Kate Sullivan's Top/Bottom Five for 1997
1. Quills, Eye of the Storm
Set designer Dean Holzman gave this show a dark, clever elegance, and Stephen D'Ambrose located the fractured humanity in his character, the Marquis DeSade. Directed by Casey Stangl (and written by Doug Wright), this show achieved all its goals: Besides commenting articulately on the dangers of censorship, it stood as a hunk of finely wrought theater.
2. Jar the Floor, Penumbra Theatre
Granted, this was a revival, like seemingly everything Penumbra's done of late. But not having seen it the first time, I didn't know what I was in for, and ended up getting socked in the gut by a tight female ensemble (directed by Bette Howard) and an unrelenting, tough script by Cheryl West.
3. The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Upstart Theatre
Craig Johnson culled a mostly tight, mesmerizing script from Pepys's lengthy Restoration-era journals and, through his winsome performance, crafted an uncanny time capsule. For a couple hours in the Bryant-Lake Bowl, the past was alive and winking back at us.
4. Blue Window/The Crackwalker, Hidden Theatre
I can't say anything nice about The Crackwalker's script (by Judith Thompson), but Hidden Theatre's treatment was a triumph. Blue Window (by Craig Lucas) was less challenging in its subject matter but far more sophisticated, delving delicately into the silences between its characters. And Annelise Christ deserves real recognition for her role as Libby, the reluctant hostess.
5. Tie: Knock Knock, the Burning House Group/Bus Stop, Jungle Theater
Randal Berger was something of a revelation for me in Burning House Group's slapstick production of Jules Feiffer's rarely performed script. The whole cartoonish package was a wonderful jumble (and I loved the clunky hook-and-harness mechanism that lifted Joan of Arc in the air for her finale--talk about showing the strings!).
Bain Boehlke's set for Bus Stop was almost excessively realistic, and the company found just the right cadences for this story about a group of lonely people snowed in overnight at a diner. A Midwestern story told by Midwesterners, pitch-perfect.
1. Death of a Pickle King, the Catchgate Group
2. Dear James, Lyric Theatre
Dreadful blocking; weird, unneeded characters; bad fake-Irish accents; a mess of a script.
3. You Can't Take It With You, Guthrie Theater
A chestnut on par with Arsenic and Old Lace. Onstage at the Guthrie. And pretty poorly acted, to top it off.
4. O Pioneers!, Great American History Theatre
Either you know how to do a Swedish accent or you don't: There is no middle ground. This spare production evoked none of the riches in Willa Cather's prose, and included harsh, dissonant live music to further jar the ear.
5. Cinemamerica, Theatre de la Jeune Lune
In fact, this piece contained my favorite theatrical moment of the year: Barbra Berlovitz Desbois's transcendent, endless soliloquy (written by Steve Epp) about nursing Abe Lincoln to his death; at its heart, there was a moment of suspended light, when two boys juggled fire and the gathered mourners jumped into the air to the beat of a ragtime tango. Other than that, one might kindly say that the show did not fulfill its potential.
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