Saturday, June 12, 2010

SOB's Best Of 2009-10: Best New Plays

SOB's Best Of 2009-10: Best New Plays

During the 2009-10 Theatrical Season, I've had the opportunity to see over 80 performances of a wide range of new and revived musicals and plays, as well as other theatrical events.

As noted earlier, unlike this past year's selection of musicals, the plays were once again "the thing." That included a startling array of first rate new plays on Broadway as well as other venues near and far.

So, without further ado, here is my list of the "5 Best New Plays" I've seen over the 12 months ending April 30, 2010:

5 - Superior Donuts (Music Box Theatre, New York City, New York)

Sure, Tracy Letts' tasty and satisfying Superior Donuts appeared on my list last year, but since he and director Tina Landau sharpened this work for its Broadway bow, this play deserves to be judged again as a new show. And this enthralling and profoundly moving work deserves to be on this list as it sits precisely where the American dream -- and all its endless possibilities -- intersects with fears of America lost.

The essential ingredients Letts has baked into this dramatic comedy were as sweet and savory as ever. Proving that no one backs Letts into a corner, Superior Donuts offered plenty of his trademark ribald barbs while ostensibly leaving its audience with hope and an entreaty to wake up to the world around us rather than to shut it out. To give a damn and take a stand. Once again, this courageous show lived up to its name.

4 - The Brother / Sister Plays (Upstairs Theatre, Steppenwolf, Chicago, Illinois)

The Brother / Sister Plays, Tarell Alvin McCraney's excellent and deeply poetic trilogy, cast an unusally enthralling spell over me through its lyrical power. Standing as a towering achievement, not only for the incredibly young yet wise-beyond-his-years playwright, but also for its outstanding ensemble, The Brother / Sister Plays may ultimately prove to be the most important new work of this new decade.

Director Tina Landau's singular focus ensures that McCraney's immense gift for language dances just as soulfully across all three portions of this mighty work as does the beautiful choreography from its first installment In The Red And Brown Water. Each play is anchored by the impeccable K. Todd Freeman as Ogun Size, arguably the heart pulsating throughout this ambitious work; Freeman imbues Ogun with a rare level of humanity that makes him and The Brother / Sister Plays simply breathtaking to watch.

3 - Ruined (New York City Center Stage I, Manhattan Theatre Club, New York City, New York)

It wasn't until this Theatrical Season that I finally saw Lynn Nottage's devastatingly exceptional Ruined. What Nottage and director Kate Whoriskey achieved with this heartstopping, excellent production was nothing short of monumental. They skillfully succeeded in placing many a human face on those who are grossly dehumanized even if it ranks as one of the most difficult plays I ever sat through.

Nottage created some of the year's most remarkable female roles, including a madame named Mama Nadi (a superb Portia) whose brothel doors are open to military officials and rebels alike. Nottage endowed each of her central characters with a breathtaking resilience, and a surprising degree of good humor. Ultimately, they demonstrated grace and resolve in their desperate attempts to rise above it all.

2 - Red (John Golden Theatre, New York City, New York)

John Logan's magnificent Red, masterfully directed by Michael Grandage, has forever changed how I'll view abstract art, particularly that of artist Mark Rothko. Imported directly from London's Donmar Warehouse, Red intrigues and titillates the senses with its potent examination of the internal conflicts Rothko (an excellent Alfred Molina) may have endured.

Molina paints his Rothko with a tortured, self-conscious brilliance that turns ferocious on dime, including on his young protégé Ken, a captivating Eddie Redmayne, in an absolutely stunning Broadway debut. Together, they transform Red into a modern-day masterpiece.

1 - Brief Encounter (McGuire Proscenium, Guthrie, Minneapolis, Minnesota)

The all too Brief Encounter stood out as one of the most magnificent entertainment productions you were likely to see anywhere this past year.

As its conceit, director Emma Rice ingeniously builds on the precepts from the Oscar-nominated 1945 motion picture written by Noël Coward about two married individuals who enjoy a chance meeting in a train station only to find themselves swept away in a mad love affair. Silver screen images are shown on the stage, but it's seemlessly brought to life with a captivating fusion with live theatre. Topping off this delectable treat is a perfect blend of music from the era that breaks the fourth wall.

To say much more beyond this doesn't seem fair because this excellent production has to be seen to be believed and fully appreciated. But I'll add one more thing. It took Brief Encounter's spellbinding trip back in time to catch a glimpse of the future in entertainment and the integral role projection designs -- like those offered here by Gemma Carrington and Jon Driscoll to mesmerizing, dramatic effect -- can have in stage productions. Fortunately, Broadway audiences will have their chance this fall to encounter this excellent work that defies description.

So what were the best new plays you saw over the past year? I invite you to join the conversation by sharing your theatre experiences with me.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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