Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Top 10 of 2018

This tends to be the place where I've kept track of my yearly theater stats. And this year felt like a lot of work so I counted out what I did.

203 shows seen (not counting duplicate visits)
25% of work seen by artists of color 
50% of work seen by underrepresented artists
40% of the work I saw was by women (an increase over years past where I was at 20-25%) 
48 reviews 
37 pieces edited 
11 features written 
1 podcast produced 
I've reached 1605 shows in my lifetime.

These were the best shows of the year for me:

1) Pass Over: Maybe it’s because it came out during the summer. But I feel like we did not talk about Pass Over enough at the time. For me it was the perfect play and production. All the elements worked together so tightly. It elicited laughter even when it was breaking our hearts. It was smart but accessible. It used theater tools to make its point and it did so really well. While other shows made me cry, this was the show that left me breathless and stunned. Why the fuck have we not been talking about it since it came out in July? It’s available on Amazon Prime (an earlier Chicago production) for those who missed it.

2) Rags Parkland Sings The Songs of The Future: Another show that I wish had a longer life. But it came and went like a fever dream. Did I live this? I think I did. I remember crying on a street corner overwhelmed by the piece afterwards. A futuristic musical set in an underground bunker. The audience was asked to imagine they were breaking the law by spending time mixing with androids. The politics of the dystopian future were agonizingly familiar. The potential for those we know and care about to be outlawed by a government gone mad was not as imaginary as we might wish. So it was not hard to want to be part of this all too timely rebellion.

3) Sexy Oklahoma!: Since 2015 I have been screaming about this show. It’s nice that you all caught up. While I could be super hipster about it (“it was better at Bard”), I won’t be. There was a lot about the new production I could appreciate and the opportunity to see director Daniel Fish play with the material more is really a gift. You know I love balls out aggressive direction. Maybe too much. But it felt like the material had been crying out for this treatment. It was the thing we didn’t know we needed. It allowed us a new angle on old tropes and in some ways a greater understanding of characters we may have otherwise dismissed. While I wish we could have seen Sexy Oklahoma! and OSF’s Queer Oklahoma! at the same time, I will be happy we at least got one exciting reinterpretation of this classic. And while it moves uptown to Broadway and more people might get a chance to see it, I will still remember the creepy intimacy of the Bard production and the sizzling orchestrations which still make me feel things in my nether regions.

4) What the Constitution Means to Me: It was not just that I saw this the week Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed for the Supreme Court. But that certainly helped channel the anger and frustration and sadness of women screaming into the void into this piece of art. Playwright and actor Heidi Schreck told her personal story and we could all find reflections of our own within it. Whether it was the unspoken family secrets, the trauma of domestic violence, or an abortion story, there was a lot to unpack. It felt like a welcoming space to let out all that we carry and to feel less alone in doing so.  It provided clarity on why sometimes the law feels like a hostile place to women...because it is.

5) Lewiston/Clarkston: Samuel D. Hunter is a longtime fave and this two-part play with a dinner break in between was well worth visiting multiple times. Hunter is king of the quiet. The tug of change in the lives of these Idaho characters is big but everything in the play operated on the small.  With a tiny audience, tight quarters, and intimate staging, there was no distancing the pain being put before us.  It was in fact right there at our feet. Hunter's work so often deals in the difficulty of just living and we can feel that hardship for those characters acutely.  These plays did that as well and with all the shouting in the world right now, it was nice to seek refuge in the forever challenges of just being human.

6) Three Tall Women: Joe Mantello’s direction and Miriam Buether’s set along with some killer performances by the trio of ladies made this a triumphant revival and a play that allowed reflection on the way life changes you. It was also about what you hold onto. These were not women I knew, and yet I knew them.

7) Nanette: I’m not going to rehash the controversies and backlash or get into the global phenomenon this was, because for me it was just a one-woman show I attended that weirdly everyone else the in the world watched in their living rooms. For me, this show channeled anger and self-hatred away from self-immolation and towards society and the world. I felt comforted by Hannah Gadsby’s fight for her own self-worth in a battle many people fight every day.

8) queens: I love Martyna Majok and the complicated women she writes.  This play which looks at immigrant women living in a basement in Queens provides no easy answers and only difficult realities. It was somehow funny when the subject matter was anything but.

9/10 Our Country/The Fisherman: Both these shows at Edinburgh dealt with sibling love. Not incest! But the complexity of the people you grow up with and grow apart from. They are home. And they are not home. They are familiar and yet they can become strangers. I feel like we so rarely see these stories on stage unless they are part of a larger narrative or bigger issues. Sibling rivalry or jealousy might get staged but not so much that confusing, complicated love that connects you. While they were very different shows (Our Country being a physical theater, devised work and The Fisherman being a straight play set in Africa), I was glad to see them around the same time and appreciate the unique ways these kind of sibling stories can be told.

My additional year-end thoughts can be heard on the Maxamoo podcast (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) and read on Exeunt NYC.