Shortly after my twins (now three and a half) were born, I approached DCTS about writing for the site. Since I had been so closely associated with WSC Avant Bard and a few other local companies, I never wanted any reader to perceive a conflict of interest, so I requested that I focus on features. The occasional review I might write would fall into one of two categories.
The first would be touring productions, that have no connection to the indigenous community. The very occasional pinch-hit fill-in, or covering of a Fringe show (when all DCTS hands are on deck), or unexpected involvement of a local artist on a tour notwithstanding, I haven’t reviewed local artists.
I haven’t reviewed locals, that is, with the exception of productions falling into the second category: theatre for young audiences. As mentioned above, I know — quite intimately — a couple of people, namely my twins Aksel and Ivona, who have encouraged me to make a blanket exception for work aimed at younger theatregoers.
As others with small children know, parenthood can severely curtail one’s out-of-house activities. In fact, one reason I approached DCTS was because I knew that I could conduct many interviews and do much writing while at home. But even taking that into account, boy, I used to see so much more theatre than I do these days.
A conundrum facing theatre practitioners as they decide what to see during the few opportunities afforded a working actor is whether you see the things you really, really want to see or, instead, support your friends by making it a priority to see what they are working on, even if it’s a play that you’ve seen enough or one that you are rather sure won’t interest you much. We all attempt to strike a balance, and frequently one production fits both bills, but inevitably we regret missing certain things that quite intrigue us and end up seeing things we go to only out of obligation. (And, of course, we treasure the times when our expectations are thwarted and the piece we resisted seeing ends up being marvelous.)
I also am a bit allergic to the concept of ranking artistic accomplishment, whether through awards systems or Top 10 lists, which inevitably, in my view, end up being exclusionary and seeming somewhat arbitrary. Meanwhile, the exponential growth of theatre being presented in this city makes it impossible for anyone to have seen enough to be able to stake a claim toward any kind of comprehensive pool from which to acclaim the best or the top.
All of this is background as to why I balked at participating in a year’s-end list series for DCTS. I thought about breaking down my artificial wall and allowing myself to include the work of friends, acquaintances, and potential future collaborators. In the end, I decided to stick to out-of-town fare and to work I saw with my family.
I also thought I’d not call it the tops, or even get to ten, or comb through writings and notes from the year in the hope of being comprehensive, but instead to focus on five things that immediately stuck out in my mind because they have stayed with me so vividly.
With that, I give you my
Necessarily Arbitrary Topless List of Wonderfully Indelible Memories Compiled by an Erstwhile Obsessive Theatregoer Turned Stay-at-Home Scribe Most of Which You Won’t Find on Other Lists and In No Particular Order:
Produced by Arts on the Horizon
Blossom’s Rainbow was produced by Arts on the Horizon, a local company that serves audiences from zero to six. If that sounds like a daunting, even impossible, mission, check out their work and be surprised. I’ve seen a few of their shows, and have seen kids only weeks old in the audience. The work is generally non-verbal and timed well so that it doesn’t strain the attention spans of early audiences. Blossom’s Rainbow, with its Japanese aesthetic, stands out amid their reliably wonderful work as a particularly exquisite experience, accessible in a satisfying way to adults, and not only for the joy they will take as they watch their children become engaged in the world of the piece before, during, and after. (The company routinely begins and ends with an interactive audience experience which surrounds the play proper.)
Tammy Faye’s Final Audition
Presented at Capital Fringe, 2015
Tammy Faye’s Final Audition was one of those pieces that plays the festival circuit, and included our Capital Fringe Festival among its stops. Many Fringe-y shows trade on the more outlandish figures in our popular culture to gain attention and to milk cheap laughs, but this piece was no mere lampoon. It was a thoughtful, deep, and ultimately moving portrait of a complex and compelling woman, anchored by a wonderful lead performance. I will remember it as one of the stand-out biographical narratives, stage or film, that I’ve seen.
Produced by Happenstance Theater
BrouHaHa, by Happenstance Theater, was something else we took the kids to, and was something else that was a part of Capital Fringe Festival, and was — something else, in the good sense of the phrase. It is another work that engaged and delighted audiences of all ages. The specter of Samuel Beckett hovered over the piece as the work’s post-apocalyptic landscape added a poignancy that undergirded the genuinely sweet clowning.
Produced by The National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company
Presented by Shakespeare Theatre Company
Dunsinane by David Greig was a sequel to Macbeth — and, incidentally, the best play I’ve seen about recent U.S. foreign policy. It was a fascinating dissection of that perennial historical dynamic, the quagmire. “You’re a good man. It might have been better if you weren’t. There might have been less blood.”
Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit, national tour
Presented at The National Theatre
And now, bear with me as I reveal myself a fanboy. I saw a few legendary stars over the last year. It was my fifth time seeing Angela Lansbury on stage, and if her Madame Arcati didn’t surpass my memories of her Mama Rose or her Mrs. Lovett (I saw her in each twice), it was a remarkably charming turn that I wouldn’t have missed.
Dame Edne’s Glorious Goodbye
Presented at The National Theatre
And the farewell tour of the one and only Dame Edna Everage capped the uproarious laughter on a touching note when her creator-inhabiter Barry Humphries took the stage out of drag to say goodbye in his own voice.
The Art House
But from among the star turns, for me it was a singular thrill to see the incomparable Marilyn Maye. Her voice, her musicianship astonish. In Billy Stritch, she has found the partner destined for her, the Wally Harper to her Barbara Cook. Stritch led a small combo that produced a big, rich, swinging sound and his voice blended wonderfully with hers on a couple of duets. Maye’s banter was as sharp and as delightful and as hilarious as that of your favorite drag queen. The set was eclectic and engaging and full of surprises.
The star-studded audience (which included Bob Mackie, the Calloway sisters, Nancy Dussault) was lifted rapturously to our feet so often that I lost count. Her phrasing, the unexpected places she took her voice…and the high kicks — 87, she proved, is the new 50. If you ever get a chance to see her live, give yourself a treat.
I should here admit that I saw her not in our town, but in Provincetown. However, there was a lesson for me. Two. One is: wherever you go, check out what’s playing locally. (To which many readers will react by saying, “Duh.”)
Another is: I’ve grown to like show music more when it is presented in a jazz-inflected idiom. Most cabaret acts have a small combo and the songs have a club vibe more than that of a big Broadway show. It gave me a taste for more, and so I’ve caught a couple of the shows in Kennedy Center’s Barbara Cook Spotlight series (Terri White, Randy Graff), and those nights have been greatly satisfying. And memorable.
Now I’ll end and head up to the attic. If I dig around long enough, I bet I can find (it was sometime during the 90s) when I acted in or directed things that populated both Bob’s and Trey’s Ten Best and Ten Worst lists in the same CityPaper year-end issue, a quad-fecta of sorts.
Did that happen, or do I just remember it having happened?
Those were the days, my friend …
And with this we end our Best series for 2015. To borrow a phrase, it’s been a glorious goodbye.