Theatre

Pure comic gold, this two-time 2008 Tony Award-winning pastiche, Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, was dashing good fun for film aficionados and fans of Monty Python’s manic glee. But the play’s “Macguffin turned out really to be all of Hitchcock’s films; fans groaningly laughed at all the references to Psycho, The Birds, The Lady Vanishes, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, etc. Given enough rope, the play has been notorious for keeping audiences spellbound through its Hitchcockian contortions, but I confess that I am the wrong man to sabotage this lifeboat of young and innocent fun. It’s all a pretense for a 95-minute comedic frenzy of four actors playing 100 (give or take an accent or dropped hat) characters, on a stage filled with dry ice, fog, gunshots, train travel, the Scottish highlands, and London’s Palladium Theatre.

7. Candide

Berkshire Theatre Festival

Picking and choosing the juiciest bits of the various versions of this operetta, BTF conceived a fast-paced, “quite bawdy” and totally arch production that amuses, pleases and, occasionally, touches an audience with the excellence of the voices, the acting aesthetic best embodied by McCaela Donovan as Cunegonde. Flipping fully from deadpan to emotional then back to deadpan, Donovan had that Kristen Chenoweth quality of presenting sweet, naivety one second and full-bore horniness the next, all in a diminutive package.

Hello, Drolly: the cast of Stageworks/Hudson’s Forbidden Broadway.

8. Forbidden Broadway: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1

StageWorks/Hudson

Forbidden Broadway was full of love—for musical theater, for entertainment, for the craft of acting, the talent for dancing, and the art of singing. People who truly love musical theater were smitten by this 90-minute valentine to musical theater. People who love to be entertained were thrilled with this 25-year off-Broadway veteran, honored in the past with a Tony Award, an Obie Award, and a Drama Desk Award. People who admire ensemble acting, deft dancing and eclectic singing exalted the talents of Forbidden Broadway’s four-person cast. This pastiche parody was like a beautiful love affair that ended without a nasty divorce.

9. The Hound of the Baskervilles

Shakespeare & Company

Most of the elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original 1901 novel were here, but the quick pace, the zany Marx Brothers-begat-Monty Python-begat-Complete Works of Shakespeare quirkiness, and the tongue-in-cheekiness of the trio—if your kids, students, or grandparents don’t like a S&Co. comedy, they just don’t have a sense of humor—made this The Hound of the Baskervilles a delight and the best of the troupe’s fall offerings.

10. The Seafarer

Capital Repertory Theatre

Funny, arresting, engrossing, and repelling as only an Irish master playwright can be, the five person cast of Capital Rep’s production kept all the adjectives in the air and their cards close to their vests during this Christmas Eve poker game literally with the devil. Edward James Hyland, as “Mr. Lockhart,” the aptly named devil in Conor McPherson’s play, leads the tight ensemble acting with a mind-expanding monologue that opens the second half of the play, making the devil not just oddly empathetic, but kin to mankind.

 


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