Looking back at the 128 performance reviews I wrote for Theaterscene.net in 2017, these shows were outstanding and quite memorable. My assignments rarely include Broadway, so this list reflects the adventuresome spirit of the terrain far from The Great White Way.
Small theater troupes, major institutional theater companies and self- produced works all sought critical attention. Many were tryouts for possible future transfers and a number were intended to last just for their brief runs.
Amidst the often-flawed new musicals, solo shows, performance pieces, cabaret acts and revivals there were about 30 original plays. Due to structural deficiencies very few of these made any impression. Only one new play and no musical are among my selections.
Entertaining Mr. Sloane: The East Village-based Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s revival of Joe Orton’s 1964, black comedy masterpiece was perfection chiefly due to Craig Smith’s excellent direction. Their production of Tartuffe was also laudable.
Star Dust: A Ballet Tribute to David Bowie: Dazzling visualizations of nine, iconic songs were superbly choreographed by Dwight Rhoden for the highly talented Complexions Contemporary Ballet. It was arguably the most effective homage to the late singer-songwriter.
Rosalee Pritchett & The Perry’s Mission: To celebrate its 50th anniversary, The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc., unearthed two racially charged, satirical one acts by Barbara and Carlton Molette and Clarence Young III. Written in the late 1960’s, and first performed in 1971, these uproarious works were prescient, ingenious and wonderfully realized.
A Soldier’s Play: The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc., also splendidly revived their greatest success. Charles Fuller’s 1982, Pulitzer Prize-winning murder mystery set at a military base during W.W. II, remains gripping and culturally relevant.
Off the Meter, On the Record: The Irish Repertory Theatre presented the Queens born John McDonagh’s hilarious and moving solo show about his life and career as a New York City taxi driver.
Turning Page: In this intense, affectionate and impressionistic biographical solo show, writer and performer Angelica Page vividly paid tribute to her mother, the legendary actress Geraldine Page at Dixon Place.
Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose: Writer and performer Ed Dixon’s solo play was a memory piece that brilliantly recounted his friendship with the British stage star George Rose. Mr. Dixon gave a magnificent performance and his keen writing was fiercely honest about both Rose and himself. Dixon was awarded the 2017 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance for this production.
Her Opponent: This was a provocative, startling, and theatrical recreation of the 2016 U.S. presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The twist was that actors of reverse genders portrayed them. Rachel Tuggle Whorton was commanding as Trump.
Lady MacBeth and Her Lover: Playwright Richard Vetere’s spellbinding drama spanned two decades and was about two lesbian poets and one’s daughter. Maja Wampuszyc and Christy Escobar delivered haunting performances and Michelle Boss’ aesthetic direction made it all even more engrossing.
Lone Star: Texas-born playwright James McLure (1951-2011), achieved a moderate level of theatrical prominence in the late 1970’s with one-act plays that included this one about a Texan, Viet Nam War veteran, Pvt. Wars and Laundry and Bourbon. Mr. McLure’s earthy, comic dialogue and intense characters make his plays popular in scene study classes. This revelatory revival featured sensational performances by Matt de Rogatis, Chris Loupos and Greg Pragel.
I have an affinity for one-person shows and there were three others of note as well this year.
Jim Brochu brought his award winning, 2006 Zero Hour back for a return engagement. His detailed writing and stupendous performance recreated the essence of Zero Mostel.
First seen in New York City in 2012, playwright Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths powerfully explored the fate of a Japanese-American’s resistance to the Japanese internment during W.W.II. Joel de la Fuente magnificently portrayed Gordon Hirabayashi from youth to old age and a gallery of other characters.
The dynamic Jon Peterson dazzled as that master songwriter in a workshop production of Chip Daffaa’s biographical saga, Irving Berlin: In Person.
Links to reviews: