Three other TheaterJones theater writers offer some thoughts about their experiences at the theater in 2011.
To Kill A Mockingbird, Richardson Theatre Centre: Overall, a first-rate production that re-created smalltown Alabama, 1935, except for principal actor Ted Strahan, as attorney Atticus Finch. Remember Gregory Peck's rumpled seersucker suit in the movie? Strahan's dapper, 21th century threads made Atticus look as if he stepped out of an Armani catalogue. What were Strahan and director/costumer Rachael Lindley thinking?
Sylvia, Pocket Sandwich Theatre: Some of this popular playhouse's shows are melodramas, during which audiences are encouraged to boo the villain and shout encouragement to the hero. Other Pocket Sandwich productions are regular plays. No boo-ing, no attaboys. "Sylvia" is such a play. Unfortunately, and incredibly, at one "Sylvia" performance, a table of two wine sippers got a little mixed up. They contributed a running verbal commentary, directed at the actors—who, to their credit, were unfazed.
Dick Whittington, Theatre Britain: The smallfry loved this new version of Dick Whittington's Cat, staged as a traditional British "panto." It's likely (and lucky) the youngsters didn't tumble to the playwright's numerous naughty puns inspired by the title character's first name. Maybe Theatre Britain was trying to lure both G and PG-rated audiences.
2011 was a year of superlative set design. Standouts abound but limited to five the awards are as follows:
The most appropriate set design of the season has to go to the set for Language of Angels. It's hard to think of anything but a cave in Theatre Too's space. Jeffrey Schmidt took full advantage, though, capitalizing on the claustrophobia.
On the other end of the spectrum, John Arnone's set for Easter wins most transformative. Undermain is only slightly less cavernous than Theatre Too, but Arnone's light boxes and scrim walls almost made you forget about the columns, for a minute.
The most malleable set of the year must be Thomas Riccio's set for blahblah. White diaphanous curtains make for much more flexible theater than old black duvetyn. Lighting designers unite. Let the revolution begin.
When you don't even have a black box, what do you do? You win the most inventive award like Balanced Almond for Morphing. The little Ochre House space does nothing to limit their imagination. How about a live video projection showing a car interior that moves to the backyard and continues as counterpoint while the action begins onstage? Superlative.
What do you do when you have all the toys? You get the "dazzling to distraction" award. Beowulf Boritt's The Tempest set had enough eye candy to get Dallas Theater Center sanctioned by the American Dental Association. It's a wonder anyone noticed the Shakespeare at all. Surprisingly, four out of five did.
A Tale of Two Cities
Fort Worth was on fire this year. As I went back through my articles trying to compile some best of's, I realized that Fort Worth theaters had had a strong year. Granted, my first year was very Dallas heavy. This year I had a lot more going on in Tarrant County. Which is good, because that's where I live. And that's not to say that Dallas theater wasn't good. It's always good. But Fort Worth had a good year and they did it by going classic.
I quickly noticed after taking on this job that Dallas is a hotbed of independent and original theater. So almost as an answer, unconscious or not, the Fort Worth theaters went the opposite direction of great Dallas theaters like Second Thought Theatre, The Ochre House and Kitchen Dog Theater.
Stage West put on another in their series of Jeeves plays, Jeeves in the Morning, and the classic comedy Arms and the Man. Casa Mañana's musicals Oliver! and Evita were as good as any I've seen put on in town. Additionally, the Trinity Shakespeare Festival put on the best of any Shakespeare performance this year with their version of As You Like It.
Other Fort Worth highlights included Yasmina Reza's Tony award winning Art presented by Q Live, Stolen Shakespeare Guild's delightful production of Love's Labour's Lost, Circle Theatre's Marvin's Room, Jubilee Theatre's The African Company Presents Richard III and the touring cast of A Chorus Line at Bass Performance Hall.
More tried and true shows given quality productions resulted in a good year for Fort Worth theater.
Out of the Loop
WaterTower Theatre is one of the best theaters in town. To that end, their production of Spring Awakening was better than the touring cast who came through Bass Hall last year. And I'm not just saying that because the actress who played Wendla, Erica Harte, is my former student. She and the rest of the cast were breathtaking.
Their production of Martin McDonagh's dark comedy The Lieutenant of Inishmore flexed their effects muscles, but the heavy hitting was done by the intelligent cast who clearly understood McDonagh's writing style. It was one of the best plays of the year in the Metroplex.
Beyond that, WaterTower's Out of the Loop Fringe Festival was one of the highlights of the year for me. Headlined by comedian Robert Wuhl's hysterical history lesson Assume the Position, there were some stellar performances to be seen.
Second Thought Theatre's take on Eugéne Ionesco's The Lesson was every bit as funny and haunting as it was meant to be. FTP Comedy gave Saturday Night Live a run for its money with the sketch/improv show. And Audacity Theater Lab took everyone on a trippy tiki-laden laugh voyage with I Have Angered a Great God.
The powers that be certainly had some sharp critical eyes when filling out that schedule.
Live From New York
I was fortunate to have an opportunity to travel to my second favorite place in the world earlier this year, New York City, and figured while I was there why not review some theater.
And that's how I got to see the musical that would eventually Harrell through the Tony's winning almost every award it was up for, The Book of Mormon. Written by "the South Park guys and one of the guys from Avenue Q," Mormon was a breath of fresh, satirical air in what was otherwise a very stale Broadway environment.
Also on my trip I had the immense pleasure of attending the historic Birdland Theater to see Dallas' own William Blake give a concert. That concert, our subsequent interview over wine and pizza and Mormon were the highlights of the entire trip. William is supremely talented with a silky and limber tenor voice that wails out the best R&B/Motown you've ever heard.
And speaking of New York, though I wasn't there for it, I saw the performance in Denton, Sundown Collaborative Theatre took their particularly awesome brand of performance to the New York Fringe Festival in the form of Happily Ever After, a darkly comedic take on classic fairy tales. It was one of the better shows of the year in the Metroplex and not a surprise at all that they got into one of the world's most prestigious theater festivals.
I can't include everyone. That's how great a year it was. For instance, Irving's Lyric Stage is consistently knocking it out of the park. Their productions of Gypsy and Flora the Red Menace were better than pretty much anything that came through on tours.
The adaptation of Beryl Bainbridge's dark comedy about the Iraqi war, The Birthday Boys at the Texas Theater was easily among the best plays of the year.
Shakespeare Dallas's Cyrano de Bergerac merits recognition, as does Dallas Theater Center's A Christmas Carol.
It was a great year and I'm thankful for the opportunity to be a part of such a diverse and capable theater scene. And I love watching it grow and change. So, here's to the future. Keep it up!