10. The Last Burlesque
Produced by Pinky Swear Productions
I’m partial to the work of prolific DC playwright Stephen Spotswood (I’ve produced and directed his work myself), and his story of an old-school burlesque troupe struggling to save their theatre features some of the sharpest characters and most layered storytelling of his career. It’s also super sexy. Amber McGinnis Jackson’s production was the strongest work yet from the Pinky Swear crew.
9. TETRISPlus – Arch8
Presented at The Kennedy Center
This dance theatre piece for young audiences had a blink-and-you-missed-it residency it at the Kennedy Center in April. Netherlands-based troupe Arch8 have mastered the art of audience interaction, delighting children and their parents alike by gradually making them part of the whirling, twirling, good-natured spectacle.
Produced by Happenstance Theater Company
An end-of-the-world clown show as bleak as the Apocalypse. Featuring Happenstance’s signature sharp physical comedy, and a great steampunk aesthetic, BrouHaHa is also really, really funny. The Jasters and their well-trained ensemble of clowns are a secret weapon of DC theatre. Part of Happenstance’s repertoire, BrouHaHa will be touring to Baltimore in May.
7. Once – National Tour
Presented at The Kennedy Center
As a giant fan of the indie movie musical it’s based on, I had high expectations for this touring production of the Broadway hit. It didn’t disappoint. Filled with beautiful Irish folk-rock and instrumentation played live by the ensemble, Once is entirely singular. (I still like the movie better, though.)
6. DC Dead: Mutation
Produced by DC Dead
Like all good game designers, the folks at DC Dead know that good design is iterative. This sequel to last year’s surprise interactive Halloween hit fixed many of the bugs of the original. Moving the action across the river to the Anacostia Playhouse and the surrounding neighborhood, the ongoing tale of a post-zombie apocalypse District had more room to breathe, resulting in an experience that was bigger, badder, and more fun. Can I get a “Hoorah!”?
Produced by Round House Theatre
British playwright Lucy Kirkwood had a heck of a year in DC. Her Tiananmen Square epic Chimerica was over at Studio in a great production that barely missed this list. But the more narrowly-focused raunchy workplace comedy NSFW is the sharper script. Meredith McDonough’s production at Round House had me laughing harder than any show this year.
4. Women Laughing Alone with Salad
Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
The most exciting new play to come out of Washington this year, and the one with the most mind-bending gear shift. Sheila Callaghan’s skewering of gender norms proved that with the right cast and creative team, great theatre can be made out of anything, even sexist stock photography.
3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Produced by Shakespeare Theatre Company
Bringing back much of the original cast from the 2012 run, Ethan McSweeney’s production was a sexy, geeky love letter to the theatre. While all the fairy action was great, McSweeny’s production became transcendent when it turned its attention to a marvelously haphazard cadre of players, led by brilliant Tom Alan Robbins as Nick Bottom. And thanks to Shakespeare’s Free for All Program, all that spectacle was available for the low, low price of zero dollars.
2. Murder Ballad
Produced by Studio Theatre
Studio gave the immersive theatre thing a whirl this year, turning their top-floor Stage 4 into one of DC’s best dive bars for David Muse’s production of Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash’s rock musical. Pre-show, I threw back drinks and chatted with dear friends and strangers alike, creating a sense of community that only increased the impact of the tragedy to come. Despite a wafer-thin plot, Murder Ballad had style and confidence to spare, with great vocal performances from Christine Dwyer and Anastacia McCleskey as romantic rivals headed towards a fatal confrontation. The most fun I had in a DC theater all year.
1. A View from the Bridge
The Young Vic
I arrived at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre at 2:57pm, and breathlessly snagged a rush seat for the 3:00 matinee. Best $20 I’ve ever spent. The sensation of Ivo van Hove’s production of the Arthur Miller domestic tragedy is akin to being tied to the railroad tracks. Brilliantly acted, designed and directed, it feels like all of theatre history distilled into something thrillingly new. You’ve got ‘till February to get to New York and see for yourself. Try not to cut it as close as I did.