The best and worst of 2005

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OUT OF THE MAINSTREAM Refugees cross a raging river in the awe-inspiring Le Dernier Caravansrail.

Photo: Stephanie Berger

David Cote, theater editor

BEST

1. Sweeney Todd
British director John Doyle worked a minimalist miracle with his harrowing, actor-musician chamber version of the Sondheim classic; rarely do revivals feel this alive.

2. Le Dernier Caravansrail (Odysses)

In this eye-popping, six-hour international epic, French director Ariane Mnouchkine followed the tragic paths of modern refugees. The work was the centerpiece of 2005's Lincoln Center Festival.

3. Thom Pain (based on nothing)
Will Eno's monologue, performed by the sublimely weird James Urbaniak, made the existential musings of a bitter everyman the stuff of (black) comedy.

4. Apparition
Things went bump in the night—and we jumped—thanks to a wickedly smart script by Anne Washburn about all-too-rational fears of the unseen.

5. The Pillowman
It vied with Doubt for best new play on Broadway, but Martin McDonagh's cerebral, gothic chiller was in a sick class all its own. An intricate, haunting puzzle, it showed storytelling as both escape and imprisonment.

6. Pastoralia
God knows that literary adaptations are tricky, so extra kudos to writer-director Yehuda Duenyas, who turned George Saunders's novella about a prehistoric theme park into a deadpan delight at P.S. 122.

7. The Ruby Sunrise
The early days of television, McCarthyism and a young woman's fight for social equality were the oddly harmonic ingredients for Rinne Groff's brainy and heartfelt Public Theater debut; it was also an auspicious start for director and new Public head Oskar Eustis.

8. Orange Flower Water
Gorgeous, clever set (David Korins), emotionally raw script (Craig Wright) and pitch-perfect staging (Carolyn Cantor)—the talented Edge Theater Company is the Off-Off company to watch for gritty new drama.

9. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
David Yazbek's jazzy, joke-stuffed score and a take-no- prisoners comic turn by Norbert Leo Butz were the main draws for the season's snazziest musical comedy.

10. Holy Cross Sucks!
You didn't need John Hughes's teen movies when you had Rob Nash playing a couple dozen characters in his tour-de-force '80s-high-school soap opera.

WORST

1. In My Life
The season's weirdest flop was the strange fruit of writer- director-producer Joe Brook's imagination. Maybe the jingle writer can go back to cola and cars.

2. Good Vibrations
Surf was down—way down—in this jukebox abomination that turned Beach Boys hits into background noise for an inane plot. Son of a beach, it was bad.


MURDER BALLADS The cast of Sweeney Todd makes bloody good music.

Photo: Paul Kolnik

Adam Feldman, theater writer

BEST

1. Le Dernier Caravansrail (Odysses)
Ariane Mnouchkine's astonishing depiction of humanity in crisis covered an immense transnational canvas with densely layered details of personal history.

2. Sweeney Todd
Revenge is a dish served piping hot in this intense and razor-sharp reinvention of Sondheim's thrilling magnum opus.

3. The Pillowman
Martin McDonagh's ingeniously contrived play carried a surprising message of hope, hidden within a Chinese box of sinister humor and fabulist violence.

4. Hope Leaves the Theater
In Charlie Kaufman's dazzling, ultra-meta-radio-play—part of Theater of the New Ear—Meryl Streep threw a hilarious tantrum that tore down the fourth wall and brought down the house.

5. Thom Pain (based on nothing)
Will Eno's bleak yarn, given an expert spin by the spindly James Urbaniak, sucked audiences into a black hole of self-alienation.

6. Souvenir
The divine Judy Kaye is howlingly funny as a tone-deaf soprano, lured by the siren call of her inner voice, in Stephen Temperley's affecting dissection of folly.

7. The Revenger's Tragedy
Adapter-director Jesse Berger and his Red Bull Theater Company brought guts and gory glory to this sordid Jacobean horror show.

8. Orson's Shadow
Austin Pendleton treats the aftershocks of greatness with a sure and steady hand in his witty backstage drama about Orson Welles.

9. Boozy...
Les Freres Corbusier made a delicious hash of urban-planning history in this subversive, silly- cerebral tribute to Robert Moses.

10. Swimming in the Shallows
Adam Bock's winsomely idiosyncratic comedy took a fresh look at fish-out-of-water romance and the weight of empty living.

WORST

1. A Very Naughty Greek Play
In this ludicrous adaptation of Aristophanes' The Wasps, Aquila Theatre Company bore the venomed sting of a true fiasco.

2. Miracle Brothers
Dolphins! Wait, singing dolphins! Wait, singing gay dolphins! Wait, 17th-century Brazilian gay singing dolphins! Perfect.

3. The Ark
Noah? Ah, no.

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