There were so many exceptional original plays among the 144 productions that I reviewed for Theaterscene.net in 2018. In addition, several solo shows were outstanding, and a couple of Shakespearean revivals made an impact. This list is comprised of the most striking, pleasurable and memorable ones and they were all Off and Off-Off-Broadway.
The LAByrinth Theater Company presented playwright Maggie Diaz Bofill’s uproarious, blistering and sensual dark comedy Devil of Choice. David Zayas, Elizabeth Canavan and Florencia Lozano were all sensational in this love triangle among academics that had the essence of The Honeymooners’ marital humor combined with the force of The Sopranos.
A daffy widowed opera singer instigates a meeting with the young man whose transplanted heart was her husband’s in the bittersweet family drsma Exquisita Agonía. Performed in Spanish with English supertitles and produced by Repertorio Español, Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz’s play was ravishing on all levels.
Phoebe Legere was dazzling in her self-written madcap lesbian historical and musical fantasia Speed Queen that recounted the eccentric life of the legendary Joe Carstairs. Impersonating Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead were among the hilarious highlights of Ms. Legere’s colossal performance.
Japanese playwright Toshiki Okada’s Time’s Journey Through a Room was initially confounding but this cryptic play set in contemporary Japan about a man and two women metamorphized into a deep and moving experience.
“I’m starting to think this whole thing was a bad idea” says a character in author Lizzie Vieh’s brilliant play The Loneliest Number. What initially appeared to be a slight off-beat comedy about a swinging couple’s encounters after its first third evolved into a profound, suspenseful and searing exploration of relationships.
Under Joe Mantegna’s robust direction, I’m Not a Comedian…I’m Lenny Bruce serves as a bold testament to the magnitude of its subject’s cultural relevance, historical significance and to how funny he was. The dynamic Ronnie. Marmo vocally and physically conjures up the presence of that monumental performer in his imaginative self-written solo show.
Lisa Hodsoll was phenomenal as the former First Lady in Ian Allen’s kaleidoscopic solo play fantasia Laura Bush Killed a Guy. For 90 mesmerizing minutes, Ms. Hodsoll gave a smashing performance that transcended mere impersonation or campy replication. Looking and sounding like Mrs. Bush, with her twinkling eyes and beaming presence, Hodsoll’s characterization was a superb amalgam of comedy, emotion and depth.
Playwright Sara Farrington’s Leisure, Labor, Lust accurately replicated Edith Wharton’s Old New York milieu in her absorbing and richly theatrical drama that she masterfully directed.
Creatively conceived by Stephen Brown-Fried and superbly directed by him, his Orson Welles-like vision transcended the difficult material of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy. Presented by NAATCO (National Asian American Theatre Company), it had an excellent all-Asian cast of 16, several of whom played roles of opposite genders during a thrilling marathon that lasted close to six hours.
On the other end of the spectrum was director Austin Pendleton’s intriguing and textually successful concept to adapt and combine portions of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3 with Richard III. It was a small-scale engaging epic that showcased Matt de Rogatis’ thrilling, slightly urban and gleefully neurotic portrayal of the hunchback king.
Links to reviews: