Wednesday, May 16, 2007

SOB's Best Of 2006-07: Best Revivals Of Plays

SOB's Best Of 2006-07: Best Revivals Of Plays

Over the past year, I've had an opportunity to see many outstanding revivals of plays throughout the United States as well as abroad. Here's my personal "5 Best" list of the revivals I'm thankful I had a chance to see:

1 - The Real Thing (McGuire Proscenium Stage, Guthrie, Minneapolis, MN)

With some of the sharpest, wittiest writing among plays of the past quarter century, The Real Thing was the real deal when it was presented late last summer as the first regular production in the new Guthrie’s McGuire Proscenium Stage. Tom Stoppard’s excellent London-based comedy on the meaning of true love was both imminently smart and deliciously accessible under Joe Dowling’s expert direction, as well as through its superb ensemble, including Jay Goede (Henry), Kathryn Meisle (Annie), Sally Wingert (Charlotte), Lee Mark Nelson (Max), Jonas Goslow (Billy), Elizabeth Stahlmann (Debbie) and Mike Rasmussen (Brodie).

Goede was in top form and exceptionally convincing as Henry, the “old sod” playwright who doesn’t readily show his emotions or affections. Yet when he did -- with the absolutely poetic language Stoppard speaks through Henry -- his dialogue was as romantic as it gets. Goede was breathtaking to watch. Meisle was every bit Goede’s equal and displayed raw emotions through her luminescent, expressive eyes.

The Real Thing was a joy to behold and proved to be a great harbinger of things to come for the new Guthrie as some of my other top picks will support. (Meisle and Goede are pictured above, courtesy of Guthrie.)

Click here for The SOB Review of The Real Thing.

2 - The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie (Acorn Theatre, New York, NY)

While maligned by some critics, I was absolutely spellbound by Jay Presson Allen’s pre-World War II drama The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie when it was given a hauntingly beautiful revival by The New Group under Scott Elliott’s exquisite direction. In it, Cynthia Nixon offered one of her most nuanced, breathtaking performances ever. Nixon was mesmerizing as teacher Jean Brodie, whose romanticized visions of how the world should be ordered are at once both gorgeous and grotesque.

In a stunning, breakthrough performance, the brilliant Zoe Kazan played Brodie's student Sandy, who undermined her teacher's grand plans and in the process threatened her long tenure with the school. Throughout the course of the play, Nixon expertly peeled back each layer of Brodie to reveal a shockingly fascist and sanctimonious soul whose fascination with Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler and Francisco Franco imperiled not only her position, but also one of her students.

Through Brodie, we saw how easily impressionable minds can be swept up by charismatic leaders in following a perilous course, and in these dangerous times, the allegory remains every bit as valid today. The ensemble in this excellent production was nothing short of exceptional and helped make The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, hands-down, one of the best plays I've seen over the past year.

Click here for The SOB Review of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie.

3 - A Moon For The Misbegotten (Brooks Atkinson Theatre, New York, NY)

Less than two weeks ago, I finally caught Eugene O’Neill’s spectacular A Moon For The Misbegotten for the first time. To say I was completely enthralled by Howard Davies’ mesmerizing, profoundly moving, and yes, even entertaining production -- as well as by the intensity of the three principal actors -- would be an understatement. Colm Meaney, Eve Best and Kevin Spacey are all brilliant.

Best is nothing short of a revelation in offering the production's most nuanced performance; the diminutive actress may not quite be the cow O’Neill originally envisioned, but her forceful take on Josie makes her a woman whom men should challenge at their own peril.

What I found so captivating about Spacey’s ultimately heartbreaking portrayal is that, as the eternal actor and kidder, Jim Tyrone has little choice but to mask over the truth and shame he feels deep in his soul by putting up a front of frivolity. That and the refuge he takes in the bottle essentially provide him the sole remaining means by which he can bear to live with himself. Together, Best and Spacey are as symbiotic as any two actors I’ve witnessed, and they provide one of the most astonishing and affecting hours I’ve experienced from live theatre all year.

Click here for The SOB Review of A Moon For The Misbegotten.

4 - The Diary Of Anne Frank (Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, Chicago, IL)

Director Tina Landau succeeds in building the current Steppenwolf revival of The Diary Of Anne Frank into an engrossing, near pitch-perfect production. The real-life source material may already be 63 years old, but Landau brings a haunting brilliance to the time-honored dramatization by taking takes chances that ultimately pay off, including enabling the story to move beyond the play's previous conclusion in such a striking fashion that there were audible gasps from the audience. Landau triumphs in proving why this timeless classic deserves to be retold yet again.

This extraordinary production is also blessed by an exceptional ensemble, each of whom turns in a profoundly moving performance. Chief among them are the absolutely astounding Claire Elizabeth Saxe in the title role and a spectacularly measured performance by Yasen Peyankov as her father. Right before your eyes, Saxe's maturation as Anne, physically and emotionally, is palpable. You won't believe you're watching a current high school senior -- she's that good. As for Peyankov, by scaling his performance so astonishingly, he becomes the heart of this production.

