BEST INDEPENDENT THEATER - 2004
These are lean economic times for arts groups, and many theater companies have responded either with scaled-down productions (such as one- or two-person shows) and/or safe, box-office-minded fare: familiar scripts, remounts, crowd-pleasers of all stripes. And we understand this, and if it's a good crowd-pleaser, bring it on. But it's heartening to see 15-year-old Frank Theatre completely bucking the trends with large-scale and risky stuff that one can't imagine anyone else taking on. Last year, Frank put on Marc Blitzstein's rarely seen The Cradle Will Rock, a wonderful Depression-era folk opera full of lovely melodies and impassioned populism. Frank's artistic director Wendy Knox gave the show a smartly over-the-top, comic-book quality, but never scoffed at the show's socialist idealism. This made for an evening that was both aesthetically inspired and politically inspiring. As if that weren't enough, Frank pluckily decided to stage the show in the old Sears building on Lake Street, which gave things an appropriate industrial grandiosity. (Plus, seeing a gloriously pinko play in a sort of capitalist mausoleum provided nifty irony.) Frank returned to the Sears building this March for its five-hour (!) production of folklorist-scholar-storyteller Jack Zipes's Sicilian Nights, a new collection of scenes based on Sicilian folk and fairy tales. The meandering show could have been reined in a bit, but it was zestfully performed and full of bawdy wit. Frank only does two productions a year, so each one is an event. This fall, look for Frank to take on a new work by a contemporary playwright, possibly Suzan-Lori Parks, whose The America Play received the Frank treatment way back in 1996.