Fort Worth — At the end of 2014, I discovered themes and comparisons wherever I looked on my 12-month list of the plays I’d attended. So many shows, to my surprise, were almost too easy to pair up. As I thought about them together, I began to hear them in conversation, intriguing ideas and observations bouncing back and forth between two playwrights and two sets of characters.
This year, not so much.
The shows I saw were all over the map in style, tone and message, it’s true—but frankly, that’s a more normal state of affairs in any theatrical year: Lear rubbing elbows with Rothko, Freud bumping into (many men named) Watson, Don Quixote and D’oh, Homer Simpson, having separate but equally unpredictable adventures. All these characters and more were seen and heard from, and much to the betterment of our minds and spirits.
For reasons that fall under the heading TMI, I won’t explain why more of my theater-going this year was confined to my own Fort Worth backyard. But at the western end of the Metroplex, it was an outstanding 12 months of creative and surprising shows. Herewith some highlights:
Plenty of angst-ing fathers manifested onstage this year, in plays like Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s Romeo and Juliet and their nicely done Our Town. The father in Circle Theatre’s production of Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities touched my heart—as did the reverend “Fathers” of their Mass Appeal. And David Coffee didn’t so much cap a career as King Lear with Trinity Shakespeare Festival as he simply lived up to our long-held belief that he can do anything on a stage, from belly-laugh comedy to heartbreak. Hats off, Mr. C.
Aristotelian unities of time and place were blown to bits in fascinating new plays produced by several companies in town. Circle Theatre’s production of Lauren Gunderson’s I and You told a story of caring and hope that confounded our usual perceptions of reality and the passing of time. Stage West’s crackling and convoluted production of Madeleine George’s The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence lobbed us back and forth from modern to Victorian times for a look at love and invention from angles human, robotic, and spaces in between. And again at Stage West, an absorbing premiere of Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, a post-electric play let us time-jump through decades of a post-apocalyptic world—in which an episode of The Simpsons became a cultural touchstone and a source of healing.
New “takes” on existing plays (or characters from literature and history) abounded. As noted, both Sherlock’s Watson and evil TV tycoon Mr. Burns went time-traveling. Amphibian Stage Productions’ lively and poignant production of Brenda Withers’ The Quixotic Days and Errant Nights of the Knight Errant Don Quixote soared on the buddy-chemistry between its Don Q and Sancho (Jeremy Schwartz and Ivan Jasso). At Amphibian, artistic associate Scott Zenreich’s loving adaptation of Eric Kimmel’s Hershel and the Hannukah Goblins brought this Caldecott Honor book (itself a take on an old Jewish folk character) to life for hundreds of kids and their families. Also at Amphibian, the colliding, intertwining minds of Freud and C.S. Lewis made Freud’s Last Session a real joy.
Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance!
Musicals were in good supply this year, as the happy cross-county partnership between Performing Arts Fort Worth and Dallas Summer Musicals continued. Notable productions of Kinky Boots and Once were among the shows shared by both cities, but homegrown productions did equally well. Casa Mañana did a great job with Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, and answered the Dallas Theater Center’s interestingly “Mad-Max” 2014 Les Misérables with a straight-up, puffy-shirted, gorgeously sung version of its own in 2015—proving that the music is this show’s greatness, no matter how its characters are costumed. Stolen Shakespeare Guild added to the company’s growing reputation for well-done (on a shoestring) musical productions; this year’s crop included a particularly fresh, well-sung Oklahoma! And Jubilee Theatre blew me away with their vibrant production of The Color Purple.
There were a few clunkers on my naughty-nice list for the year, but in the spirit of the season, they will go unmentioned. Happy New Year to all—and may many good shows come your way. Thanks for your continued support of the great, diverse, living and breathing theater scene we’ve been growing around these parts for the past few decades!
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 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