Friday, January 6, 2012

Farewell, 2011 (the best and the worst)

I've already organized the theater shows I saw in 2011 into categories ranging from Best Ever to Kill Me Now. So I'm doing a different kind of wrap-up post here.

2SD's favorite things about theater in 2011, in no particular order:

* Steven Hoggett took over the city. On stages across New York City this year, you could see Hoggett's magic in theatricalizing the history of the Scottish military's Black Watch, Green Day's disaffected Aughts soundtrack American Idiot, the otherwise-awkward Peter Pan retelling Peter and the Starcatcher, and the stage adaptation of the Irish indie-darling film Once (at NYTW and now transferring to Broadway).

* We found out that the Handspring Puppet Company exists. Their puppet horses made a bleak WWI children's story a hit (but also proved that the Tonys need separate categories for playwriting and production). I actually hated the treacly story of War Horse, but all the design and puppetry aspects of the production are fantastic. The National Theatre knows how to make a gorgeous, stunning production (see also Frankenstein, below). And the puppets are unbelievable in their believability. I trust we'll see more from Handspring in coming years, and I can't wait.

* London's National Theatre took pity on those of us stuck on this side of the pond by screening awesome productions in movie theaters. Thanks to National Theatre Live, which screened both versions of Danny Boyle's lead-swapping Frankenstein play, I got to see my longtime movie obsession Jonny Lee Miller and my current TV obsession Benedict Timothy Carleton Cumberbatch (best name ever) swap roles as Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature. It's one of the most visually stunning things I've ever "seen" on stage. I wish it would kick War Horse out of the Vivian Beaumont Theater immediately. Alas, I missed the screening of One Man, Two Guvnors--but I definitely plan to see James Corden in it on Broadway this season. And I really wish they'd broadcast Sinéad Cusack and Ciarán Hinds in Juno and the Paycock.

* We got a second chance to savor the perfection of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan. I first saw this Druid production at the Atlantic Theater in Feb. 2009, and it is still the most perfect performance of anything I have ever seen on stage (just edging out Conor McPherson's The Seafarer on Broadway). I'm not sure why it didn't transfer to Broadway, but I'm so glad it went on a short U.S. tour so that I could enjoy it again. I love ArtsEmerson for bringing shows like this to Boston. I wish they could convince National Theatre Scotland to bring us Black Watch.

* Stephen Karam rewarded Roundabout Underground's investment in the young playwright. Sons of the Prophet in Boston in the spring and the streamlined production that just closed in New York showed the same wit as Karam's Speech & Debate and much more depth. I really love the play and hope Karam continues to work on it. If it doesn't jump to Broadway, it should have a great future in regional theaters.

* Anything Goes had an awesome, never-ending tap number. It lost a bit of its surprise by being blasted via every medium to advertize the show, but HOLY CRAP that performance is amazing to see live.

* The Normal Heart ripped ours out. I am not being hyperbolic when I say that this play inspired me to change my life. I'll post more about that in a few weeks. (Also, it gave rise to Ellen Barkin's F-bombing Twitter domination campaign.)

* Reed Birney was perpetually employed. As he should be. The most natural everyman I've ever seen on stage. His sheer honesty in every moment grounded even Adam Rapp's increasingly bizarre Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling.

* Mark Rylance made two fairly gross characters kind of hot and sexy. In the same season. He won the Tony for his jaw-dropping performance as Rooster in Jerusalem, but I think his work in La Bête was even more impressive. He made a twenty-minute monologue (an exaggeration, surely, but it was wicked long)--part of which was delivered while he was flatulently on the pot--riveting and almost charming, even in pompous, rhyming couplets. Rylance's awards acceptance speeches are themselves award-worthy (2011 and 2008).

* DanRad is a righteous dude. Daniel Radcliffe proved himself to be a true theater fan and completely a dedicated performer. He can come back to Broadway any day. Or out with me for a cup of coffee. Or out to a drag show with me. Or whatever, really. He seems charming and hilarious, and I can't wait for the next time Susan Blackwell gets a hold of him.

* Michael Esper got around. His excellent character development made the couch-ridden Will a character to watch even amid American Idiot's visual barrage of violent choreography and sensory-overloading projections. After he got off the couch, he turned in a beautiful performance in Tony Kushner's new play iHomo and went crazy-pants in Nicky Silver's The Lyons. He did a couple things at Vassar/NY Stage and Film over the summer. And he's just been announced for Assistance at Playwrights Horizons with Bobby Steggert, and that makes me wicked happy. Oh, and on the side, he formed an as-yet-unnamed punk band with fellow Idiots Johnny Gallagher and Gerard Canonico (see photos below).

2SD's least-favorite things about theater in 2011:

* War Horse got the Tony for best play. Just ... NO.

* People created musicals that somehow made awesome things boring. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert made drag queens boring. Catch Me If You Can made one of history's most famous con men boring. And Bonnie & Clyde made sexy, deadly, road-tripping bank robbers boring. How is that even possible?


Here, have some pretty! Look at the bromance! Now with bonus ginger beard!

Michael Esper and John Gallagher Jr. having some bro moments at Rockwood with their unnamed punk band (Gerard Canonico was stuck behind the drum kit)

Photos by Monica Simoes, from

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