It’s dlevy!: David’s Favorite 2014 Theater

Originally published on itsdlevy.net.

It looks like I’ve seen 96 shows (not including cabarets) in 2014. It didn’t make sense to me to try to make a top-ten list, but I did go through an highlight my favorites, so here they are, in the order I saw them:

  1. Almost Maine, Transport Group
    I didn’t expect much from this production. All I knew going in was that the show is one of the most produced in America’s high schools, so I expected something safe and middle of the road. What I got was something charming and magical.
  2. The Few, Rattlestick
    My introduction to Samuel D. Hunter showed me why he is a playwright so many of my friends were talking about — and why later this year he was awarded a McArthur “Genius” Grant. The show took a very specific and quirky situation and told a story that was intensely affecting and universal.
  3. The Winter’s Tale, The Public Theater
    The Public Works program features director Lear deBessonet fashioning new musical versions of Shakespeare’s plays (with music by Todd Almond) to be performed by a cast of professionals and amateurs, including hundreds of New Yorkers from community groups drawn from all five boroughs. The show is equal parts pageant and Shakespeare, but there is so much joy both on stage and in the audience that it’s hard to argue with the dramaturgical choices. I can’t wait to see which play they tackle next year.
  4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Broadway
    I’m a sucker for shows that embrace their theatricality, telling a story in a way that can only be done in the theater, so I was thrilled to see this one twice. I can’t imagine anyone besting Alex Sharp in this year’s Tony Award race for Best Actor, but there’s still half-a-season to come.
  5. Scenes from a Marriage, New York Theatre Workshop
    Ivo van Hove gets spoken of in shorthand as a minimalist director, and while that’s true, it doesn’t convey how creative and daring he is. He’s one of the best conceptual directors I’ve encountered, and he’s just as good guiding his actors in their performances. I won’t miss any future opportunities to see his work.
  6. You Can’t Take It With You, Broadway/Roundabout
    I went expecting a museum-piece take on a hoary classic and instead was treated to a hilarious demonstration of where contemporary American comedy got its start.
  7. Disgraced, Broadway/Lincoln Center
    Although this play at times privileges ideas over storytelling, I was totally in its grip from start to finish. Ayad Akhtar is either fearlessly or recklessly provocative, depending on your perspective, but I was grateful to be provoked.
  8. Angles in America, BAM
    Another Ivo van Hove entry on the list. When I bought tickets to this marathon of both halves of Tony Kushner’s epic, I didn’t know it would be performed entirely in Dutch — or cut to make it fit into five-ish hours. But thanks to van Hove’s brilliance, the language barrier wasn’t a problem (and maybe even added to the experience), and the cuts were smart, even when they were visible. Nothing quite proves a classic’s status like seeing a totally different take that both highlights what works and uncovers new textures in a play you know well.
  9. The Oldest Boy, Lincoln Center
    Among one set of my friends, Sarah Ruhl is about as beloved as Neil LaBute is among another set, which is to say, not at all. I had never seen one of her plays before this, though, and I have to say, I was totally won over. Celia Keenan-Bolger’s central performance proved that she can do a lot more than play quirky children, and I look forward to seeing more great things from her.
  10. pool (no water), One Year Lease (Barrow Street)
    Everything I said about theatricality in my blurb about Curious Incident applies here and then some. This play by Mark Ravenhill, which tells a story about what happens to a group of artists when one of them finds success, was presented as something between a group monologue and a dance piece, with the performers sometimes acting as characters, sometimes as storytellers, sometimes as dancers, and the result was unlike anything I’ve seen before. Incidentally, Ravenhill’s play Shopping and Fucking was one of the first avant garde off-Broadway plays I ever saw when I caught it at New York Theatre Workshop during a spring break trip during college. (I chose it entirely because it was playing at NYTW, “where Rent started,” and boy was it different from Rent.)
  11. The Invisible Hand, New York Theatre Workshop
    Speaking of NYTW, they make a repeat appearance on this list with Ayad Akhtar’s new play about the ethics and mechanics of terrorism and capitalism. I’ve seen three Akhtar plays this year (the third was The Who and The What at LCT3), and this one was a major leap forward in his dramaturgical development. It packs a lot of economic theory into the play in order to make its points, but it does so without becoming didactic. The play raises challenging questions that we have only begun to unpack as a society, and it’s an important conversation starter.
  12. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Broadway
    I wasn’t sure this show, which I loved so much in its original incarnation and even more as a film, would translate to Broadway, but I needn’t have been afraid. If anything, it has benefitted from how far the conversation about gender has come in the years since it originally hit New York. I can’t wait to go back and see it again.
  13. Honeymoon in Vegas, Broadway
    I just caught a preview of this new Jason Robert Brown musical yesterday, and I was delighted to see it’s a tuneful, entertaining, old-fashioned musical. It may not have big things to say, but it left me smiling and humming, and it achieves exactly what it sets out to do. I’ve had a hard time getting excited about musicals this year, and I’m thrilled to have found a new show I can wholeheartedly recommend to visitors when they ask me what they should see.

I want to throw in an honorable mention for Jan Maxwell’s performance in City of Conversation. I didn’t care much for the play, but I was transfixed by what Jan was doing on stage, and I can’t remember ever leaping to my feet so enthusiastically for one actress.

Honorable mentions to shows I saw the first time in previous years but loved enough to see again this year: Here Lies Love, Pippin, and Newsies.

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