Monday, December 28, 2009

Theatre 2009 - the ones that got away

I've now gone through most of the best of 2009 theatre lists for New York City. I thought Elisabeth Vincentelli from The New York Post had the most interesting comments, especially for Brief Encounter and Becky Shaw, two of the many shows that I wish I'd seen.

(Although I'll get a second chance in the spring with Becky Shaw at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston.)

Becky Shaw (Second Stage Theatre)

Gina Gionfriddo's cutting play opened at the beginning of January and nearly 12 months later, it remains the funniest of the year. It was also the first in a series of excellent comedies written by women -- definitely the trend of 2009. "Becky Shaw" was deservedly popular but like other hits by women, it didn't move to Broadway. Surprise surprise: Producers are willing to take chances on transferring Off shows by guys, like Neil LaBute's "Reasons to Be Pretty" and Geoffrey Naufft's "Next Fall" (reopening in the spring after a run at Playwrights Horizons).

Brief Encounter (St. Ann's Warehouse)

Director Emma Rice uses all the tools at her disposal to tell a lovely little story that draws from David Lean's 1946 movie and Noel Coward songs. The show's an import from Wales, which begs the questions: Why can't American directors come up with this type of mainstream production, which boasts smart, theatrically savvy, heartfelt but not sappy, and completely accessible storytelling?

Okay, Vincentelli brings up some excellent points.

I think Becky Shaw garnered pretty good reviews. Charles Isherwood of The New York Times included it among the year's best and in his review, called the play "a big box of fireworks fizzing and crackling across the stage from its first moments to its last." So, why didn't some producer take a chance on it?

And I also wonder why American directors can't come up with the kind of theatrically savvy productions that British theatre companies seem to do with ease. Part of the reason I loved Black Watch, from the National Theatre of Scotland, and the import The 39 Steps is because they're both so inventive, yet they're both very accessible.

Although I'd argue that Our Town, from Chicago's The Hypocrites and directed by David Cromer, is a great example of that kind of smart and heartfelt storytelling. (It also made Vincentelli's list of the year's best - and mine.)

I'm so glad I got to see Our Town at the Barrow Street Theatre in Greenwich Village, but I really regret not seeing Ruined or A Streetcar Named Desire or The Emperor Jones or The Orphans' Home Cycle or So Help Me God or The Starry Messenger or A Boy and His Soul or The Brother/Sister Plays.

Well, I could go on and on but you get the idea.

I guess I did pretty well for someone who doesn't live in New York and can't get there all that often. I really enjoyed almost everything I saw. Still, I feel like there were a few cases where I could have made better choices, picked things that would have been more satisfying.

Yes, it's exciting to see the shows that open on Broadway every year, and it's especially handy for filling out my imaginary Tony ballot. But this year especially, reading the best of 2009 theatre lists makes me realize how much I'm missing beyond the confines of Times Square.

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