It wasn't all aesthetic revelation. I staggered through deep snow in the side streets behind Vineland Place to avoid paying the Guthrie's parking fee, nearly giving up on seeing a great production of Oedipus (see below). I sweated like a pack animal in a devilishly sweltering theater during the Fringe, wondering if I was going to succumb. I saw some crappy plays. I wandered into the Red Eye on a last-minute whim one Sunday and saw one of the best shows of the year (see below again.)
And last week I started jotting down shows that might qualify for the 2005 Top 10. Easy enough, one would think, since the productions that stick in the mind and impress with an ineffable combination of craft and insight are rare things indeed. My initial list of entirely viable candidates totaled 24. Not bad! In fact, whittling down the candidates was fairly excruciating. I won't pretend that this Top 10 represents anything more than the definitive take on the subject by one enormously insightful man--wait, that's not what I meant to say at all, the list is more an ephemeral snapshot, and sincerely, I had to leave some gems off the all too short list that follows, and undoubtedly missed a few Top 10-worthy productions.
Now on with the all too short list, beginning with number 10 and working, with appropriate drama (and inevitability, given the presence of two Greek tragedies) toward number one.
10. THE SEA WOLF
My interaction with Jack London's fiction took a turn for the queasy in college, when my leftist professors had me read London's "adult" work, which handled ideas like a food processor handles leafy greens. But the guy could write a really good adventure, and this handling of the horrible captain Wolf Larsen's saga was as smart and entertaining as anything I saw last year. Bob Malos reeked of malicious charisma in the lead, and Gregg Bush convincingly quaked as involuntary crewman Humphrey Van Weyden. To say that it was an unmitigated blast is to take nothing away from the quality and depth of this original Hardcover adaptation. Yar, indeed.
9. AMERICAN SUBLIME
at Gallery Atitlan
Staged at Gallery Atitlan in downtown Minneapolis, at floor level, this premiere Patty Lynch play took on paranoia and zealotry in post-9/11 America with maximum intensity and minimal fireworks. Terry Hempleman and Amy McDonald portrayed a couple who wander into a museum gallery and begin playing obscure mind games with a guard (Casey Grieg). They lay into him, making a case for the crappiness of his existence, then begin to groom him for their indistinct antiterrorist cause. Several '05 productions mined the (hopefully) temporary madness of the War on Terror; this Brian Goranson-directed show did so with police-state-like authority.
8. PATTY RED PANTS
The Red Eye
This staging of Trista Baldwin's new play was the kind of show that moved along pleasantly, leaving a nice residue of memory, and then proceeded to bubble up from the unconscious with regularity in the months to come. Ariel Dumas and Emily Gunyou played a couple of teenage girls tripping back and forth in time while rendering the Big Bad Wolf mythos in terms of high school rebellion and the awesome vistas of early sexuality. Against gorgeous projected backdrops, the action unfolded like a dream in which several corners of the blanket of ideas were smoothed and tucked. And how often does that happen?
7. STAGE DIRECTIONS
Here was a case of a tight script meeting solid direction (by Lou Bellamy) and a cast that filled the room with tension, humor, and a dogged aversion to cliché. Jay Jones played Rod, a macho straight actor who lands a role in a play. It was a good part and he needed it, but he blanched in rehearsals when it came time for a stage kiss with Gary (Desmond Bing). James Craven played the director, whose answer to the problem was an artistically unsatisfying cave-in. While the problem threatened to blow the production apart, the actors stormed around the theater, making the audience feel as though they were getting a sneak peek at a real-life artistic meltdown. The work played around with homophobia while providing character studies that transcended politics and worked immensely well as sheer drama.
6. THE STRONG AND CAPABLE SHOULDERS OF THE STUDENT WHEN HE DREAMS
Writer and director Jim Bovino's abstract meditation on the notion of adult futility following the promise of youth, only more fun than that sounds. Barbara Meyer inaugurated things with a doleful monologue, delivered from inside a bucket, during which she dropped stones marking the passage of time (get it?). Then a scenario unfolded in which Don Mabley-Allen endured many travails at a school for the (metaphysically, and otherwise) blind. Cherri Macht as a professor laid out hard lessons on impossibility and the void, then Bovino intervened as the school's director after spending the evening perched 20 feet over the stage. We were left chastened by the ontological realities we face (or don't).
5. TAKE ME OUT
Mixed Blood Theatre
Richard Greenberg's 2002 play about a baseball star announcing his homosexuality midseason saw a tight and funny regional premiere at Mixed Blood. Lindsay Smiling played Darren Lemming, the imperious athlete so sure of his innate superiority that he cares nothing for any fallout from his announcement (and wouldn't it be heart-thumpingly refreshing if it really happened?). This production shone for its easygoing depiction of clubhouse life, with Sean Dooley as the resident clubhouse brainiac (i.e., with legitimate pretensions to middlebrow status) who stands by his buddy in his time of strife. And, yes, this was the show that featured a Full Monty shower scene. The things they do for art.