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Critic: James Yeara

Best Productions of 2003

1. The Game
Barrington Stage Company

Every summer there is one must-see show, and this Sondheimesque musical version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses was it. The Game was like a boudoir filled with erotic Wedgwood singing.

2. Lebensraum

A fantastic fantasy full of sound characters and furious actions, Lebensraum was a rare show, finding humor in the Holocaust yet constantly needling the complacent and the compliant. Director Laura Margolis and StageWorks showed once again that the best theater entertains as it educates.

Clockwise from top: Coullet, Ehlinger, Bessett and Murfitt in Cowgirls.

3. The Blue Room
Capital Repertory Theatre

Simply the most powerful and aesthetically perfect show Capital Rep has produced during artistic director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill’s tenure.

4. Peter Pan
Berkshire Theatre Festival

Eric Hill and BTF show that children’s theater doesn’t have to be dumbed down and hammy, nor does it have to be just for children. Thrilling and yet full of heartache, this was a Peter Pan that didn’t need cartoon colors to sparkle.

5. Much Ado About Nothing
Shakespeare & Company

Much more than excellent, filled with stellar performances and almost cinematic stagepictures. This should have been called My Big Fat Italian Wedding or The Talented Mr. Benedick.

6. It Goes Without Saying
Adirondack Theatre Festival

This one-man show from master mimer Bill Bowers made one man’s journey from the rural wilds of the West to the wild whirl of Broadway personal, funny, and trenchant. This was a show that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

7. Bingo

Adirondack Theatre Festival are masters of the art of producing real musicals for real people. This first-rate regional premiere of a musical centered on the lives and loves of the working class, treating the characters with dignity and integrity.

8. Born Yesterday
New York State Theatre Institute

Born Yesterday was the most mature and relevant production NYSTI has done in years. The politically idealistic bent of the play pleases, and the performances created people, not caricatures.

9. Phantom
Cohoes Music Hall

C-R Productions seems to have lost its way, but its inaugural show wisely used the charms of a neglected Capital Region gem, the haunted Cohoes Musical Hall. Staged simply, costumed richly and sung divinely, this non-Andrew Lloyd Webber Phantom was a must-see for anyone who loves words and notes sung with a sterling clarity and an unadorned beauty.

10. Driving Miss Daisy
Capital Rep

This 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning play earned the applause: There was an honesty and a simplicity at work here that achieved that earthy sweetness of pumpkin pie.

Best Performances

1. Tina Packer
Lettice and Lovage, Shakespeare & Company

2. Mary Murfitt
Cowgirls, Capital Repertory Company

3. Michael Hammond
The Fly-Bottle, Shakespeare & Company

4. Robert Ian Mackenzie
The Drawer Boy, StageWorks

5-6. Dan Cordle and Amy Landecker
The Blue Room, Capital Rep

7. Dan Luria
Ears on a Beatle, Barrington Stage Company

8. Bill Dawes
Ears on a Beatle, BSC

9. Jennifer Bills, Pip Lilly, Nicky Margolis, Lori McClain, Kevin McGeehan, Craig Uhlir
Second City Touring Company, The Egg

10. Mark Saturno
Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare & Company

Critic: Ralph Hammann

Best Productions of 2003

1. Travesties
Williamstown Theatre Festival

Gregory Boyd directed Tom Stoppard’s grand, rattling experience that left one happily exhausted from laughter, thought ,and more laughter. Audacious, playful, anarchic, overwhelming, stimulating, overstimulating: This was as good as theater gets. A travesty, or collection of travesties, of the highest order.

2. Enemy of the People

In the festival’s season-closer, Gerald Freedman guided Henrik Ibsen’s skillfully wielded sledgehammer to the failures of capitalism and even democracy. Mandy Patinkin was brilliant as the quintessential outcast in this essential play about the individual’s stand against corrupt society.

3. Peter Pan
Berkshire Theatre Festival

Directed by that Napoleon of creativity, Eric Hill, it was a fabulous flight of imagination that never subsided. Hill’s vigorous staging invited viewers to collaborate with actors and designers in bringing exquisite life to the remote worlds of Victorian England’s Bloomsbury and Neverland. The journey was lovely, comical and touching in a manner both sentimental and rueful, revelatory and darkly poignant.

