Looking back on the theater I saw in 2018, I was surprised to find how many shows were in contention for my annual top-ten list. It hadn't seemed like a standout year, yet there I was, scanning a short list that had somehow grown to almost 40 contenders. True, it was a weak year for original musicals; for the first time in years, my final list includes none. But very good plays were in encouraging supply: challenging new works as well as beautifully imagined revivals of old and modern classics. Here are my picks for the best theater of 2018.
1. Dance Nation (Playwrights Horizons, closed July 1)
Adult actors played a group of competitive preteen dancers in Clare Barron’s riotous, rattling, sensational play about the fraught transition from girlhood to womanhood. As rendered by a wondrous ensemble cast, the kids' fierce commitment was at once adorable and scary. The show embraces fear, hugs it tight and channels it into a queasy kind of triumph.
2. Three Tall Women (Golden Theatre, closed June 24)
Glenda Jackson gave a towering performance in the exquisite Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s brutally truthful 1991 drama, buttressed by the wonderful Laurie Metcalf and the flinty Alison Pill. The three played the same difficult woman at different stages of her life. Together, in Joe Mantello's scalpel-sharp production, they created a singular theatrical experience.
3. The Ferryman (Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, through July 7)
Set in Northern Ireland in 1981, Jez Butterworth’s magnificent new play is at once a romance, a thriller and a multigenerational family drama. Under Sam Mendes's superb direction, the whole massive production seems alive with the clutter and scope of reality. It is a seismic piece of work.
4. Fairview (Soho Rep, closed Aug 12)
Jackie Sibblies Drury's metatheatrical semicomedy began by depicting a middle-class black family preparing for a party, then swerved wildly toward an unforgettable finale. The play argues for the possibility of people of color representing themselves without an overlay of white perception, judgment and narrative.
5. Oklahoma! (St. Ann's Warehouse, closed Nov 11, returns Mar 19)
Director Daniel Fish’s bold, dark, spare revival treated Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical shined a hard light on its underlying issues of justice, violence and the autonomy of women: It ventured into rough territory and left the show in a brand-new state. Those who missed it will have another chance when it moves to Broadway in March.
6. The Low Road (Public Theater, closed Apr 8)
Bruce Norris followed the money down treacherous paths in his delightfully prickly and entertaining satire of capitalism: a wide-paneled epic that followed the misadventures of a ruthless young man in Colonial America. Marvelously staged and performed, the play was in every sense an embarrassment of riches.
7. Uncle Vanya (Hunter Theater Project, closed Nov 18)
The new Hunter Theater Project got off to a gripping start with Richard Nelson's painfully intimate account of Chekhov's tale of unrequited loves and wasted lives, anchored by Jay O. Sanders's titanic performance in the title role.
8. Angels in America (Neil Simon Theatre, closed July 11)
Tony Kushner’s expansive and shattering 1993 masterpiece returned to Broadway in a production of great tenderness and sinew, with a cast led by Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane. It is a play that breaks and fills your heart; it inspires you even as it takes your breath away.
9. Slave Play (New York Theatre Workshop, through Jan 13)
Set on what appears at first to be an antebellum plantation, Jeremy O. Harris’s flabbergasting new play looks at how African-American people experience their own bodies and desires in a racist culture—and how white people avoid looking. Disorienting, funny and perceptive, the play snaps like a whip, and its aim is often outward at the audience.
10. Catch as Catch Can (New Ohio Theatre, closed Nov 17)
Three stunning actors—Michael Esper, Jeanine Serralles and Jeff Biehl—played all six roles in Mia Chung's virtuosic debut play. What seemed at first like a family comedy, gently well-observed and rich in sidelong detail, cracked into a touching depiction of mental illness and the things we do and do not get from our family.
BONUS: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Lyric Theatre, open run)
The world of Harry Potter has arrived on Broadway, Hogwarts and all. A triumph of theatrical magic, the show combines grand storytelling with stagecraft on a scale heretofore unimagined. It leaves its audience awestruck, spellbound and deeply satisfied.
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