Best (and worst) theater

And what we're looking forward to in 2010.

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  • Theater editor David Cote's picks

  • Theater editor David Cote's picks

  • Theater editor David Cote's picks

  • Theater editor David Cote's picks

  • Theater editor David Cote's picks

  • Theater editor David Cote's picks

  • Theater editor David Cote's picks

  • Theater editor David Cote's picks

  • Theater editor David Cote's picks

  • Theater editor David Cote's picks

Theater editor David Cote's picks

The best | The worst | Best of 2010?

David Cote, Theater editor

1. Ruined
Lynn Nottage’s award-magnet was more than an urgent dispatch about violence against women in the Congo; it was masterful drama that blasted past our borders.

2. Our Town
Director David Cromer rescued Thornton Wilder’s community-stage chestnut from cozy irrelevance, grounding the nostalgia in human pain and dark irony.

3. Les phmres
Seven hours of interlocking human narratives on rolled platforms spanning generations almost wasn’t enough. Merci beaucoup, director Ariane Mnouchkine!

4. The Lily’s Revenge
Another epic: This time, glam-punk performance diva Taylor Mac sent audiences on a five-part vision quest that queered love and marriage.

5. The Shipment
The subject of race in America is never black-and-white—and audacious Young Jean Lee drove the point home in an exquisite piece of cringe comedy.

6. Fela!
Are you trying to shake up the Broadway musical, Bill T. Jones? With this mind-blowing Afrobeat homage to Fela Kuti, you succeed.

7. The Norman Conquests
Director Matthew Warchus and his hilarious English players reminded us of the staggering comic genius of Alan Ayckbourn.

8. Circle Mirror Transformation
Bringing downtown weirdness and minimalism to a midtown audience, Annie Baker’s gentle, acting-class dramedy caught our reflection.

9. Stunning
David Adjmi’s brutal lampoon of materialism, status and identity among Syrian Jews was sharply produced by LCT3.

10. The Starry Messenger
Kenneth Lonergan returned with a deceptively low-key but anguished study of midlife crisis and our place in the cosmos.

Adam Feldman, Theater writer

1. The Lily’s Revenge
Equal parts fun house, pageant, adventure tale and treatise, Taylor Mac’s subversive picaresque showcased downtown theater in full bloom.

2. Les phmres
There was nothing ordinary about Ariane Mnouchkine’s ravishing, wide-souled meditation on the persistence of memory in everyday life.

3. Lipsynch
Robert Lepage’s sprawling transnational triptych gave poignant voice to a rich diversity of characters.

4. Our Town
David Cromer’s startling renewal of Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece proved that theater can be a matter of life and death.

5. The Winter’s Tale
Sam Mendes’s transatlantic Bridge Project spanned the gorges of Shakespeare’s play in a gorgeously rich production.

6. Next to Normal
Alice Ripley daringly scales the jagged heights of Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s rocky musical about severe mental illness.

7. Becky Shaw
Gina Gionfriddo’s disenchanted comedy treated romance as a form of obsession, and honesty as the cure that nobody wants.

8. A Streetcar Named Desire
Cate Blanchett’s portrait of the mad, maddening Blanche DuBois was no mere star turn, but an indelible study in heartbreak.

9. Next Fall
Geoffrey Nauffts’s moving exploration of love and faith will move to Broadway this spring. Don’t miss it.

10. The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side
Derek Ahonen’s three-act neohippie drama mixed the outr and the conventional to surprising effect, and marked the Amoralists as a company to follow.

Helen Shaw, Theater writer

1. Les phmres
Ariane Mnouchkine’s Thtre du Soleil lived up to the international hype with this diptych of infinite generosity—one that held a mirror to all our natures.

2. The Winter’s Tale
BAM’s Bridge Project double-whammied us this year with Simon Russell Beale’s delightfully neurotic Leontes (and his delightfully surly Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard).

3. Vieux Carr
Austin Pendleton directed the achingly autobiographical Tennessee Williams drama with the lightest touch imaginable.

4. The Bereaved
Provocateur Thomas Bradshaw continues to needle our notions of morality, making us laugh like madmen at things our Internet browsers would flag as porn.

5. Idiot Savant
Richard Foreman’s last play? Even if not, this arch farewell (with cackling Willem Dafoe as Foreman’s alter ego), felt like a grand summation.

6. La Didone
The Wooster Group achieved hyperdrive with this gorgeous mash-up of Baroque opera and sci-fi cheese. Phasers on stunning.

7. Family
Tina Satter’s Grey Gardens--meets--The Royal Tenenbaums mise-en-scne housed one of the scariest performances of the year: Erin Markey as a wild-eyed teenager bent on artistic (and audience) domination.

8. Mary Stuart
Virtuoso actors Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter raged magnificently, making Schiller feel as contemporary as next week’s CNN.

9. Crime or Emergency
Lightly deranged playwright-performer Sibyl Kempson’s calling-card play announced the arrival of a terrific new avant-garde voice.

10. Our Town
Another instance of TONY unanimity: David Cromer’s sensitive, intimate staging trashed our preconceptions of Wilder’s classic as a high-school staple.

The best | The worst | Best of 2010?

See more Best and worst of 2009


The best | The worst | Best of 2010?

David Cote, Theater editor

1. Impressionism
It was sad and bizarre to see major talents Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen flounder in this limp, amateurish vanity project.

2. The Philanthropist
Matthew Broderick spans the lists: He was excellent in The Starry Messenger (see my No. 5) and execrable in this satirical dud.

Adam Feldman, Theater writer

1. Bye Bye Birdie
Birdsong has rarely sounded so shrill as in this misguided, miscast and cacophonous revival.

2. An Evening at the Carlyle
The elegant Carlyle Hotel should sue this pushy, creaky revue for defamation of character.

Helen Shaw, Theater writer

1. Orgy of Tolerance
Belgian Jan Fabre’s self-indulgent, faddish taradiddle played empty games with obscenity, making one rethink state funding for the arts. Call it shock and yawn.

2. Up for Anything
Marc Spitz should have kept this painful erection farce either in his pants or in his desk drawer—anywhere but on stage.

Report card

2009 was the year of the (approximately) eight-hour marathon event: Les phmres, Norman Conquests, Lipsynch, The Lily’s Revenge and the Orphans’ Home Cycle. It was also a remarkably strong year for revivals of American plays (A Streetcar Named Desire, Our Town, The Emperor Jones and Brighton Beach Memoirs, to name a few). Work by authors of color, such as Lynn Nottage and Young Jean Lee, was in welcome evidence. And together with Fela!, Next to Normal kept our worries about serious new musicals from driving us insane. Final grade: A-

The best | The worst | Best of 2010?

See more Best and worst of 2009

The best | The worst | Best of 2010?

The Myopia and Plays (January)
The riveting David Greenspan reprises his epic storytelling phantasmagoria and dives into Gertrude Stein.

A Lie of the Mind (January)
Could be amazing: Ethan Hawke directs the Sam Shepard psychodrama with Deirdre O’Connell, Maggie Siff and Marin Ireland.

A Behanding in Spokane (February)
Martin McDonagh. American setting. Christopher Walken. Lost severed hand. Need we say more?

The Addams Family (March)
We’ve been waiting for the Next Big Musical Comedy, and this ghoulish frolic starring Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane might be it.

Sondheim on Sondheim (March)
Barbara Cook, Leslie Kritzer, Euan Morton and others promise to enliven this latest tribute to the master’s voice.

Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark
Will Julie Taymor’s supertuner revolutionize Broadway, or get tangled in a web of money troubles? We can’t wait to see.

The best | The worst | Best of 2010?

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