Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Top 10 of 2006

It's time once again for Little Jimmy's Take-It-Or-Leave-It Top Ten Plays of the Year.

2006 turned out to be a really good year for plays in New York. This is the third year I've done a "best of" list and this year was (by far) the hardest to compile (with the exception of the top three; I pretty much knew immediately after seeing these shows that they were going to be the "top of the top"). I had the list written out a couple weeks ago, then spent part of the holiday break looking over what I had and comparing what I had to the few shows I had seen in the meanwhile and assessing and reassessing and re-reassessing what constituted (to me) the best shows I had seen over the course of the year and found it to be a much tougher challenge than the last two years (there weren't really any "Too Close To Call" choices for me to make in 2004 and 2005).

For those interested, the final tally of productions I saw in 2006 ended up to be 41 plays, four readings and six miscellaneous performance works (things like improv or sketch comedy shows). Of the 41 plays I saw in 2006, I only saw one Broadway show, six Off-Broadway shows and 34 Off-off-Broadway shows. My final tally for the top ten: no Broadway, three Off-Broadway and seven Off-off-Broadway.

Obviously, like with any "best of" list, everything should be taken with more than a grain of salt. I'm sure more than one person reading this list will think I've simply gone 'round the bend and have absolutely no ability for making aesthetic judgments. ("Comtois thought THAT play was one of the ten best? And he thought it was better than THIS one? What a MORON!") This may very well be true. Again, just remember that the following list has been created by Some Guy Who Has Kinda Weird Tastes. Also, part of the purpose for creating the list is to give you an idea of the kind of things I like (if you're going to read me natter on about theatre, it's only fair that you get to see just what it is I find to be the "cream of the crop" in any given year so you can determine for yourself where my aesthetic compass points).

It should be known that this year, like with every year, I missed a number of high-ticket productions, such as Sweeney Todd and The Lieutenant of Inishmore. I really wish I had caught these (and other) shows that (from what it sounds like) had a very strong chance of making the list, but there’s only so much time in the year and only so much disposable income. So remember that these are not the ten best plays produced in 2006, these are the ten best plays I saw in 2006 (kind of a given, I know, but I figure it’s something worth repeating).

A new thing I've added to the credits list (along with the producing company, writer and director) is the venue at where I saw the show. All of them are in New York.

So, for what it's worth, in ascending order, the ten best plays I saw in 2006:

Honorable mention: "A Sizable Town"
(New York International Fringe Festival, part of 24 is 10: The Best of the 24 Hour Plays, written by Mike Doughty, directed by Angie Day, at the Lucille Lortel)
Though the entire evening of one-act plays was pretty mezzo mezzo, Mike Doughty's 10-minute play about a couple wanting to go to a sizable town to break into showbiz and fight crime is one of the silliest and funniest plays I've seen. As Mac Rogers stated, "I don't even know how to describe, but we went nuts for it when I saw it." Yes, indeed.

10. They're Just Like Us
(CollaborationTown, written by Boo Killebrew, directed by Mike Doyle, at The Red Room).
Seemingly silly and innocuous but deceptively biting and very accurate, Ms. Killebrew's satire about people working and/or skulking around the film industry in Hollywood simultaneously mocks the shallowness of La-la-land and our weird obsession with celebrities and D-listers (most of the characters are just reg'lar folk who portray themselves as up-and-comers). Really spot-on in its depiction of shallow interaction disguised as intimacy (everyone promises to "text" each other). And really funny, too.

9. Abacus Black Strikes Now: The Rampant Justice of Abacus Black
(The National Theater of the United States of America, directed and developed by Ryan Bronz, at PS 122)
A group of traveling performers hoping to get to the Golden City before they get their brains eaten by zombies. Screeching heavy metal music, bloodletting and brain-eating. Oh…God…YES!

8. Living Dead in Denmark
(Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company, written by Qui Nguyen, directed by Robert Ross Parker, at Center Stage).
Another play about zombies (2006 seemed to be the year for those brain-eaters). Five years after the events of Hamlet, King Fortinbras has assembled a Charlie's Angels-style all-girl fighting team (made up of Lady MacBeth, Juliet and Ophelia) to destroy the zombies infesting Denmark. Chuck Varga of GWAR did the effects. Freakin' sweet. Vampire Cowboys specializes in doing shows that make theatre snobs huffy, which is precisely why their stuff works so well. Every time I go see a Cowboys show, I know I'm going to enjoy myself. I was far from disappointed this time around.

