This past year the Capital Region’s vibrant theater community produced some fine work and has made it a difficult task for the Gazette theater critics to narrow a list down to a “Top Ten.” Instead, listed below in alphabetical order by theater company are the shows that had us clapping the loudest.
-- Adirondack Theater Company’s sharp little production of “Filming O’Keeffe” earns kudos for intelligent staging, its stark and stunning set and some beautifully layered and memorable performances.
-- Albany Civic’s production of Irish writer John Keane’s “Big Maggie,” a domestic tale of pain, revenge and revulsion, was the right mix of fun and nasty. With a script full of wit and peppered with open emotional wounds, Christopher Foster’s taut direction and talented cast told the tale with relish and skill. Few of us will forget the quick snap of actress Kathleen Carey between Maggie “the Mom” and Maggie “the Monster” — by far the most unnerving and chilling performance of 2013.
-- Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass., continued to churn out some great theater with three productions landing in our year-end wrap. The company’s artistic director, Julianne Boyd, calls Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” one of her favorite comedies, and it was ours too. Her brash in-your-face production starring Christopher Innvar and Gretchen Eglof was a joy from parry to thrust. Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning funny and biting meditation on race, money, community and the American Dream, “Clybourne Park” was given a first-rate staging.
And popping out of the company’s Musical Theater Lab onto the newly christened St. Germain Stage was the new musical “Southern Comfort.” Based on an award-winning documentary surrounding a close-knit group of transgendered friends and their loved ones in rural Georgia, the production had audiences in tears and cheers often within seconds of one another. If the show moves into New York, it must take along Annette O’Toole, who was a special high point of this production. She should practice her Tony speech now — she was just that great.
-- What is it to be an artist? What is it to be a human being? Those stimulating questions were raised in Capital Rep’s stunning production of “Red.” John Logan’s play exploring a period in the life of painter Mark Rothko is not a strict biography and not an esoteric exposé on the artistic temperament. What it is is a wonderfully crafted evening of theater. Brilliantly designed and exquisitely presented by actors Kevin McGuire as Rothko and David Kenner as his protégé, it was one of the finest Cap Rep productions in years.
-- As for the tours, Proctors hosted a rocking, loud evening of “Green Day’s American Idiot” that was more than just entertaining; it proved seminal. And a bejeweled tour bus parked at Proctors unloaded a weeklong celebration of flash and funny with “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” The costumes were more than spectacular, as were the lights, choreography and the music.
-- Tom Stoppard’s “Heroes” at Shakespeare & Company offered a perfect mix of laughter, tears and intelligent banter (plus a beautiful set) and much to think about on the long drive home.
-- Schenectady Civic Players production of Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Three Tall Women” offered an exceptional evening of theater. Joe Fava led the estimable Cristine M. Loffredo, Stephanie G. Insogna and Joanne Westervelt in this odd but absorbing study of identity.
-- And finally strong applause and a standing “O” for The Performing Arts Center at SUNY Albany for the area premiere of “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit.” Colleges often take risks that other theaters will not, and this show was a well-measured risk that succeeded. An innovative and heartbreaking piece, as much diary entry as performance, it lingered with the viewer long after the show ended.
— Theater reviewers Paul Lamar, Carol King, Amy Durant and Matthew G. Moross