The Public Theater tops our top ten lists
Tue Dec 21 2010
It's December, which means that we at Team TONY have made our lists, checked them twice, called out what was naughty and nice, and posted them online for all to see today. Click here to read what David Cote, Helen Shaw and I named as our top ten shows of 2010, along with our two worst shows apiece.
What stands out in perusing these roundups is the overwhelming dominance of the Public Theater. My favorite play of the year was Lisa Kron's In the Wake, which premiered at the Public in the fall. David's choice was Elevator Repair Service's Gatz, another part of the Public's autumn season. And Helen's number one was L'Effet de Serge, which was presented through the Public's invaluable Under the Radar Festival in January. That's right: The Public took all three of our top slots. What's more, David and I both chose The Merchant of Venice and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson for our lists, and Helen seconded David's emotion for Gatz and also singled out another Under the Radar show, Once and for All We're Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen. That adds up to nine of our total 30 choices. And that's not all! If you take a look at my list of 2010's top ten cabaret shows, you will find that five of the ten were regular attractions at the Public Theater's nightclub space, Joe's Pub. (Another, Alan Cumming, played the space in January before his longer run at Feinstein's.)
All this plus The Great Game: Afghanistan, the New Work Now! reading series, the new Public Forum discussion series, the new Mobile Shakespeare Unit—during a time when the Public's landmarked building is undergoing major structural renovations? The Public has had an astonishingly successful season, and with the 2011 edition of Under the Radar just around the corner (and new plays by Tony Kushner and Rinne Groff slated for the spring), we have reason to hope for more excellence to come.
But here's the interesting thing: Two of the six shows that we flagged as the year's worst, The Book of Grace and The Winter's Tale, were also Public Theater productions. That's the risk in making bold choices, as the Public does: Not all of them pan out. Look back at the company's recent seasons and you'll find some of the most interesting flame-outs of their respective years: Peter Sellars's Othello, Craig Lucas's The Singing Forest, Caryl Churchill's Drunk Enough to Say I Love You. But the gains outweigh the troubles.
When Oskar Eustis took over as artistic director of the Public in 2005, he laid out ambitious goals for his tenure, with an emphasis on valuing writers, developing new talent and bringing theater to a wider range of audiences. "We live in a time of capitalist triumphalism, where any alternative to the commodity-fetishizing marketplace seems unthinkable, even laughable," he wrote. "The great nonprofit institutions must resist this. The theater is an event, not an object." Eustis's vision is seeing results: The Public Theater has retaken its place as Off Broadway's main event.