Theater: The best (and worst) of 2008

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YOUR TOWN John Lithgow, center, and the cast

YOUR TOWN John Lithgow, center, and the cast Photograph: Joan Marcus

THE BEST

David Cote, Theater editor

1. Billy Elliot
Who’d have thought that 1980s British labor strife and an underdog kid’s tale would dance such a thrilling duet? Billy got me on my feet with great choreography and dynamite storytelling.

2. Blasted
Also surprising: The late Sarah Kane’s vicious, visionary play made for the hottest downtown ticket—thanks to Sarah Benson’s impeccable production at Soho Rep.

3. The Sound and the Fury (April Seventh, 1928)
Avant-garde wizard John Collins and Elevator Repair Service immersed me in Faulkner’s classic stream-of-consciousness novel.

4. Top Girls
Manhattan Theatre Club had a lousy fall, except for the Broadway debut of Caryl Churchill’s uncompromising view of feminism and its discontents.

5. GypsyIt may be the strongest, rawest revival you’ll ever see of the 1959 mother of all modern musicals. Everything came up roses.

6. Adding Machine
Obama isn’t the only bit of redemption to recently come out of Chicago—this bracingly downbeat tuner dared to be atonal and bitter.

7. All My Sons
How to revive Arthur Miller’s powerful but sometimes creaky masterpieces? Director Simon McBurney shows the way with intellect and panache.

8. Bride
We heard you were looking for the most bizarre puppet exegeses of polytheism. Kevin Augustine obliged at P.S. 122.

9. Body Awareness
Annie Baker made a droll and deft debut at the Atlantic with her tenderly frail, foolish, all-too-human creations.

10. The Glass Cage
If only the big producers of classics could dig up forgotten gems, as the Mint did with J.B. Priestley’s unsettling 1957 look at interracial cracks in a Canadian family.

Adam Feldman, Theater writer

1. Gypsy
The incomparable Patti LuPone hits the mother lode in this superlative revival, which mines the strips of Gypsy Rose Lee for Broadway gold.

2. Happy Days
Buried up to her neck in a mound of desert soil, Fiona Shaw brought a thrilling power to Samuel Beckett’s existentialist fable at BAM. She was stuck, but the earth moved.

3. Waves
Katie Mitchell’s extraordinary multimedia version of Virginia Woolf’s novel found brilliant ways to explore the technologies of the self.

4. All My Sons
Simon McBurney gives a bold modern spin to Arthur Miller’s tale of a family blasted by winds of war and remembrance.

5. Adding Machine
A metaphysical musical about a soul-starved, selfish, bigoted killer? Sounds crazy, no? But in this dazzlingly stylish new work, everything added up.

6. Bride
Kevin Augustine’s harrowing unholy puppet play etched an indelible portrait of divine rot.

7. Billy Elliot
Peter Darling’s exceptional choreography helps a scrappy English boy—a diamond in a rough coal town—dance off with Broadway’s heart.

8. Crooked
Cristin Milioti and Carmen M. Herlihy nailed the savage confusion of teenage girldom in Catherine Treischmann’s moving drama.

9. Hair
The hippie-shake finale of this epochal musical—when audience members sang and danced with the cast in Central Park—was the year’s most joyous stage event.

10. If You See Something Say Something
I saw it, and I’m saying it: Storyteller Mike Daisey is really something.

Helen Shaw, Theater writer

1. All My Sons
A rare instance of TONY unanimity! Director Simon McBurney puts his elegance and innovation at the service of Miller’s painfully relevant tale.

2. This Place Is a Desert
Jay Scheib’s stunning, silly, repetitive, touching multimedia beast of a show used video to bridge the divide between stage and dream.

3. Die Soldaten
David Pountney and designer Robert Innes Hopkins moved the audience—literally—for this stunning opera at the Park Avenue armory. Last 20 minutes: the scars are still healing.

4. I’ll Go On
For this merely dutiful Beckett-goer, Barry McGovern’s lacerating solo sliced through decades of received wisdom and made the author discombobulating again.

5. Don Juan
The National Theater of the United States, rolling in goofiness like a pup in leaves, found a way to reclaim Molire from the stuffy highbrows.

6. Sunday in the Park with George
I went with my sneer on and then wept it completely away as George Seurat (Daniel Evans) surrendered everything (sniffle) for art.

7. The Marriage of Bette and Boo
This Christopher Durang revival—deliciously bitter—was worth giving up my romantic notions of family.

8. Trojan Women
Classical Theater of Harlem and Alfred Preisser head into yet another decade of slapping the classics into relevancy with this keen-eyed adaptation of Euripides.

9. The Seagull
Not the splashy one on Broadway, but the quieter version at Classic Stage Company—where Viacheslav Dolgachev fired up Dianne Wiest and Alan Cumming.

10. Hey Girl
Even a second-rate nightmare from Societas Raffaelo Sanzio is still astounding enough to gobble my imagination whole.

THE WORST

David Cote, Theater editor

1. The Little Mermaid
Disney proved yet again (after Tarzan hung itself) that they don’t always do well by their own merch.

2. Drunk Enough to SayI Love You?
Remember Caryl Churchill (see my Best list, #4)? She’s awesome, but not in hectoring political-allegory mode. Another round, please.

Adam Feldman, Theater writer

1. Romantic Poetry
John Patrick Shanley’s shaggy-doggerel musical debacle offered riches of embarrassment.

2. Mindgame
The inmates are running the asylum. The audience is rushing the exit.

Helen Shaw, Theater writer

1. Kicking a Dead Horse
American icon Sam Shepard tendered up a gassy, flyblown meditation on authenticity that (like its main equine prop) was all deadweight.

2. Peter Pan
Jim Nieson staged his Irondale Ensemble in an unprofessional, sub--community theater production, for exorbitant $40 tickets.


Report card: It wasn’t a great year for new American drama, but imports and multimedia work were well represented. Broadway offered many revelatory revivals. And, to judge from Adding Machine and Billy Elliot, the musical is alive and kicking.

FINAL GRADE:

B


BEST (AND WORST) OF 2008:

ART | BOOKS | CLASSICAL | CLUBS | COMEDY | DANCE | FILM
GAY | MUSIC | THEATER | TV & DVD | KIDS

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