Thursday, December 02, 2004

For Fun: Top Ten Plays

Often for fun, I like to make top 10 lists of the best movies I’ve seen during the year. Since I actually have not been seeing a lot of movies recently, I decided why not come up with a top 10 list of the best plays I’ve seen in 2004?

Yes, I know the year’s not over yet, but since I’m up to my eyeballs in our current show and still have Christmas shopping to do, it’s unlikely that I’ll be seeing that many more shows this year. I could be wrong, and if so, I’ll alter the list.

Bear in mind there were a number of shows I haven’t seen (and should have), and I’ve made no distinction between Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-off-Broadway or underground performance art pieces. Also, some may notice at least one entry is debatable as to whether or not it’s a “play” or “comedy routine.” I’ll just let you debate that one.

So, here’s my list:

10. The Fantasticks
(Gingerbread Players of St. Luke’s Church)
A community theatre production of a musical I had (admittedly) never seen before. Being in no mood to see this (explained in more detail in Jamespeak), I was very pleasantly surprised to see that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was reminded that theatre can be simple, unpretentious, fun and imaginative.

9. Religion and Violence in America
(Stages 5150, written by Randy Anderson, directed by Ben Branson)
I really like that a Stages 5150 show looks like a Stages 5150 show. Ben and Randy have their own unique look and style, and you can see their sticky little fingerprints all over their shows, which isn’t as common as you’d think in theatre.

8. Measure for Measure
(BLUNT Theatre Company, directed by Jamie Taylor)
This Shakespearean had always been my favorite comedy to read, and my least favorite to watch. Until this production. I gotta admit, that Taylor girl’s got some game.

7. Static
(by Chris Mollica, Brian Silliman and Dennis Hurley)
A collection of three one-acts by debut company Poor Artists Collective was fun and funny. I was right proud of these guys (since, after all, they’ve performed in Nosedive Productions) and am looking forward to seeing where they go with their new company.

6. The Distance From Here
(by Neil LaBute)
LaBute’s play about depressed and depressing blue-collar high school losers reminded me (a bit too much) of some of the people I knew peripherally growing up in Manchester, NH. Sure, it’s a very flawed play that kind of falls apart in the end, but I’m simply a fan of LaBute’s. Plus, this show reminded me that former “Sports Night” star Josh Charles needs more work.

5. Penguin / Swollen Head
(double-bill written & performed by Adam Wade and Rich Zeroth, respectively)
Two half hour confessional comedy performances made me laugh so hard my face hurt. Wade is one of those comedians/performers who wears his stage fright on his sleeve and tells painfully personal stories about high school anxieties, failures and aspirations to become a wrestler. Zeroth’s “Swollen Head” is his true story of how he fakes his own encephalitis and misses 129 consecutive days of school in the fifth-grade.

4. Post Oedipus
(by Steven Gridley, produced by Spring Theatreworks)
A play that grew on me after I left the theatre. Random lines and images still stick with me, and things I didn’t give much thought to at the time come creeping up to my consciousness. Very ambitious, dense and imaginative, and grounded in reality (even if Oedipus is working on a get-rich scheme to build gumball machines and his son Eteocles can’t stop diddlin’ himself).

3. The Fever
(by Wallace Shawn, performed by Bryan Brown)
Wallace Shawn's sad, frank, sometimes sweet and often brutal one-person show about liberal guilt wonderfully played by Bryan Brown at the UnConvention reminded me why Shawn is one of my favorite playwrights and why I wanted to write plays.

2. Titus Andronicus
(Gotham Shakespeare Company, directed by Abe Goldfarb)
A really visually stunning production of a…let’s face it…really lame Shakespearean tragedy; all the Romans in red (including their props) and the Goths in black. Rather than use stage blood, the production made the Romans bleed red rose petals and the Goths black cinders. Intense, vicious, funny (yes, funny) and stunning.

1. Bug
(by Tracy Letts)
For anyone who’s spoken to me in the past six months, this comes as no surprise. Just a wonderful visceral experience of watching a real slice-of-life drama slowly and steadily turn into a violent horrific science-fiction nightmare. As I always say, any play that has someone projectile vomiting blood is okay in my book. Plus, the sound and lighting design made the world the play was portraying extend past the stage walls. I was hooked; possibly one of the best plays I’ve seen since I’ve moved to New York (since Lightning Strikes Theatre Co.’s production of Clive Barker’s “Crazyface” in 1999)

Wearing his ignorance on his sleeve,

James “Der” Comtois

December 2, 2004



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