Andrew Osborne’s Best of 2010: Theater

Top Theater of 2010

So if you’re playing along at home, you may recall that I’ve already posted my Best of 2010 music and books, and now it’s time for theater as we count down to the big ticket TV and movie lists! 

1.  Sleep No More (& The Annie Darcy Band Christmas Show) – Okay, so technically I saw the mind-boggling great Sleep No More at the end of 2009.  And, yes, I know I included it on last year’s Top Ten list…but that’s just how good and memorable Punchdrunk’s immersive fever dream phantasmagoria was.  I’ve thought of the production frequently in the past 365-ish days, and recently saw its ‘40s-style house band play a delightfully un-spooky Christmas show in one of their periodic appearances at the A.R.T.’s theater/club Oberon.  Mostly, though, I’m mentioning Sleep No More again as a reminder to myself that the show may possibly resurface in Manhattan in 2011, which means it could very well top this list again next year!  (No, seriously:  it’s awesome.  Get your ass to New York and see it if you can!)

2.  Cabaret — Speaking of Oberon, director Steven Bogart transformed the entire space into a 1930s German nightclub for his moving and immersive reimagining of the classic Kander & Ebb musical about the limits of escapism.  And while former Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer was great as the production’s sinister Emcee (and watching her slink up in a fetishistic cat mask and paw my Dad’s head was easily one of my favorite memories of 2010), the true heart of the show was Thomas Derrah’s heartbreaking, gender-bending turn as a lonely hausfrau engaged in a doomed love affair with a kindly Jewish suitor.

 3.  [title of show] — This insanely charming and deceptively simple DIY musical about four struggling young theater geeks attempting to create and stage a musical about four struggling young theater geeks attempting to create and stage a musical played like a cheerfully raunchy Judd Apatow film crossed with Six Characters In Search of an Author on the set of Our Town.  But while peppy, goofy numbers like “Monkeys and Playbills” (and the likeable cast of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s fast-paced production) kept the show mostly cheerful, its hard truths about dreams vs. reality (and whether or not it’s enough for artists to be “Nine People’s Favorite Thing”) is what ultimately made it effective (and affecting).

 4.  Othello — No matter how talented the cast and director may be, I just never quite believe the pre-meditated crime of passion at the climax of OthelloThe Wire’s Seth Gilliam gave it a decent shot, but what really angried up my blood in the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s excellent production on the Boston Common was James Waterston’s timely, infuriating (and eerily Glenn Beck-esque) performance as the petty, thin-skinned Iago, determined to bring down his Moorish commander through misinformation and hateful manipulation of his countrymen.

 5. This Wide Night — Though it took a while to get used to Edie Falco with a working class British accent, this two-hander with the equally talented Alison Pill about a pair of ex-convicts searching for solid ground played like a grimly funny Mike Leigh film in its off-Broadway Naked Angels run.

Honorable Mention:  Carny Knowledge, Island of Slaves, Wicked


The Donkey Show:  As I mentioned above, the A.R.T. has mostly been firing on all cylinders lately, and Oberon is a great venue for immersive theater.  And, in theory, an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set inside a decadent ‘70s disco (complete with drinks, dancing and scantily clad people covered in glitter) sounds like a great idea (especially on New Year’s Eve, when I saw it).  But, egad, what a stupid, amateurish show.  I’m not sure whether to blame the cast, the director or the script (although I don’t see how anyone could make the shrill, incoherent Shakespeare cannibalization by Diane Paulus and Randy Weiner actually work) — so I guess I’ll just blame the audiences who’ve made this mess an inexplicable hit.


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