Sunday, 23 December 2012


     No one cares about this list but me, but I do it anyway. Among other things, it clarifies my understanding of my own theatrical aesthetic. The best new plays I have seen this year have some things in common. They are examples of poetic realism, resonating beyond their own characters and stories. In one sense they are geographically specific (Idaho, Philadelphia, the rust belt) but their range is really much greater. So, in no particular order.


DETROIT by Lisa D'Amour. Playwrights Horizons. Only five characters, but this play covered a lot of territory as it explored the relationship of two married couples; one middle class but on the way down, the other déclassé and barely surviving. Class, economics, contemporary anomie and barely disguised anger all play a role in a play that manages to be both very funny and a bit scary. One of the few plays I have seen recently that is really about America today. Brilliant.

WATER BY THE SPOONFUL by Quiera Allegra Hudes. Second Stage. A beautiful poetic meditation on human connection in and out of families and the ways people can both damage and heal.

THE WHALE by Samuel D. Hunter. Playwrights Horizons. A portrait of the last days of a man literally eating himself to death after the death of his lover. Hunter has an uncanny ability to find the best in an unlikely, unhappy group of characters. In their wish for love, his people transcend their banal surroundings.

DISGRACED by Amir Kapoor. Lincoln Center Theater. A dinner party from Hell play, but also as intelligent a discussion play as I have seen in years. What happens when a successful Pakistani-American lawyer tells the truth about his mixed feelings about Islam, America and the people close to him. Dark, funny and stimulating.

A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS. An epic told with the simplest of theatrical means -- and lovely period music. It is fascinating to watch the narrative strands come together in the last quarter hour. This collaboration of playwright Paula Vogel, director Tina Landau and the perfect cast truly is the magic of theater.

RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN by Gina Gionfriddo. Playwrights Horizons. The plot was a little too schematic, but this was a witty, intelligent take on what has happened to feminism.  

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. Broadway. Kid's theatre for children of all ages. Sheer theater magic.

Thanks, too, to the directors and actors who brought these fine plays to life.


COCK by Mike Bartlett. Off-Broadway. I liked this play in London and liked it even more here with a better cast. On one hand, this is a play about a young man who cannot decide between his long time male lover and the woman who has entered his life. It is more about the ways people manipulate those they supposedly love. 

TRIBES by Nina Raine. Off-Broadway. Is our family of necessity our tribe or might we feel more kinship with people who share our difference from our family and from the majority of people? That is the dilemma facing the deaf young man at the center of this clever, complex play. His choice affects a family who needs him more than he needs them. 


GOLDEN BOY. Lincoln Center Theater. A perfectly cast and staged production of the 1937 Clifford Odets play that proves that it belongs in the pantheon of twentieth-century drama.   

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (Steppenwolf - Broadway) and THE LADY FROM DUBUQUE (Signature Theatre). Two superb revivals of Edward Albee's work. Pam McKinnon's revival of Albee's most famous play avoided camp and cliche and gave more realistic, complex pictures of the four characters than I have seen before. The real revelation, though was David Esbjornson's production of one of Albee's most critically attacked plays. This production proved that the critics were wrong about this meditation on mortality, grief and love.


FEBRUARY HOUSE. Public Theatre. An unlikely subject -- and not from a movie, this saga of an attempt at an artist's colony in Brooklyn during World War II was alternately funny and touching. Gabriel Kahane has obviously listened to Sondheim, but he has a unique musical voice and a fascinating way of blending music and lyrics.

GIANT. Public Theatre. This was a big, old-fashioned Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Michael John LaChiusa's score was uniformly gorgeous.

DOGFIGHT. Second Stage. Other critics weren't crazy about this, but I thought it presented its characters and told its story effectively and had a lovely score.

Otherwise, a dire year for musicals. NEWSIES was enjoyable, ONCE tedious, the rest just plain sad.

FINALLY a question. Why are audience for good theater so geriatric? Why aren't young people interested in good drama? Most of the plays and musicals I mention are in non-commercial theaters with reasonable ticket prices and student discounts. How can we get more young people to something other than empty-headed Broadway musicals?

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