Saturday, June 12, 2010

SOB's Best Of 2009-10: Best Play Revivals

SOB's Best Of 2009-10: Best Play Revivals

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.

Unlike this past year's selection of musicals, the plays were once again "the thing." That included a terrific array of play revivals on Broadway as well as other venues near and far.

So, without further ado, here is my list of the "5 Best Play Revivals" over the 12 months ending April 30, 2010:

5 - American Buffalo (Downstairs Theatre, Steppenwolf, Chicago, Illinois)

Director Amy Morton’s retro-cool revival of David Mamet's American Buffalo was a veritable feast for the senses. This Steppenwolf production succeeded in spades.

Steppenwolf ensemble members Francis Guinan as Don and Tracy Letts as Teach were both in prime (and even primal) form. Even while practically chewing the scenery, Letts found all the subtle shadings of this most shady character while Guinan offered such an amazing air of authenticity that you could practically smell him from your seat.

4 - A Streetcar Named Desire (Harvey Theatre, Brooklyn Academy Of Music, Brooklyn, New York)

The hottest ticket in New York last year was actually over in Brooklyn. And with good reason. Director (and onetime actress) Liv Ullmann mounted a crackling revival of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. By that, I mean one that expertly found each of the fissures and cracks in Blanche DuBois, arguably Williams' most artfully drawn character.

The revival became a must-see event not only because it starred the magnificent Cate Blanchett, but also because it so forthrightly showcased this classic work for what it is -- one of the best plays ever written. As Blanche DuBois, the superbly luminescent Blanchett offered a remarkably balanced portrayal that evenly teetered from one extreme to the other. Unafraid to embrace Blanche's sensually needy side, Blanchett demonstrated that there was still plenty of rouge left in this faded rose, even amidst the thorns that were so painfully evoked.

3 - Fences (Cort Theatre, New York City, New York)

It may be Denzel Washington's name above the title in Kenny Leon's exceptional, if exhausting, revival of August Wilson's monumental Fences. Yet it's Viola Davis' name you'll be praising long after exiting Broadway's Cort Theatre. Make no mistake, Washington excels in delivering a solid line drive as Troy Maxson, a former Negro League baseball player with a wandering eye.

But as Troy's wife Rose, Viola Davis hits this one out of the park with the most extraordinary, heartwrenching performance of the year. It's a grand slam, even in a play that feels like it's never going to end. It's a credit to Leon and Davis that we almost don't want it to.

2 -Brighton Beach Memoirs (Nederlander Theatre, New York City, New York)

I wasn't prepared to be this astonished. Nothing could have prepared me for the earnest and devastating charms found in Neil Simon's superb Brighton Beach Memoirs. This semi-autobiographical period piece received an excellent (though sadly short-lived) Broadway revival, flawlessly executed by director David Cromer. Through Brighton Beach Memoirs, Cromer further burnished his credentials as a brilliant, visionary master at breathing vigorous new life into classic material.

An exuberant Noah Robbins made an impressive Broadway debut as Eugene Jerome, Simon's young alter-ego. With winsome appeal, Robbins captivated and enthralled. And as outstanding as he and the rest of the ensemble were, Laurie Metcalf was an unmitigated, complete triumph as Eugene's mother Kate. Without ever overshadowing the rest of the cast, Metcalf delivered one of the year's most withering, nuanced performances. Simply put, Metcalf was amazing in this outstanding revival.

1 - Twelfth Night (Delacorte Theatre, Central Park, New York City, New York)

Love was in the air, and that breeze blowing straight through Central Park was William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

Daniel Sullivan’s lovely, gorgeous revival was brimming with bawdy charms and an extraordinary ensemble, including Raúl Esparza as Orsino, Audra MacDonald as Olivia, Julie White as her attendant, Michael Cumpsty as Malvolio and that consummate scene-stealer David Pittu as Feste.

Was it any wonder that rain or shine, this was a formidable mounting with which to be reckoned and revered? Add to that mix film actress Anne Hathaway’s mesmerizing turn as Viola, and those lucky enough to get tickets witnessed a wondrous new theatre queen being born. I walked out of Central Park both enthralled and enchanted.

So what were the best new revivals of 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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