Anne Ursu's Top Five/Bottom Five for 1998
1. The Temp, Brian Kelly and Todd Price
No show this year contained such rampant creativity, and none provided as engrossing a theatrical experience as Kelly and Price's musical comedy. The cast made sweet love to the gods of irony. Michael Ritchie delivered a sublime performance as a nitwit turned phantom of the opera, and Charle Rollings achieved the perfect marriage of actor and character in the aw-shucks role of young Scooter.
2. Why We Have a Body/Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, Outward Spiral Theatre Company
Whatever the good folk at Outward Spiral have been putting in their water this year, we'd like everyone to have some. In April, director Suzy Messerole wove a challenging Claire Chafee script (Why We Have a Body) into a lovely, elliptical fable about the lesbian brain, petty crime, and feminist nightmares. In October, director Timothy Lee led standout actors Ryan Jensen and Jodi Kellogg in Brad Fraser's psychodrama about love and serial killers. Lee's eerie atmospherics still linger in my head.
3. How I Learned to Drive, Eye of the Storm
Director Casey Stangl made Paula Vogel's disturbing Pulitzer Prize-winning script even better with just the right theatrical tricks. An ensemble led by Larissa Kokernot, Tom Poole, and Beth Gilleland didn't hurt.
4. Cyrano, Theatre de la Jeune Lune
Granted, on its own this is a pretty good play, but the touch of the Lunies brought magic to the script. Dominique Serrand summoned the tragic hero with the tilt of his head, while director Barbra Berlovitz conjured the ghosts of romanticism with every detail. Epic, operatic, and gorgeous.
5. Killers, Loring Playhouse
The best of the "stage noir" bunch--and there were a lot of them. Directed by Jason MacLean, the Loring's production of John Olive's script featured the coolest, tightest production aesthetic of the year. Lola Lesheim gave another in a series of What-Is-She-Doing-in-This-Town performances as the leggy landlady who offers tenants a new way to pay the rent.
Honorable Mention: The Walleye Kid (Theater Mu); Measure for Measure (Ten Thousand Things); Dial 'M' for Murder (Jungle Theater); Four Stories (Upstart Theatre); The Day the Bronx Died (Penumbra Theatre); The Inner World (Pangea World Theater).
1. Queen, Theatre de la Jeune Lune
As always, there was a lot that worked in Jeune Lune's fantasia about Queen Lizzie and the ridiculous state of the monarchy. And we know this company is capable of tremendous originality. Instead, they rely on all the same old pooh and anal-sex jokes to get laughs. The play seemed to be a collection of sketches with begrudging efforts toward transitions. Are they so captivated with their own brilliance that they failed to look at the experience of their audience? Get thee to a dramaturg...
2. Brigadoon (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres)
This postwar sap and schmaltz made for an interminable evening.
3. Gene Pool (Mixed Blood Theatre)
When Sally Wingert and Marquetta Senters can't save a comedy, something has gone horribly awry. Playwright Christi Stewart-Brown seemingly tried to craft a Neil Simon play--with Lesbians!--a questionable project that resulted in a thoroughly unfunny sitcom with Reagan-era gender politics.
4. The Waltz of the Toreadors (Park Square Theatre)
Barbara Kingsley's magnificent performance could not compensate for an utterly confused production style. Park Square seemingly tried to fashion this Anouilh script into a good ol' American tragicomedy. As a result the play failed to be either tragic or comic. Or even interesting.
5. Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde (Guthrie Lab)
First things first: Richard Iglewski gave one of the performances of the year as Wilde--but without him, this production would have been nothing. The script, based on written documents, needs an intimate, passionate staging to let the audience in; otherwise, we feel like we're watching a textbook. In the Lab's production, our perspective is more that of spectators at a football game instead of involved members of a jury.
Dishonorable Mention: Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (Ordway Music Theatre); A Delicate Balance (Theatre in the Round); The Sunshine Boys (Amusement Company); The First Time Something Happened (Ice Age Theater); Jemmy, (Lyric Theatre).
Carolyn Petrie's Top Five/Bottom Five for 1998
2. Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, Guthrie Lab
3. Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Hidden Theatre
4. Cyrano, Theatre de la Jeune Lune
5. How I Learned to Drive, Eye of the Storm
1. Molly Sweeney, Guthrie Lab
2. Red Harvest, Theatre de la Jeune Lune
3. Killers, Loring Playhouse
4. Playland, Pangea World Theater
5. The Cryptogram, Park Square Theatre
(Carolyn Petrie is the editor of the Twin Cities Revue)
John Townsend's Top Five/Bottom Five for 1998
1. Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, Outward Spiral
2. The Playboy of the Western World, Guthrie Theater
3. The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, Pillsbury House Theatre
4. Fairy Tales, Minneapolis Actors' Theatre
5. Notes on the Uncertainty Principle, Cheap Theatre
1. The Shoulder, Walker Art Center's "Out There" Series
2. Mr. Xmas, Eye of the Storm
3. The Lady from the Sea, 15 Head
4. Gene Pool, Mixed Blood Theatre
5. A Month in the Country, Guthrie Theater
(John Townsend is the theater critic forLavender magazine)