7. Food For Fish
(Sanctuary: Playwrights Theatre, written by Adam Szymkowicz, directed by Alexis Poledouris, at The Kraine Theatre)
One of the funniest plays I saw in 2006 about truly sad people. A play about three sisters living on Manhattan's Upper East Side hoping to move to New Jersey, their dead father decomposing at a rapid pace in their apartment, the oldest sister's husband facing a midlife crisis and an author who throws pages of his manuscript into the Hudson River and kisses random women on the street. The play is about longing, regret and being held back. There was one point in the first act where I had no idea where the show was going, but didn't care. Wherever it was going, I was interested.

6. My Name Is Rachel Corrie
(London's Royal Court Theatre, culled from the diary entries and emails of Ms. Corrie, edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Vinerat, directed by Mr. Rickman, at the Minetta Lane Theatre)
Managing to look past all the controversy and pseudo-controversy plaguing this one-woman show, I still maintain that this was a solid production of an important play. It's one of the few works of recent Western art I've seen that considers that maybe Palestinians aren't all warmongering terrorists but victims of systematic attempts at genocide from "the world's fourth largest military backed by the world's only superpower." It articulates a very unpopular and minority viewpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that should be heard by American audiences.

5. Nerve
(Packawallop Productions and the Hypothetical Theatre Company, written by Adam Szymkowicz, directed by Scott Ebersold, at the 14th Street Y)
Mr. Adam Szymkowicz graces my list again with his sad, funny, creepy and magical play about two psychopaths on a first online date. The girl creates elaborate dances when she gets nervous. The guy makes puppets of his ex-girlfriends to nag him when he gets uneasy. They fall in love. They suffocate each other. They decide they're perfect for each other. After reading (then seeing) this play, I realized that Mr. Szymkowicz is definitely one of those playwrights to follow.

4. Red Light Winter
(written & directed by Adam Rapp, at the Borrow Street Theatre)
I'm pretty sure that I'm in the minority in the theatre world for loving the production of this play. So be it. Adam Rapp's show about two friends meeting a prostitute in Amsterdam then separately reuniting a year later in New York — the first play I saw in 2006 — was an incredibly simple, captivating, compelling and entertaining piece of theatre with some excellent performances (particularly from Gary Wilmes as the scumbag alpha-friend). And yeah, I'll admit it: I was also roped in by the use of Tom Waits after each act, 'cuz I really am a sucker for Tom Waits’s music.

3. In Public
(theatre minima, written by George Hunka, directed by Isaac Butler, at manhattantheatresource)
George Hunka's excellent play about people in relationships crossing the line of fidelity (or at least, tempted to come as close to the line as possible) hit so many right notes in such a short period of time. Very subtle, very honest and very funny. Mr. Hunka writes from a very truthful place and Isaac Butler's direction was very in-step with the slight nuances and cadences of the script. The actors were also outstanding. Mr. Hunka has done seemingly without effort something I've often tried (but never quite succeeded in) with my own work: build tension through characters offering subdued, passive-aggressive jabs (as opposed to histrionic screaming). I knew right after curtain call that this was going to be on the upper-end of my Top Ten list.

2. Trial By Water
(Ma Yi Theater Company, written by Qui Nguyen, directed by John Gould, at The Culture Project — 45 Below)
The second play by Mr. Qui Nguyen to appear on this list, having written something completely different from his Vampire Cowboys-style of theatre. Intense, hypnotic and deeply personal, Trial By Water was the first play Mr. Nguyen wrote. Based on real events, it is the account of two brothers traveling from Vietnam to America on a broken-down boat adrift at sea with several other refuges and doing what it takes to survive (the passengers and crew kill and eat each other). This was a play that explored cannibalism, post-war Vietnam and the slow death of the soul. This one stuck in my head for a long (long LONG) while after I left the theatre.

And the #1 play I saw in 2006 was…

1. Dead City
(New Georges, written by Sheila Callaghan, directed by Daniella Topol, at 3LD Art & Technology Center)
As is almost always the case for the #1 slot, this should come as no surprise to anyone who either knows me or regularly reads this blog. Ms. Callaghan's ambitious and whimsical adaptation of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses transplanted to modern-day New York had me hooked within the first five minutes (when Samantha Blossom is listening to the morning radio DJ who turns out to be really her inner monologue). The show kept surprising me with each successive scene, making me think, "I didn't think you could do that in a stage play, much less an Off-off-Broadway production!" (i.e., adapting a book like Ulysses into a stage play under two hours and be coherent and faithful to the source material, revealing characters’ detailed back-stories without being intrusive or insulting the audience’s intelligence). I knew immediately after seeing this play that this was a "shoe-in" for my Top Ten list. It's plays (and productions) like New Georges’ staging of Dead City that remind me why I love theatre.

So let’s bring on 2007…

Already buying tickets for this year's shows,

James "Spendthrift" Comtois



Anonymous Anonymous said...

glad you liked my plays! so sorry Nervous Boy didn't make the list. You were robbed. Better luck next year.

3:12 PM  

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