4. The Threepenny Opera

Director Peter Hunt returned victorious to the WTF and created the perfect atmosphere for Brecht’s condemnation of his pre-World War II decadent society and our post-Enron, pre-God-knows-what decadence.

5. Big Bill

Playwright A.R. Gurney continued his seven-year WTF relationship with one of the best plays of his remarkable career, a study of the life and legend of tennis star William Tilden. Big Bill was a big hit and is slated to transfer to Lincoln Center. Mark Lamos directed.

6. The Stillborn Lover

Directed by Martin Rabbett, Timothy Findley’s play was the dramatic equivalent of the thrillers and espionage novels of Graham Greene and John Le Carré, which interweave the profession of deception with the process by which one deceives oneself—and the toll exacted. Highlighted by Richard Chamberlain’s dignified, eloquent, deeply moving performance.

7. The Tiger Lillies

Strictly speaking, it may be a cabaret, but it was more theatrically electrifying than much else. Unique, disturbing, hysterical and weirdly touching in unexpected places, it was material such as Kurt Weill might write if he were crossed with Edward Gorey and the Marquis de Sade. And the deeply idiosyncratic performances might have come out of an insane asylum for the criminally gifted.

8. Berkshire Village Idiot

Michael Isaac Connor’s mostly autobiographical one-man show, in which he played various denizens of a tiny, rustic neighborhood. Connor’s poetic voice rang with clarity under Barry Edelstein’s imaginative direction, which beautifully exploited every square foot of the set.

9. Uncle Vanya

A staged reading, actually, but as acted by Austin Pendleton and Kate Burton something of a revelation. A reminder of how Chekhov should and can be done.

Worst Productions

1. Mark Twain’s The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg
Oldcastle Theatre Company

An act of literary corruption perpetrated by Steve Gillette, Cindy Mangson and writer-director Eric Peterson, who may have called this Mark Twain’s, but never the twain did meet.

2. Ethan Frome
Shakespeare & Company

A sense of malaise attended this lethargic production, gracelessly written and directed by Dennis Krausnick. The sort of wooden-clogged show that could give Edith Wharton, from whose novella it was burgled, a bad name.

3. Landscape of the Body

Michael Greif continued his unexplainable existence as a favored director at WTF with this dried-up landscape from John Guare, who is becoming as much a chore as Greif.

4. The Dinner Party

Some party. Of all the wonderful plays Neil Simon has written, why Oldcastle sought out this forgettable third-rate sitcom material is a moot question. Rather than a repast it remained a mere indigestible morsel, capable of inducing acid reflux.

5. Mother of Invention

While I am not convinced that this play is entirely necessary or that the entirety of the play is necessary, it could never realize its potential with Estelle Parsons, who daftly dithered about with an annoying voice that resided somewhere between a drone and a whine.

6. Enter Laughing

Scott Schwartz directed with an overboiled borscht-belt humor suitable for dulled palates. Burdened with a lame concept and a limp lead. Exit Crying would have been a better title.

7. Assassins

Advertised as a black comedy (the only way most of it could work), instead, it came across too clinically contrived, as if the director, Timothy Douglas, were afraid of offending anyone. Lacking conviction and focus, he shot blanks.

8. Damn Yankees
Colonial Theatre

It had heart, but this was less theater than an unusual fairground event that was best attended with hot dogs and a good deal of beer. Badly miked actors tried to communicate across a wide gulf and through a foul-ball screen. Foul.

9. The Real Inspector Hound
Main Street Stage

The critic barked. The loyal, myopic and undiscerning howled. And Stoppard got stoppered. But things are looking up—it was the least offensive of the worst.

Best Performances

1. Mandy Patinkin
Enemy, WTF

2. David Garrison
Travesties, WTF

3. John Michael Higgins
Big Bill, WTF

4. Richard Chamberlain
Stillborn Lover, BTF

5. Kate Jennings Grant
Talley’s Folly, BTF

6. Stephen Spinella
Travesties, WTF

7. Bill Bowers
Peter Pan, BTF

8. Meredith McCasland
Glass Menagerie, OTC

9. Isadora Wolf
Peter Pan, BTF

10. Gregor Paslawsky
Travesties, WTF

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