The best (and worst) theater of 2012

A slew of splendid Broadway revivals and boundary-busting experiments Off Broadway made for a great year.

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Photograph: Paul Kolnik

David Cote's ten best shows of 2012

1

Golden Boy

Most Broadway revivals are drawn from a shallow barrel of overdone classics; director Bartlett Sher and a smashing cast restored Clifford Odets’s 1937 boxing drama to its place in the American canon.

2

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Shearing off the camp excess and pompous histrionics, this Steppenwolf production of Edward Albee’s magnum opus showcased gutsy, emotionally grounded acting while serving a slippery classic.

3

Death of a Salesman

Attention was paid—by Mike Nichols, Philip Seymour Hoffman and an impeccable cast—to Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman. Design and direction were utterly faithful to the 1948 production premiere, but the tragedy didn’t feel like a museum piece.

4

One Man, Two Guvnors

On the lighter side, this farcical, skiffle-scored import from London’s National Theatre pushed slapstick hilarity to the limit. James Corden’s blundering buffoon won our hearts—as we busted a gut.

5

Uncle Vanya

Easily the year’s best Vanya (and there were several), translator Annie Baker vibrated on the exact same weird-funny-sad frequency as Chekhov, as did a brilliant cast and atmospheric director Sam Gold.

6

Glengarry Glen Ross

Those who grumble that Al Pacino is too mumbly and woolly for Shelley "the Machine" Levene should have their ears cleaned. Pacino and Bobby Cannavale are playing David Mamet’s brutal, profane music beautifully.

7

Detroit

There were many fine new plays this year, but Lisa D’Amour’s sly study of two couples in suburbia combined poetry and satire in equal parts. It showed how we live now: marginally.

8

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Like a celestial body that zoomed here from outer space, songwriter Dave Malloy’s indie-pop adaptation of (part of) War and Peace surprised and thrilled us, particularly in its immersive, vodka-soaked staging.

9

A Map of Virtue

Erin Courtney’s sad, quirky and menacing anatomy of morals was one of the year’s most perfect productions—text, design, acting and direction were flawless and moodily unforgettable.

10

If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet

Besides containing a warm, assured performance by Jake Gyllenhaal as a wastrel uncle, this piercing family drama by Nick Payne has an outstanding ensemble and boldly metaphorical design.


David Cote's worst shows of 2012

Scandalous

Kathie Lee Gifford’s corny, awkward hagiography of a forgotten evangelist was two hours in hell.

The Anarchist

David Mamet makes it twice on this list! His newest play was a DOA dialogue on crime and punishment between the utterly at-sea Debra Winger and Patti LuPone.




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