Here’s my list of my ten favorite shows of the year, in chronological order. I saw much less than last year, so it was a bit easier…
1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I was definitely very late to the Curious Incident game, but I’m so glad I finally made it. It demonstrated for me the immense empathetic capacities of theatre. More artists should be using the stage not only to explore unshared stories, but through unshared subjectivities.
2. Golem. The first show I officially saw as a critic, which was very exciting. And luckily for me, the show itself was exciting, too: one of the more original and successful uses of multimedia that I’ve seen so far, paired with truly spectacular performances. Plus, some of the music still gets stuck in my head.
3. Romeo and Juliet. This play is done so badly so much of the time, I had almost lost faith in it. But I don’t see how you could help but be deeply moved by this production, rooted in an intelligent, achingly youthful Juliet and a sensitive, guilt-ridden Romeo.
4. DruidShakespeare. I’d longed for years to get to see a full set of Shakespeare’s second tetralogy, and though DruidShakespeare presented abbreviated versions of all four plays, the experience of seeing Richard II, the Henry IVs, and Henry V in succession was as interesting and moving as I always hoped it would be. I only touch on it briefly in the linked article, but highlights include Derbhle Crotty’s extraordinary Bolingbroke, Garrett Lombard’s deeply sexy Hotspur, and possibly the only cast I’ve ever seen that actually earned the name ‘gender blind.’
5. The Beaux’ Stratagem. The final entry in a series of masterfully directed comedies I saw in England, all of which derived their strength from recognizing that a comedy still must rest on the essential dignity and humanity of its characters– and in these specific cases, its female characters. Title and hilarious laddish hijinks aside, the heart and soul of the play lay with the women. And the musical numbers.
6. King John. I know, it’s hard to believe that a production of King John could make this list. It’s hard to believe that there could be a production of King John that you’d want to see twice, but that’s what James Dacre managed for the Globe. Given the recent outcry about people who dare to suggest altering Shakespeare’s texts, it provided an excellent example of the wonders a little tinkering can work.
7. Richard II. Maybe this was the year of restoring faith in Shakespeare plays I’d started to doubt in spite of myself (though after two go-rounds, I still don’t like Measure for Measure). This Richard succeeded by refusing to let the title character steal the show, instead broadening the scope of the history, allowing every character to feel important, and thus, every scene to feel propulsive. This was enabled in large part by David Sturzaker’s Bolingbroke, who, in counterpoint to Richard, quietly and stoically was led through a tragedy of his own.
8. Spring Awakening. I saw the original Spring Awakening shortly before it closed and wasn’t a fan. This production, on the other hand, was a revelation. Sign language provides a much, much more effective metaphor than rock music for the play’s central themes of miscommunication and alienation. The performers are all tremendous, and the fact that Wendla and Melchior actually look like teenagers makes a surprisingly large difference for the better.
9. Hamilton. Yeah, yeah.// EDIT: TIED WITH FUN HOME. I can’t believe I left this off at first. While Hamilton may be an unmatched musical achievement, I think Fun Home is at least as groundbreaking, and I found it more emotionally impactful (not that that means something is better, but still).
10. A View from the Bridge. I was so annoyed that I let myself miss this in London, but Russell Tovey, added to the cast for Broadway, is the ideal Rodolfo, so I’m not too mad I had to wait ’til I got back to New York. What is there to say? A sharp, clean, barebones production of a play that I personally think is nearly perfect. If Mark Strong doesn’t win a Tony, it will be a crime.