Pairs of plays marked the year of Shakes for 2015. We had numerous Romeo and Juliets, lots of Lears, loads of Othellos, and more than a few A Midsummer Night’s Dreams. One would think that a bit of theatrical fatigue would set in seeing the same plays over and over, but the multiples fared well on my year-end list, as did upstart companies, youthful thespians, theaters that took chances, and filmed plays and films of plays.
The folks at Fun House Theatre and Film rocked their tale of star-crossed lovers right out of the gate, setting a high standard for all other Romeo and Juliet productions. Having talented teens in the title roles (Doak Campbell Rapp and Taylor Donnelson) added even more poignancy, and director Jeff Swearingen struck all the right notes (as always) in his vision. Kudos also to Shakespeare Dallas’ perfectly directed (some of René Moreno’s finest work), and acted (Swearingen as the best live Mercutio I have ever seen) musing on the Montagues and Capulets that elevated their summer fare that can sometimes be hit or miss.
In another youthful turn and fresh take on a well-trod classic, the Junior Players’ Bollywood version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (co-directed by Valerie Hauss-Smith and Anastasia Muñoz) was a colorful delight. A big surprise and a welcome, unique take on Shakespearean performance came in the form of newcomers, Shakespeare in the Bar, particularly with their contagiously drunken interpretation of the fairy play—the top production of the year if I had to rank them.
The always-outstanding Trinity Shakespeare Festival offered up the odd repertory pairing of the early comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost and the tragedy of King Lear. Color me shocked to admit that I much preferred the “lesser” play, LLL (masterful direction by Joel Ferrell). Not that there was anything wrong with their Lear—a well-produced feast for the eyes and ears directed by TSF Artistic Director T.J. Walsh—but Trinity’s Labour is what really stuck with me.
Shakespeare Dallas provided a Lear that left me in awe. SD Executive and Artistic Director Raphael Parry helmed this most excellent production, and Fred Curchack—in my favorite performance of 2015—starred as the titular king. True theater magic.
Monologist Mike Daisey brought his popular The Great Tragedies series to town. In it, he covered Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and King Lear in four separate performances, weaving in provocative insights about the plays and his own life in mesmerizing and humorous fashion. I laughed and learned quite a bit.
The Fort Worth Opera resurrected Ambroise Thomas’ 1868 operatic version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to much well-deserved aplomb. Director Thaddeus Strassberger along with two perfect singing stars, baritone Wes Mason as Hamlet and soprano Talise Trevigne as Ophelia, created a new way to see and hear the Danish play.
Insightful distinction also found its way to Second Thought Theatre’s immersive, claustrophobic, and pensive production of Othello. Major ups to Ferrell’s tight vision, and some knockout performances (husband and wife duo of Jenny Ledel as Emilia, and Alex Organ as Iago). In another portrait (via a "Live from Stratford-on-Avon" HD presentation) of the tragic Moor, The Royal Shakespeare Company cast their first black Iago (a scary-fierce Lucian Msamati) opposite Hugh Quarshie as Othello, and directed by Iqbal Khan. And in the big Othello news of the year, the Metropolitan Opera staged Verdi’s Otello, which was screened in local theaters, and did not put the spinto tenor in the title role in blackface—for the first time in the Met’s history.
More goodness in the cinema gave those of us without time and means to travel (as a part of The National Theatre’s NT Live series) to see the hottest ticket on the London stages—Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet. Troubled, oddly rearranged, and almost hopelessly uneven, yes, but ultimately beautiful, bold, and unforgettable. An honorable mention goes to The Kenneth Branagh Theatre’s fantastic The Winter’s Tale where Judi Dench blew everyone away as Paulina.
Finally, the entry on the list that is the farthest from the stage, yet might best capture the Bard’s spirit and the soul of his darkest tragedy is director Justin Kurzel’s film adaptation of Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Blood, tears, and perpetual night haunt this film just like the play should.
2015: Year in Review
- Monday, Dec. 28 Margaret Putnam's Year in Dance
- Monday, Dec. 28 Cheryl Callon's thoughts on the year in dance
- Monday, Dec. 28 Katie Dravenstott's thoughts on the year in dance
- Monday, Dec. 28 Columnist Danielle Georgiou's Year
- Tuesday, Dec. 29 Gregory Sullivan Isaacs' Year in Classical Music and Opera
- Tuesday, Dec. 29 J. Robin Coffelt's thoughts on the year in classical music
- Tuesday, Dec. 29 M. Lance Lusk's Year in Shakespeare
- Wednesday, Dec. 30 Jan Farrington's thoughts on the year in theater
- Wednesday, Dec. 30 Martha Heimberg's thoughts on the year in theater
- Wednesday, Dec. 30 David Novinski's thoughts on the year in theater
- Thursday, Dec. 31 Amy Martin's thoughts on the year in comedy
- Friday, Jan. 1 Mark Lowry's Year in Theater
- Sunday, Jan. 10 TheaterJones writers look forward to 2016
- Monday, Jan. 11 The top performing arts news of the year