Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Yup! It's time for the Best of 2015 Theater!

Jeff Berryman, Corey Spruill, and Faith Russell in Best of Enemies at Taproot Theatre (Erik Stuhaug)
Can you believe another year has flown by? And suddenly it’s time for all the Best lists to commence! While it is always a struggle to choose, it is also useful to look back and reflect on how much great theater this town produces. So, here is my annual idiosyncratic list of Best Theater of 2015.

Best Solo Performances: Solo performers do the hardest job in theater, I think, since they must command the entire attention of a diverse audience. The two standouts this year were Ryun Yu in the amazing text of Hold These Truths at ACT Theatre and Joseph Lavy in Akropolis Performance Lab’s riveting The Glas Nocturne.

Best Unusual Venues: The Glas Nocturne also gets a mention along with the two productions by Seattle Immersive TheatreDump Site and Listening Glass – for unusual theater in unusual venues. There is an exciting trend toward exploring new ways of presenting theater that might attract new audiences who are looking for that kind of novelty. These shows were tops in their execution.

Best Diverse-Population Productions: Seattle is expanding in its ability to produce theater focusing on stories of niche populations, ethnically and otherwise. This year, we were able to experience a rich, graceful, ASL-enhanced production of Sound by Azeotrope that allowed both hearing and deaf to understand everything at the same time. Kudos to directors Desdemona Chiang and Howie Seago. In addition, SiS Productions gave us Paper Angels (excellently directed – with two casts – by David Hsieh) which focused on a little known history of Chinese-American immigrants and Pratidhwani let us peek inside India with Dance Like A Man. ArtsWest also let us visit China with Chinglish, the indomitable Kathy Hsieh leading the cast.

Best Use of Seattle Veteran Actors: It was particularly great to see Susan Corzatte in 4000 Miles at ArtsWest and Betty Campbell in Indian Ink by Sound Theatre Company/Pratidhwani on stage, again. Both these great ladies still bring it!

ArtsWest gets the nod for theater producing consistently great work this year, along with Chinglish and 4000 Miles, for their exciting, out-of-the-box production of American Idiot, Green Day’s musical about slackers.

Best Musicals: Along with American Idiot, the clear rave of the year was Come From Away, Seattle Repertory Theatre’s brand new co-pro that has just ended a practically sold-out run. The uncharacteristically musically-oriented Rep also produced a lauded effort, Lizard Boy, from local talent Justin Huertas. The Great American Trailer Park Musical by STAGEright, a company that is really getting good at musicals, brought belly laughs and a particularly great trio: Loretta Deanleau Howard, Walker Caplan, and Tori Spero Dullenty.

Best Inclusivity: The buzzword is diversity, but it’s hard to find on stage. Two productions in particular folded in a diverse cast that had nothing to do with the subject matter. Kudos to Measure for Measure by Seattle Shakespeare Company and Emma by Book-It Repertory Theatre! Let’s have more of that. please!

Book-It also had a great year with two other memorable productions: Little Bee (with the outstanding Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako) and Slaughterhouse-Five, a tremendous effort for us Vonnegut fans!

Best Locally-Written Plays: Vincent Delany’s The Art of Bad Men was not just well-written, but well-produced by MAP Theatre and Kelly Kitchens. My Dear Miss Chancellor by Caitlin Gilman was a tour-de-force of Victorian fencers with an extra dose of charming by Sophia Franzella, at Annex Theatre. Steve Lyons brought The Ghosts of Tonkin here from Bellingham Theatre Works with a fascinating look at the Vietnam War. Maggie Lee helped us have more steampunk fun with The Tumbleweed Zephyr (and will continue her steam-streak in 2016) at Pork Filled Productions.

Shout outs also to two valiant efforts: Keiko Green’s Bunnies and Brandon Simmons’ Is She Dead Yet? both at Annex and which focused on challenging themes.

Best Other Larger Theater Shows: The production that lasts and lasts in my memory this year is Taproot’s Best of Enemies. With a tight ensemble and the force of nature that is Faith Russell, that script is a winner. Also, The Flick from New Century Theatre Company, Bootycandy from Intiman, and the very, very, very funny Buyer & Cellar at the Rep make my list.

Best Other Smaller Theater Shows: Seattle Public Theater’s production of Bad Jews and the standout young actor Anna Kasabyan gets my vote as one of the best of the year. SPT also had a winner with Slowgirl. MUD at New City Theater was gritty and a great physical environment. The Tall Girls at Washington Ensemble Theatre also had literal grit and a great cast. Last but not least, Theatre22 and eSe Teatro had a winner with Water By the Spoonful, directed by talented Julie Beckman.

That’s a wrap! We’ll see ya in 2016!

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