Best (and worst) theater of 2011

This year was an embarrassment of riches on Broadway and Off.

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  • Photograph: Simon Annand

    Jerusalem

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    Good People

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    The Normal Heart

  • Photograph: Erin Baiano

    4000 Miles

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures

  • Photograph: T Charles Erickson

    Blood and Gifts

  • Photograph: Jeremy Daniel

    Seminar

  • Photograph: Carol Rosegg

    The Cherry Orchard

  • Photograph: Paul Kolnik

    War Horse

  • Photograph: Brigitte Lacombe

    Elective Affinities

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    Follies

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    The Book of Mormon

  • Photograph: Alan Simmons

    The Method Gun

  • Photograph: Gerry Goodstein

    Hand to God

  • Photograph: Daniel Fish

    Tom Ryan Thinks He's James Mason...

  • Photograph: Joan Marcus

    Once

Photograph: Simon Annand

Jerusalem

David Cote, Theater editor

THE BEST

1. Jerusalem
Mark Rylance was the whirling dervish at the center of Jez Butterworth's pop-mythic mash note to Englishness. Ian Rickson's Royal Court production made us wish we called the scepter'd isle home.

2. The Book of Mormon
The savage send-up of Mormons, missionaries and even (gasp) African misery has the best musical-comedy book and score in ages. Those South Park boys are blessed.

3. Good People
David Lindsay-Abaire addressed class resentment and personal responsibility without getting preachy in his timely tale of Boston's poor, hopeless and angry.

4. 4000 Miles
We would journey far afield to revisit Amy Herzog's tender and wry tale of a grandmother and grandson finding common ground. Mary Louise Wilson achieved the crotchety sublime in Daniel Aukin's luminous staging.

5. The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures
Who has words left over to praise Tony Kushner's epic talkfest about a Brooklyn family falling into ideological cracks? It stimulated brain, heart and soul.

6. Blood and Gifts
J.T. Rogers reinvigorates the political thriller with a gimlet-eyed, well-informed look back at the CIA's dirty war in 1980s Afghanistan.

7. Seminar
Literary bitchery and bed-hopping are the principal lessons in Theresa Rebeck's aspiring-novelist satire, which stars the balefully brilliant Alan Rickman.

8. The Cherry Orchard
Classic Stage Company ends its magnificent, four-year Chekhov retrospective with this tragicomic masterpiece. Dianne Wiest and John Turturro go out with a bang and a whimper.

9. War Horse
A heartbreaking tale of loyalty and bravery in the face of war, this ravishing mix of puppets, actors and painterly special effects earns its galloping success.

10. Elective Affinities
With this short, shocking monologue about privilege and cruelty, David Adjmi (Stunning) cements his claim as a daring stylist to watch.

THE WORST

1. Dracula
Last time I checked, vampires suck your blood. Then why, enduring this DOA revival of the 1927 melodrama, did I feel like my brain was being eaten?

2. Relatively Speaking
Ethan Coen, Elaine May and Woody Allen do their careers no favors with these anemic, shockingly unfunny sketches. We may disown them.

 

Adam Feldman, Associate Theater editor

THE BEST

1. Good People
Frances McDormand's intemperate steel formed the core of David Lindsay-Abaire's sharp-minded look at pride, duty and the hidden costs of the self-made man.

2. The Normal Heart
Director George C. Wolfe and a sensational cast drew rivers of new blood from Larry Kramer's 1985 jeremiad on AIDS and gay self-worth.

3. Follies
Regret and mortality haunt the lavish revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's soul-stirring masterpiece of counter-nostalgia.

4. The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism with a Key to the Scriptures
Amid the brilliant verbiage of Tony Kushner's family drama swirled a poignant elegy for disintegrated unions and a leftist future the world has left behind.

5. The Method Gun
The Rude Mechs took amiable aim at the foibles of experimental theater, then sliced through the silliness with a breathtaking coup de thtre.

6. The Book of Mormon
As the Broadway musical searches for meaning, this taboo-tweaking smash helps save the genre's soul by hewing to a comic style all its own.

7. Jerusalem
Mark Rylance's giant performance as a dilapidated modern Falstaff forced the audience, ready or not, into intimate contact with greatness.

8. Hand to God
Steven Boyer does brilliant double duty as a Christian teen and the sinister puppet who becomes his left-hand man in Robert Askins's wildly original dark comedy.

9. Tom Ryan Thinks He's James Mason Starring in a Movie By Nicholas Ray in which a Man's Illness Provides an Escape from the Pain, Pressure and Loneliness of Trying to be the Ultimate American Father, Only to Drive Him Further Into the More Thrilling Though Possibly Lonelier Roles of Addict and Misunderstood Visionary
Director Daniel Fish and actors Thomas Jay Ryan and Christina Rouner stripped the melodrama Bigger than Life down to a stark, riveting study in compression.

10. Once
Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee trade love notes as a band of actors plays the heartstrings in this woundingly emotional musical.

THE WORST

1. Baby It's You!
Maybe it's poo!

2. On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
No amount of therapy, hypnotism or telepathy can answer the central question raised by this psychomusical revival: What were they thinking?

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark; Chinglish; The Hallway Trilogy; The Illusion; The Life and Death of King John; King Lear (BAM); The Motherf**ker with the Hat; The Patsy and Jonas; The Select (The Sun Also Rises); The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World; Sleep No More; Sons of the Prophet; Swan!!!; Three Sisters; Traces; Venus in Fur

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