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More of the Year's Best -- and Worst -- in Theater

Grant Henderson and John Middleton in <em>1984</em>.

Grant Henderson and John Middleton in 1984.

This week, I took a look at my 10 favorite shows from 2014. Here are a dozen shows that were nearly as worthy as those.

It was a strong year on the boards in the Twin Cities, as theaters large and small revisited classics or created ones of their own.

See also: Best Theater of 2014

1984, Theatre Pro Rata

A tense adaptation of George Orwell's signature novel that boiled the book down to its essence: Winston Smith, his interrogator, and whether or not two plus two equals five.

Alice in Wonderland, Flying Foot Forum

The cast of <em>The Hothouse</em>. (Front): Robert Dorfman and Sara Marsh. (Back) John Catron, Bill McCallum, and Mark Benninghofen,

The cast of The Hothouse. (Front): Robert Dorfman and Sara Marsh. (Back) John Catron, Bill McCallum, and Mark Benninghofen,

Every nook and cranny of St. Paul's Lehr Theater was used by director Joe Chvala as a hot ensemble of actors and dancers recreated Lewis Carroll's tale for all.

Frankenstein, Dangerous Productions: Red Red Meat

The highlight of this year's Twin Cities Horror Festival found plenty of fresh meat (and blood, lots and lots of blood) in Mary Shelley's novel.

The Hothouse, Dark & Stormy Productions

Nothing says Christmas like Harold Pinter and torture, especially when it comes wrapped up with a great cast, direction, and concept that saw the show played out in an echoing atrium. (Through January 4)

Jonah and the Whale, 7th House Theater

A simple and heartfelt gift from the young company, where the biblical story got moved to the Mississippi River in the 20th century and packed full of Americana music.

Killer Inside, Sandbox Theatre

So much could go wrong with a group-devised musical about a prison and the murderers who inhabited it over the past 100 years. Instead, we got a frightening, compelling, and at times brutal trip into the criminal justice system.

My Fair Lady, Guthrie Theater

Joe Dowling's final year at the helm started with this lush and charming production that, thankfully, didn't scrimp on the prickly heart of Professor Henry Higgins, and offered an appropriate ending that denied the easy, romantic finale of most versions.

The New Electric Ballroom, Frank Theater

Frank reentered the world of Enda Walsh for something that required perfect concentration from not just the actors, but the audience. Those willing to make the trip were rewarded with a strange and moving experience.

One Flea Spare, Theatre Coup d'Etat

The Soap Factory's cold concrete basement was the fitting host of this tale, about a power struggle in a home quarantined during a 17th-century plague outbreak in London.

Melissa Hart, Patrick Bailey, Virginia Burke, and Katherine Ferrand in <em>The New Electric Ballroom.</em>

Melissa Hart, Patrick Bailey, Virginia Burke, and Katherine Ferrand in The New Electric Ballroom.

Passing Strange, Mixed Blood Theater

Nathan Barlow led the way as an African-American rocker finding his way in 1970s Europe.

Seedfolks, Children's Theatre Company

Sonja Parks played every character with grace, wit, and humanity in this piece, where a simple community garden bridges the gap between generations, cultures, and classes.

Star City, Four Humors Theater

Sure, why not create a slapstick comedy about a Soviet space-program disaster in the 1960s? The Four Humors folks know comedy, and brought all of that experience to bear in one of the year's funniest shows.

There were also a number of touring shows that made strong impressions, such as intriguing musicals Once and Porgy and Bess, the Peter Pan prequel Peter and the Starcatcher, remixed legends in Tristan and Yuselt, and a fiery one-man show about the failing health care system, Mercy Killers.

The cast of <em>Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson.</em>

The cast of Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson.

Of course, not everything goes as planned in theater. Occasionally other elements can overcome the faults and produce a play that at least has something to recommend it (I'm looking at you, Motown: The Musical). These five shows failed in ways so that the talents involved -- and there are plenty of people involved below who have been on the lists above -- couldn't salvage a thing.

The five worst shows of the year:

33 Variations, Park Square Theatre

It's possible you could make a compelling show about Beethoven and a series of musical variations he wrote, but this isn't it. The confusing script wasn't aided by poor casting choices and flat performances.

Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, Minneapolis Musical Theater

Producing a script that is, at best, tone deaf about the history of Native Americans led to the surreal sight of protestors at City Center for the show's run at the New Century Theatre. The protests turned out to be far more interesting than anything happening onstage. Viewers could have led their own protests about the terrible script, poor music, and listless acting.

Freud's Last Session, Guthrie Theater

Fictional meetings between the famous (and not so famous) were all over the Guthrie late last winter. They ranged from the good (Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the White House) to the messy (The Mountaintop) to this, where Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis met during the Blitz in London for a talk on faith and religion. Mark St. Germain's script couldn't match the actual intellect of the pair, while the performances did little to help.

Hospital, Walker Art Center

The annual Out There Festival essentially comes with a "buyer beware" sticker. It is a collection of experimental theater, after all. This piece earns its spot because, apart from using a lot of video, it was a half-finished commission lacking any verve or insight, even when dealing with the always hot-button issue of health care.

Radio Man, History Theatre

Garrison Keillor got self-indulgent and produced a script that was exhausting to watch play out, no matter how hard the company worked to save it. You could learn more by listening to an average episode of A Prairie Home Companion -- or by watching Robert Altman's film.