Here we are again, beginning of January 2011, and by the middle of the month, 13 Broadway shows will have bitten the dust. Some, like “West Side Story” and “In The Heights”, will have worn out their welcome a long time ago and won’t be missed. Especially the overwrought, badly conceived revival of “West Side Story”, which actually cut its orchestra in HALF!!! halfway through its run just to save a few bucks, but to the detriment of the classic material. That’s a real show of love for the craft and professionalism there, you betcha. Others, like “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”, “Promises, Promises” and “Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” were iffy prospects at best from the get-go. But all these departing shows are making room for the good stuff set to come in, in the next few months-new works like the musicals “The Book Of Mormon” by the creators of “South Park” and the grand, dizzy over-spangled production of “Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert”, and the new musical by the guys who wrote “Hairspray, a musical version of the Spielberg movie, “Catch Me If You Can”. And let’s hope they’ve fixed the musical, “Sister Act” by the time it reaches the Broadway Theatre. But what we really want to do here is salute the best theater that came our way in 2010, and here we go…
Two names are bound to come up when 2010 is recalled, and they both actually worked together a few times. Annie Baker looked to become one of the most important writers of a generation in 2010, and proof of that lie in 2 of her works, “Circle, Mirror, Transformation” and “The Aliens”. Annie’s is a brilliant new voice for the theater, one that doesn’t scream or threaten, but cajoles and strokes and comforts-one that picks up the language of ordinary folks in extraordinary simple ways and proceeds to break your heart with its simplicity. Her frequent collaborator, Sam Gold, a stunning new director bound to become one of the most influential and important directors in the decade to come, not only directed both Annie’s plays, but three others as well-”Dusk Rings A Bell”, Tigers Be Still” and “The Coward” and elevated these works in priceless evenings of theater, populated by fascinating characters played by perfectly cast, beautifully directed actors and actresses like Paul Sparks, Reed Birney, Deidre O’Connell and Christopher Evan Welch. Sam Gold is the future of American stage and joins the ranks of the truly talented directors working now, like Trip Cullman and Joe Mantello.
Once again, The Public Theatre, under the artistic direction of Oskar Eustis, has brought us new and classic works that have seized us and grabbed our attention with their beauty. Last year, director Daniel Sullivan gave audiences at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park a fabulous production of “Twelfth Night” starring Anne Hathaway and Raul Esparza-this year, Sullivan directed one of the best Shakespeare productions I’ve ever seen anywhere on any continent-A visually breathtaking, extraordinarily directed and played production of one of the Bard’s “problem” plays-”The Merchant Of Venice” starring an understated yet overpowering Al Pacino as the Jewish moneylender Shylock. What Sullivan has done with this production, now on Broadway in a limited run, which returns for 3 weeks in February, is to disprove the age-old supposition that the piece is anti-Semitic-he proves it is not an anti-Semitic play, but an anti-religion play, for no one in the play comes away clean-it is populated by characters out for themselves in a number of complicated and deceitful ways, using whatever means necessary to achieve their goals. It was the best stage piece of this and many a season. At the Public, there was Lisa Kron’s terrific, tough, spellbinding attack on American equivocation, “In The Wake”, a play that disappeared far too quickly and should have been seen by many more theatregoers than it was.
The Signature Theatre Company on 42nd Street mounted two productions in 2010 that did us all proud- just one of these would have been a feather in the cap of any theater company, but in one year, we had all 9 parts of Horton Foote’s “The Orphan;s Cycle” followed in the Fall with both parts of Tony Kushner’s landmark play in 2 parts, “Angels In America”, which continues to run through the end of March.
The New Group, which is now running one of the most infuriating new plays of 2010, an overwritten, messy play called “Blood From A Stone”, earlier in the year produced a Sam Shepard play that probably served as a model for the piece running now. Ethan Hawke directed a troubling, distinguished production of Shepard’s epic, “Lie Of The Mind” with Allessandro Nivola, Laurie Metcalf, Marin Ireland, Josh Hamilton and Keith Carradine that blew the roof off the house. Would that New Group’s artistic director had extended it or even tried to move it, but unfortunately, it was not to be, for reasons unknown.
Also for reasons unknown, the year’s best new play, “Red”, won the Tony Award and promptly closed, because, according to the producers, it couldn’t be recast. That would be the winner of the lamest excuse of 2010. “Red” should still be playing on Broadway. And it’s not. End of story.
Sadly, the best musical of 2010 wasn’t the one that won the Tony Award last June, it was the little Kander and Ebb show that opened last winter and then waited way too long to come to Broadway, losing all its momentum in the meantime, and closing just a few weeks ago, when it should still be running to packed houses. But “Scottsboro Boys” had no big stars, no television or movie names, just a great score, a terrific cast, a cohesive,pungent book, and stellar direction by Susan Stroman. It was moving, it was heart-rendering, it was bawdy, bravura entertainment…and it’s gone. How extremely sad for all involved, especially those who were never tempted to experience it’s joys. Go figure.
Another great under-appreciated play from 2010 was Bruce Norris’s “Clybourne Park”, which played Playwrights Horizons, was never extended, and sadly, disappeared. But then, a miracle. The play opened at the tiny Royal Court Theatre in London last August, received the best reviews in London of any show in 2010 and in January, replaces “Avenue Q” at the Wyndhams Theatre in London’s West End, having just won the Evening Standard Award for Best new comedy. A play, set in Chicago, spanning 50 years, about the state of American race relations then and now. Our loss is London’s gain. Again, go figure.
Performances I will not forget from 2010 include Al Pacino, Frank Wood, Deidre O’Connell, Jan Maxwell, Matthew Rauch(winner of the Callaway Award for 2010),Mary Beth Hurt, Michael Shannon, Paul Sparks,Reed Birney, Lois Smith, Peter Friedman, ethan Hawke,Marin Ireland, David Suchet, Zoe Wanamaker, Simon Russell Beale, Matt McGrath, Roger Allam, and the entire cast of the Transport Group’s exquisite environmental production of Mart Crowley’s “The Boys In The Band”.
It was a heckuva year and it makes me look forward to 2011.