The Year in Theater

2. Your Project, Should You Choose to Accept It

What do the following plays have in common: Illusion Theater's The Laramie Project, Hidden Theatre's The Sparrow Project, Mama Mosaic's The Menstruation Project, the independently produced The Brontë Project, a Walker Art Center-commissioned multidisciplinary show titled Journey/Sanctuary (The Gospel Project) and a theater company named Balance Theatre Project? (If you don't have an answer yet, here's one last clue: The working title for 15 Head's Red/Instructions to Follow was The Fairy Tale Project.)

While I realize that including the word project in your show's title suggests that it is experimental and collaborative, to these ears it invokes an aesthetic of puttering--like a weekend craft project or a high school science project. As a result, I am never satisfied at these plays unless I see a Bunsen burner and some seed art.

3. Lesbian Liplock Syndrome

Two examples don't necessarily point to a trend. But how odd is it that, within a few months of each other, Eye of the Storm produced Stop Kiss and Outward Spiral produced David's Redhaired Death, both of which prominently feature lesbian couples whose first kiss is immediately interrupted by a horrific tragedy? Can't lesbians just get a little time to snog onstage anymore? Come on, people, let them canoodle a little before the tragedy strikes.

4. Your Cellular Phone May Not Give You Brain Cancer, But It May Lead to Your Death Nonetheless

There's one thing that drives me to distraction every year, and this year the subject is cellular phones. Yes, they should be turned off before a play starts. Yes, it's annoying when they aren't and a show is interrupted by the little bastards chirping away in somebody's pocket. But--and I can't stress this enough--it is equally distracting and annoying to have the audience then discuss the subject for the next ten minutes in hushed, angry tones.

5. I Hate Hamlet

Between the Theatre de la Jeune Lune's production (moody), the Simon Russell Beale touring production (rushed and disappointing), the Theater of Happiness production (with a teenage girl in the lead role), and the half dozen or so local college productions (plus two productions of Heiner Müller's Euroradical retelling, Hamletmachine), I am ready to rise from my seat the next time the Mad Dane starts babbling about Yorick and bury him in the earth right alongside that wretched skull. Alas, poor Hamlet. I knew him a little too well....

 

Best Remembered

1. AMERICAN SAFARI
MARGOLIS BROWN COMPANY

Margolis Brown's lone production this year was intended to be an easily portable, one-man showcase for company cofounder Tony Brown, but it wound up being something grander and wilder. The show included such unexpected properties as a spinning motorized toy car, ethereal projections (including an image of Brown as an intrusive telemarketer appearing uninvited at a picnic, right in the hibachi), and enormous fans. This last was used to blow Brown out of his deck chair, defying his desire for a little respite with his newspaper. The whole of American Safari similarly made a mess of domestic quietude. Brown's malfunctioning world contained menacing oddities: a malfunctioning animatronic exhibit that forewarned of atomic warfare and a fashionably dressed store mannequin that shunned her suitor on a date. If this movement-theater creation ended up being bigger than expected, it is because its conception was so large: How do you make a small play out of the vast, unstable landscape that is the American suburbs?

2. ANGELS IN AMERICA PART 2: PERESTROIKA
PILLSBURY HOUSE THEATER

Part two of Tony Kushner's "gay fantasia on national themes" was a notable improvement over the Pillsbury House Theater's first try at the material a year previously with part one--and their first try was nothing to sneeze at. This production carried over the best elements from their first staging, including Steve Hendrickson's feral performance as Roy Cohn and Blayne Lemke's fragile, beatific turn as Prior Walter. It also recast a few of the roles, most notably adding Carolyn Pool and Djola Branner, who are both fine performers. So here we had a Pulitzer Prize-winning play with a first-class cast, and the results, inexplicably, played to nearly empty audiences. With this in mind, let me offer the following brief reminder: Once these plays close, they close forever, folks--you can't pick them up on video. Now go stand in the corner for 15 minutes and think hard about what you missed.

3. CHÉRI
15 HEAD: A THEATRE LAB

While the productions at 15 Head: A Theatre Lab tend toward both sumptuousness and incomprehensibility, the company's production of Chéri benefited from an alteration to their usual process. Adding to the actor-based improvisations that form the core of any 15 Head project, the troupe also produced an earlier version of the play at Sonoma State University. This additional workshopping gave real polish to this adaptation of Colette's 1920 novel. Director Julia Fischer, in her last outing with the company she helped form, sketched this story of the mercurial relationship between a Parisian popinjay and an older courtesan in bold, clear lines. At its best, the play was startling in its intimacy, such as in a scene where the two lovers, played by actors Jim Bovino and Jaidee Forman, grappled with each other on a tilting platform, their every intimate gasp caught and amplified by body microphones. At its worst, the play was...well, sumptuous

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