I saw 80 theatrical productions in 2015—that includes plays and musicals, but not concerts, operas or ballets. That’s a respectable number, yes? A number of critics and bloggers have been assembling their Top 10 lists, so I thought I’d do the same. These are in chronological order.
King Hedley II by August Wilson — Arena Stage
I’m a little late coming to the works of August Wilson, but I’ve decided that, in addition to seeing all 38 plays in the Shakespeare canon, I want to see all ten of Wilson’s American Century cycle. I saw The Piano Lesson at Olney last year, and two this year (both on this list). The production in Arena’s Fichandler was intense and gripping.
Passion Play by Sarah Ruhl — Forum Theatre
Passion Play played in DC several years ago, but I didn’t get around to seeing it. It is structured as a set of variations: in each of it’s three acts, some troupe in a different era is staging a passion play. There are parallels and contrasts, as the same cast shifts characters from one time period to another.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike by Christopher Durang — Arena Stage
I’ve seen a fair number of Chekhov plays, and I’ve seen Aaron Posner’s riffs on The Seagull (Stupid Fucking Bird) and Uncle Vanya (Life Sucks), so Durang’s hommage seemed like fun. Was it ever. The cast was absolutely brilliant. I saw it again in late summer at The Cape Playhouse, and I didn’t think that production’s Cassandra and Spike were quite up to the level of their Arena counterparts.
The Fire and The Rain by Girish Karnad — Constellation Theatre Company
Constellation’s forte is the epic play, and Karnad’s adaptation of an episode from the Mahabharata certainly fits the bill. Dallas Tolentino gave a breathtakingly athletic performance as Arvasu, and the rain which Indra sends at the end of the play to end the seven–year drought was magical and cathartic.
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard — Shakespeare Theatre Company
This was actually a staged reading sponsored jointly by STC’s Education branch and the National Academy of Sciences (in whose auditorium the reading took place). An all–star cast presented a masterful performance of Stoppard’s complex play. It’s mind–boggling that Stoppard isn’t a native speaker of English.
The Producers by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan — Olney Theatre Center
God, what fun. Comedy doesn’t get much better than this. Olney pulled out all the stops for this one.
One In The Chamber by Marja-Lewis Ryan — Forum Theatre
This was a special Forum production, taking place in the Mead Theatre Lab @ Flashpoint, rather than at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre. The Mead is tiny: there can’t have been more than 50 people in the audience, and the action took place in a cramped bit of floor space. The performances were outstanding all round, but especially Adrienne Nelson as the mother, and Noah Chiet as Adam, the teenager who accidentally shot and killed his little brother. It’s a searing, gut–wrenching play, which got as good a production as anyone could want.
Salomé by Yaël Farber — Shakespeare Theatre Company
Billed as an “adaptation”, this play was even less closely tied to Oscar Wilde’s version than Posner’s plays were to Chekhov. It’s a complete re-imagination of the story (which, in the Biblical original, doesn’t actually give a name to the title character). Farber’s version is told from Salomé’s point of view, and it gives a credible, positive motivation for Salomé’s peculiar demand for the head of John the Baptist.
Fences by August Wilson — Everyman Theatre
This was my first visit to Everyman Theatre in Baltimore, and it was an incredible production. Troy Maxson is a frustrating protagonist: he’s a generally good man, with a major, alienating flaw—which he embraces as much as his good side. And like King Hedley II, this play has a touch of magical realism (it’s stronger in this play), something that probably contributes to my sister’s lack of interest in Wilson’s work.
No Exit by Jean–Paul Sartre — Nu Sass
This was the first Nu Sass production I’ve seen, and it was intense. Performed in the tiny Chaos on F space—basically the second-story front room of a converted row house—, this takes the prize for smallest space. There were about twenty-five folding chairs surrounding three sides of a tiny performing space. (Actually, it was probably bigger than the Mead Theatre Lab, both in terms of the actual room and the performing area, but the Mead Theatre Lab crammed in more seats at the expense of the stage.) I remember this play from high school (having participated in a staged reading of some sort), but I had never seen it performed.
Kid Victory by John Kander and Greg Pierce — Signature Theatre Company
Merchant of Venice (Original Pronunciation) by William Shakespeare — Baltimore Shakespeare Factory
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard — Folger Theatre
Jumpers for Goalposts by Ed Sheeran — Studio Theatre
Dear Evan Hansen by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul — Arena Stage
Dogfight by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul — Keegan Theatre
Friendship Betrayed by María de Zayas y Sotomayor — WSC Avant Bard
Bad Dogby Jennifer Hoppe-House — Olney Theatre Center
Avenue Q by Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx — Constellation Theatre Company
Holiday Memories by Truman Capote (adapted by Russell Vandenbroucke) — WSC Avant Bard