Leafing through our clips and searching online to compile 2014’s best and worst lists, we came to realize there was no clear front-runner for either of us. Sure, we found plenty of good, solid work to celebrate but no show that shot straight to the top—no Good Person of Szechwan or Shakespeare’s Globe double bill of Twelfth Night and Richard III to confidently tag No. 1. We couldn’t find that groundbreaking new drama or game-changing musical. (In fact, it was a pretty weak year for tuners, as you’ll see.) Still, venues from Broadway to Off-Off Broadway offered plenty of great hours at the theater, with a healthy mix of sterling revivals and adventurous new plays. It's worth noting both our lists feature playwrights of color we adore: ambitious talents such as Suzan-Lori Parks, Robert O’Hara and Young Jean Lee. The Public Theater also continues to be a producing powerhouse, with Oskar Eustis orchestrating diverse and exciting seasons. But the love is spread around to the Roundabout, New York Theatre Workshop and the Signature Theatre Company. Without these pillars of the New York theater community, it would be a barren landscape every year.
RECOMMENDED: Best of 2014
David Cote’s 10 best theater shows of 2014
his English import rode a wave of hype to Broadway—a sure way of courting backlash—but advance reports were not exaggerated. Based on the 2003 novel about a teen on the autism spectrum trying to solve a murder, this multimedia play was a visual thrill and a workout for newcomer Alex Sharp. Perhaps greater than the sum of its parts (somewhat like War Horse, also directed by Marianne Elliott), Curious was nevertheless a triumph of good storytelling and technical flash.
Suzan-Lori Parks has explored race and history in her own (often quirky and irreverent) way, but nothing quite prepares you for her Civil War triptych. Built along the lean and symmetrical lines of classical Greek tragedy and Homeric epic, this intimate epic about freedom and betrayal is whimsical and terrifying by turns. It’s the start of a nine-work cycle that will take us to present day.
Adam Feldman's 10 best shows of 2014
With unabashed devotion to the ability of theater to awe and awaken an audience, Katori Hall packs visionary magic into her depiction of the conflict that arises in a Rwandan village in 1981, when a schoolgirl claims to have seen the Virgin Mary. Michael Greif’s all-stops-pulled Signature production, bolstered by a large and strong cast, conveys wonder as well as sorrow at the unimaginable (or willfully unimagined) horror yet to come.
David Ives revitalized Jean-François Regnard's 1708 farce with rhyming verse whose coruscating wit was a continuous delight. Directed by John Rando at Classic Stage Company with a merry mix of clockwork timing and freewheeling good spirits, the show offered new-fangled twists on old-fashioned comedy from a cast that included Carson Elrod, Amelia Pedlow, Suzanne Bertish and Paxton Whitehead.
The Debate Society’s teasing thriller, starring playwrights Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen as ominous visitors to a 1980s Colorado chalet, turned up the heat so deftly that you barely felt it rising. In Oliver Butler’s hilariously well-detailed Ars Nova production (which also featured Peter Friedman and Chris Lowell as the retreat’s rich, miserable, oblivious owners), disquiet crept in like a spider.
Sixteen years after it first slapped Broadway in 1998, Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s revival of Cabaret has returned in all its dread glory. The Kander-Ebb-Masteroff masterpiece remains one of the greatest musicals of all time, from its seedily seductive beginning to its harrowing finale. And the layers of peeling paint accrued to Alan Cumming’s Emcee only add to its status as one of the essential star performances of the past two decades.
Steven Boyer gave the performance of virtuosic self-possession as a tormented Christian teen with a demonic hand puppet in Robert Askins’s moving, brutal and corrosively funny play. After two Off Broadway outings, director Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s excellent production is slated to move to Broadway in April, where it will give The Book of Mormon’s irreverence a run for its money.
Suzan-Lori Parks blends the human, historical and mythic in a gloriously muddy Civil War epic (directed to perfection by Jo Bonney) that colors vividly inside and outside the lines of classical Greek drama. In bold dramatic grammar, it draws from the past even as it shadows forward, in a kind of future perfect progressive tense, to the crises of agency that African-Americans will have been enduring for decades to come.
The worst shows of 2014
This clumsy look at the struggles between Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler in creating Double Indemnity did illustrate the difficulty of writing a good script, but not in the way it intended to.