The year in theater, part one: 13 favorites

Dieter Bierbrauer in Company.
Dieter Bierbrauer in Company.
Photo courtesy Theatre Latte Da
In this week's paper, I looked at my 10 favorite shows of the year. I use this language intentionally. While I saw about 120 productions this year -- along with 19 Fringe shows -- that is only part of what's happening in the Twin Cities theater community. 

That our cities have more shows than I can get to is a healthy sign, no matter what financial (Penumbra's ongoing issues) or artistic (the Guthrie's less-than-thrilling Christopher Hampton celebration) problems are out there.
Anyway, there were more than 10 shows that I loved over the past 12 months. Here's a baker's dozen of additional shows worth noting again:

Company (Theatre Latte Da)

Powered by a star-making turn by Dieter Bierbrauer, Latte Da hit all the right notes in resurrecting this early 1970s chestnut from Stephen Sondheim and George Furth.

Compleat Female Stage Beauty (Walking Shadow Theatre Company)

Walking Shadow Theatre Company delved into issues of identity throughout 2012, and found considerable success with this production. The story about a man losing his place in society when women are allowed in - in this case, actors in Restoration England -- has its obvious parallels to today, but Jeff Hatcher's script and John Heimbuch's production are much more interested in what all this pretending has to do with the art of acting.

Hay Fever (The Guthrie Theater)

Sometimes shows are just about having a jolly good time. The Guthrie cast was top notch, while Christopher Luscombe's direction brought the whole, horrible Bliss clan to life. 

In the Next Room.
In the Next Room.
Photo courtesy The Jungle Theater
In the Next Room (The Jungle Theater)

Sarah Ruhl's play explores the invention of the vibrator in the 19th century, while delving deep into the role pleasure and happiness have in any society. Fueled by Sarah Rasmussen's beautiful direction, the company's strong acting, and Bain Boehlke's delightful set, this was one of the most handsome productions of 2012 and featured perhaps the strongest final minutes.

I'll talk more about the 2012 Minnesota Fringe Festival tomorrow, but Christopher Kehoe's absurd send up/analysis of the theater-going audience just barely missed making my top 10 shows of the year. In less than an hour, the company managed to 1) share a paired-down Romeo and Juliet, 2) get all kinds of geeky jokes in, and 3) had fun with everyone, from a theater critic to an understudy to a disappointed Kate Mulgrew fan wondering when the act break was going to happen.

Learn to be Latina (Mixed Blood Theatre)

Mixed Blood Theatre had a solid 2012, which each of the main stage productions providing the expected mix of insight and strong theatrical craft. Learn to be Latina ended up being my favorite because it showcased how being offensive -- and in a play about a Lebanese-American singer who is remade as a Latina, there is plenty of space -- still works, especially when it is wrapped up with insightful writing and strong acting.

Lysistrata (Theatre in the Round)

Sadly, war never goes out of style. So this ancient comedy about women withholding sex until their menfolk sit down and talk is always appropriate. Craig Johnson directed a fun production that never let the horrors of the battlefield stray far from the mind.

The Mill (Workhaus Collective)

New plays are an important part of the local theater landscape, with the Workhaus Collective -- along with the Playwrights' Center -- leading the charge. Jeannine Coulombe's play about a strike in International Falls is loaded with the details that bring a piece of theater to life, while the company went the extra mile and fully inhabited their characters.

My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding (Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company)

The anti-marriage amendment was a huge story through the year, and tons of theaters tackled the issues directly and obliquely. The Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company went the direct route with this joyful, musical exploration of a son's relationship with his mom and his other mom.

Politico (Open Eye Figure Theatre)

There was a lot right about the latest collaboration between Kevin Kling and Open Eye Figure Theatre: the indelible images from the production were blistering, act-one closing "Fortunate Son," and the show closing "People Have the Power," complete with an audience-led choir.

Vasa Lisa (Ten Thousand Things)

Kira Obolensky's retelling of the Russian folk tale (complete with Baba Yaga -- go chicken-footed house!) gave Sally Wingert a striking job, playing the title character's mother, the witch who torments her through the play, and the voice of Vasa Lisa's intuition. It's not that you would expect anything but great from Wingert, but her performance here was particularly moving as she became the warring consciousness of Vasa Lisa, trying to find her way in the dangers of adulthood.

Waiting for Godot.
Waiting for Godot.
Photo courtesy The Jungle Theater
Waiting for Godot (The Jungle Theater)

Director Bain Boehlke and actors Nathan Keepers and Jim Lichtscheidl brought Beckett to life in a way rarely seen, connecting the existential dread of the long-suffering characters to the moment-to-moment lives that we all lead. And it was fun to watch, honestly.

The Way of Water (Frank Theatre)

Frank Theatre was quiet for much of the year, but this fall's production reminded us why Wendy Knox's creation is one of the most consistent, driving, and thoughtful companies in town. Over the course of two hours, we feel the desperation, heartache, and pain that visit a group of friends living on the margins on the Gulf Coast in the wake of 2010's oil-rig disaster.

Coming tomorrow: The Fringe Festival, touring shows, and general thoughts about the year in theater.

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