Andrew Osborne’s Best of 2013: Theater

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Because I’m egotistical, I’m usually way more jazzed about my own creative output than even the greatest work by other people, and so my two favorite theatrical experiences of the past year both had my name in the credits:  (1) my one-act “Improvisation” winning best play at the Hurricane Season festival and (2) watching a staged reading of The Meat City Beatniks at the Eclectic Company Theater with my fellow collaborators, right around the corner from the seedy apartment where the seeds of the semi-autobiographical musical were planted roughly 20 years earlier.  But, that said, here are five additional shows that actually caused me to gaze away from own navel in 2013:

1. ALL THE WAY (American Repertory Theater)

I love politics, history and political history.  I love the whole “guys in suits” genre of articulate insiders scheming and strategizing.  Plus, like all right-thinking people, I love Bryan Cranston more than blue meth…and so to see the celebrated actor live and in person fronting a massively talented ensemble (including Michael McKean as J. Edgar Hoover!) in this intense, engrossing civil rights drama just hours before the series finale of Breaking Bad on AMC resulted in a perfect storm of pop culture confluence and one of the most entertaining theatrical productions in recent memory.  LBJ IS THE ONE WHO KNOCKS!!!

2. IT’S A HORRIBLE LIFE (The Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts)

Ryan Landry may not have the greatest singing voice, but as the witchy green holiday humbug Mrs. Grinchley, he’s got wry one-liners and puckish charisma to spare.  Likewise, the Gold Dust Orphans may not have much of a budget, but their productions (including this adults only parody of the X-mas classic featuring Paul Vincent Melendy channeling Jimmy Stewart and Olive Another’s spot-on Little Edie Beale as a delightfully s-t-a-u-n-c-h guardian angel) are always turbo-charged with non-stop energy and invention (even in a space so tiny the high-stepping dancers are forever in danger of kicking each other in the chops).

3. BRIDGET EVERETT (American Repertory Theater – Oberon)

The phrase “large and in charge” might as well have been coined to describe the hilarious, nakedly emotional (and sometimes just plain naked) alt-comic cabaret persona of the ferocious, voluptuous Bridget Everett in this riveting one-woman show.  Put ‘em in the air!

4. DINA MARTINA (The Crown & Anchor)

Speaking of unnerving cabaret acts and peculiar drag performances, the surreal stand-up, butchered song lyrics and busted-seam stylings of P-Town staple Dina Martina came together again this summer in the sort of show you pretty much have to see to believe (and even then you may think you’re hallucinating).

5. JOAN RIVERS (The Wilbur Theatre)

And finally, while I’m still not sure why the Dowager Countess of Comedy opened her recent Boston show with twenty minutes of glee club warbling, the real question is how a performer with so much mileage (and so few original body parts) can still throw faster, meaner punchlines than performers half (or even two halves) her age.

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