My Top 11 of 2011

Here’s my top theater-going experiences of 2011, and as it just happened to come out to 11, I decided to honor the year and not try to narrow down to 10.  My criteria are simple– Did I have an exciting or interesting or surprising experience? Did it stick with me and resonate later on?  I see a lot of theater, but I can’t see even close to everything, so this is by no means meant to be some definitive list, and is in no particular order.

Titus — I’ve never had a harder time making it through a show, nor been so convinced that I really might throw up.  But, it wasn’t because of the amount of blood used in the staging.  It was that this production took it’s time.  It forced us to really look at the effects the violence had on the characters, and the ways in which we continue to perpetuate and justify violence.

Cymbeline — Such a joy!  Fiasco’s production, with six actors, lots of music and minimalistic staging was like a breath of fresh air.  They were able to justify the more complex moments of the play while fully investing in surprise, fun and delight.

Christmas Carol — Canal Park Playhouse’s one man Christmas Carol, where Dickens tells the story himself, much like his actual reading tours, was more theatrical, ingenious and engrossing than any big cast, extensively costumed and tricked out production I’ve seen– and I’ve seen a lot.

69’S — This puppet show meets modern dance piece explores the Shackleton Expedition.  Rather than attempt anything close to a history lesson, the sonic and visual elements combined to create the experience of what these adventurers endured.  The inter-play between puppet and puppeteer, the idea of a unseen hand guiding us home, resonated powerfully.

Nightlands — This New George’s production created a wonderful inter-play between the different worlds of the play, where the actors shift gender and identity in a moment, creating a playful and haunting experience.

Chinglish — Shifting worlds, shifting identities and the impossibility of translation; a tight, well-made, smart play.

All’s Well That Ends Well  — After teaching this play for a year, I still couldn’t find a character to like in it.  They all seemed to self-important or self-hating, that I was glad when we moved on to Measure for Measure.  BUT, this breathtakingly gorgeous production Shakespeare in the Park production showed textured characters, aware of their actions and aware that the outcome isn’t actually the fairy tale ending we might have thought it to be.

Macbeth — Cheek by Jowl’s stark production completely sucked me in.  With an open space, they created a terrifying darkness, where the line be earthly and spiritual was constantly shifting.

Being Harold Pinter — The simple and intense theatricality that Belarus Free Theater brings to their work is immediate, effecting and engrossing.

John Gabriel Borkman — BORKMAN!  Well, first I just love saying it in a bastardized Slavic accent.  But, the performances and energy that this Abbey Theater production brought to what could have been a stale and dated play were absolutely invigorating.

The Normal Heart — Ouff.  Raw, honest, tragic, inspiring.

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