One of the pleasures in compiling a “Best of Theater” list is the chance to revisit those shows that managed to capture the magic — the moments where the story, setting and actors perfectly jell, transporting one effortlessly into another place and time.
The flip side is the misery when you can’t list them all because you don’t have the space. Area theater companies did some outstanding work this past year and have made it difficult for the Gazette theater critics (Paul Lamar, Carol King, Amy Durant and Matthew Morross) to narrow the listing to 10. Simply put, we couldn’t. So below, in alphabetical order by theater company, are our edited picks.
Albany Civic Theater provided a winning production of Neil LaBute’s dive into murky moral ethos with“The Shape of Things,” astutely directed by Aaron Holbriter and well-performed by its cast of four. The result was disturbing but endlessly thought-provoking, providing a spirited and heated discussion on the way home.
Year in Review 2012
Barrington Stage Company’s riveting revival of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” was a summer season standout. Director Julianne Boyd and her crackerjack team created a magnificent production of a classic play whose lessons, sadly, still need to be taught.
Berkshire Theatre Festival’s production of William Donnelly’s quirky and existential “Homestead Crossing” may have struck some as Albee-lite, but it proved a clever exploration of stalled marriage and the questions inertia raises.
C-R Productions at Cohoes Music Hall may have faced a fiscal cliff, but they still managed to keep the quality shows coming. Two ranked among this year’s best — the recent joyous and sublimely old-fashioned “Hello Dolly!” and last February a tremendous treatment of “The Pirates of Penzance.” Replete with stunning costumes by Karin Mason, a pop-up book set by Matthew J. Fick, and a dream cast that sang and acted with panache, this revival of the Gilbert & Sullivan favorite was exceptional.
Curtain Call Theatre in Latham continued its welcome mission to present regional premieres of new plays, scoring a major success with Michael Hollinger’s “Opus.” A remarkable cast of five local actors with director Barbara Richards took this crackling good script about a string quartet in crisis and made it soar. Richards also shepherded a solid production of Matthew Lopez’s searing Civil War drama “The Whipping Man” (co-directed by Curtain Call’s artistic director Carol Max). Featuring outstanding performances by Emmett Ferris and Paul Dederick, this difficult drama packed a punch that still lingers. And speaking of powerful performances, Kris Anderson and Johanna Palladino in “Next Fall,” Geoffrey Nauffts’ modern tale of love and loss, anchored a stunning production under director Christopher Foster’s artful eye.
Foster also lent his directorial talents to the Schenectady Civic Players for a bang-up production of Tom Stoppard’s seldom-seen gem, “The Real Thing.” A perfect amalgam of design, direction and performance, Stoppard’s clever and moving script was given a magnificent production and proved a highlight of the Players’ 84th season.
The spotlight burned bright at Shakespeare & Company with Terry Teachout’s informative and entertaining visit with jazz great Louis Armstrong in “Satchmo at The Waldorf.” While the script narrowly dodged some mawkish moments, John Douglas Thompson’s towering performance was a master class in contrast and conflict.
StageWorks’ one-act fest, this year called “Play by Play: Rendezvous” was a delight, offering eight new plays and every one a winner. There were plenty of grins at The Theater Barn’s vibrant spoof of trailer park life fittingly titled “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” Some brilliant comic acting made all the clichés sparkle.
And over at the Williamstown Theatre Festival there was much to celebrate. In the slyly titled “Whaddablotclot,” playwright Katori Hall combined a most original plot device (a woman afflicted with Foreign Accent Syndrome) with refreshing comic dialogue and pop-culture madness, creating the most blissful comedy of the year.
And that other play at Williamstown last summer? The one with the dude from “The Hangover?” Bradley Cooper turned in one of the finest performances of last season in “The Elephant Man” by Bernard Pomerance. The play is a tightly woven parable on beauty, innocence and human dignity, and Cooper was explicitly wonderful. So was co-star Patricia Clarkson. Scott Ellis’ simple staging coupled with Timothy Mackabee’s and Clint Ramos’ austere and deeply visceral design, helped craft the experience into an unforgettable evening of theater. Rumor is it’s moving to New York City in the near future — don’t pass it by.
— Gazette theater reviewer Matthew Morross