This is a production that deserves to be seen, not only by those who don't understand the extent of the Nazis' savageries, but also for anyone who yearns for a deeper appreciation of the galvanic capabilities provided by the young Anne Frank's words, which remain as vital today as ever.

Click here for The SOB Review of The Diary Of Anne Frank.

5 - The Glass Menagerie (McGuire Proscenium Stage, Guthrie, Minneapolis, MN)

If there's a common thread among my five favorites, it's the daring to re-imagine respected and time-honored works into accessible theatre for today's audiences. Another prime example was in yet another Joe Dowling-helmed revival, this time via Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. Shaking this play to its core, Dowling's split the Williamsesque Tom Wingfield in two with Randy Harrison portraying the younger Tom, while Bill McCallum tackled the older one. And it succeeded.

But if there was an actual force that lingered, even when she wasn't on the stage, it was Harriet Harris as Tom's manic mother Amanda. Harris erupted with a volatile mix of authentic neurosis and delusional charm to make you believe she understood the archetype Williams intended perfectly. An actor's actor if ever there was one, Harris mastered this role with clarity and precision, even when she wasn't speaking a word. Hers was one of the best performances I saw all year.

There was much to recommend in Dowling's insightful, respectful and surprisingly entertaining production, and near as I could figure, none of Williams' beautifully poetic language had been altered. Dowling's dramatic tinkerings made for a very chilling evening that actually illuminated the darkest parts of Williams' soul. To me, that's the mark of a great production.

Click here for The SOB Review of The Glass Menagerie.

Honorable Mentions:

Two revivals from the last year are very deserving of honorable mentions:

  • K2 (Jungle Theatre, Minneapolis, MN) -- Director Bain Boehlke succeeds in ascending to the apex with this chilling and riveting revival of Patrick Meyers' K2. This is without question the best production I've seen at Minneapolis' intimate Jungle Theatre. Despite its scant running time of 90 minutes (including one 15 minute intermission), K2 is an adventurous and towering achievement worth the plunge. (Click here for The SOB Review of K2)
  • Lost In Yonkers (Wurtele Thrust Stage, Guthrie, Minneapolis, MN) -- While many of Neil Simon’s plays are known for their broader humor, Lost In Yonkers is much more introspective and personal, succeeding with subtle, sophisticated wit and charm. Thanks in no small part to Gary Gisselman's expert, deliberate direction, Lost in Yonkers was particularly winning in making us understand that under Grandma Kurnitz's (Rosaleen Linehan) tough, crusty exterior lies a human being, complete with heart, after all.
What were the best revivals of plays you saw over the past year? I invite you to join the conversation by sharing your theatre experiences with me.

Also, don't forget to vote for the shows you believe will win in each of the four major Tony Award categories: Best Musical, Best Play, Best Revival of a Musical and Best Revival of a Play. You'll find all four polls on the right-hand side of Steve On Broadway.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets to A Moon For The Misbegotten (playing through June 10)
Click here for tickets to K2 (playing through May 20).
Click here for tickets to The Diary Of Anne Frank (playing through June 10)
Related Stories:
The SOB Five "Worst" Of 2006-07 (May 14, 2007)
SOB's Best & Worst Of 2006-07 Theatre Season (May 14, 2007)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #1 - Theater Of The New Ear (May 30, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #2 – Guys And Dolls (May 26, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #3 – Hedda Gabler (May 25, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #4 – A Blameless Life (May 24, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #5 – Reeling (May 23, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #6 – “MASTER HAROLD”…And The Boys (May 21, 2006)
SOB’s Best of 2005-06: #7 – Love Song (May 19, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #8 - Billy Elliot The Musical (May 18, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #9 - The Well-Appointed Room (May 17, 2006)
SOB's Best of 2005-06: #10 - Sweeney Todd (May 15, 2006)
SOB's Best and Worst of 2005-06 Theatre Season (May 12, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2004-05 (May 26, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2003-04 (May 25, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2002-03 (May 25, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2001-02 (May 24, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2000-01 (May 23, 2006)

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At 17 May, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

I saw Our Town at Trinity Rep here in Providence. I'd read the play in high school, but I'd never seen it performed, and I'm glad I did. It's such an American classic. I especially liked Susannah Flood, a graduate student at Brown University, who played Emily. She really embodied a sense of teenage awkwardness. She was smart, yet unsure of herself at the same time. Four months later, it's a performance I can still picture in my mind.

After seeing it, I rented the DVD of the version with Paul Newman as the stage manager, and while seeing Paul Newman is always great, it just didn't resonate the same way. I didn't have a problem with actors on stage pretending to open a door or pour something into a bowl. But watching them do it on tv, it just seemed so much more artificial.

At 17 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, I certainly appreciate knowing which revival of a play from the past year resonated well with you. Our Town is certainly a classic worth visiting every now and again.


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