For me, 2018 was the year of history through theatre.
In January 2018, many things were in flux in the United States, and the world. We were still reeling from two major hurricanes, Harvey and Maria, and Puerto Rico was still without power. We were engulfed in a frightening environment fueled by something being called “fake news.” Things were, different. Something was in the air, askew.
In local Dallas theater the year opened with a glaring critique of our adult world, in particular how we tell our stories, by the teens of Cry Havoc in A History of Everything, directed by Mara Richards Bim. They gave a history of the world through the events which were the most unsettling, from their point of view. Among these were the state of the water in Flint, Michigan, and the unanticipated decision by the United States to relocate our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
It was during the month following the Cry Havoc production that the Parkland High School shooting happened and the voices of the Parkland teens captured the world’s attention (and would provide more content for Cry Havoc's big show of the year, Babel, which I didn't see). While no one could have known in early January that such a horror would happen, it could have been predicted based on our experience (history) with mass shootings in schools. A History of Everything was a clarion call for unvarnished comprehensive truth. I will always hear the one student saying “we should not have to rely upon the internet for our lessons in history.”
In a gutsy move, a new theater company, Imprint Theatreworks, debuted with Glengarry Glen Ross, a David Mamet piece about greed, corruption and desperation. In other words, a contemporary American tale playing on loop every day in the media. The production was well-directed, staged, and acted. Its success said Imprint Theatreworks founders Ashley H. White and Joe Messina, who co-directed GGR, came to play.
It is hard to imagine a better staging and ensemble performance than that of the Theatre Three production team for Once, directed by Marianne Galloway. Music Theatre International (MTI) states “From the very first note, Once draws you in and never lets go.” True words, those. It is a wonderfully conceived musical. It’s like you thought the T3 production would be good but you didn’t realize it would be that good, and it was. Outstanding performances all, proof yet again of the power of music to represent, connect and affect.
Of the almost 45+ plays I saw this year, rocketing to the top of my list is Will Power’s Fetch Clay, Make Man, a Dallas Theater Center production directed by Nataki Garrett. The script is smart, clever, and provocative. While there was not a weak performance from any member of the cast, Tyrone L. Robinson gives a masterful portrayal of Stepin Fetchit, one of our most controversial, and arguably misunderstood and underappreciated black actors in film history. Understanding the life and career of Stepin Fetchit requires an embrace of nuance, as does portraying such a character. Robinson’s work is such that I will remember it for a long time.
While these are the productions I found most memorable, I was glad to see someone remember and restage Douglass Turner Ward’s A Day of Absence. Metamorphosis: a new living theatre’s run, directed by Aaron Zilbermann, was too short in my opinion. This is an important and timely piece, unfortunately. It remains a reminder of the importance of all populations, especially those most marginalized. Present, meet past.
The African American Repertory Theatre (AART) brought the history of black jockeys to audiences through the regional premiere of Pure Confidence by Carlyle Brown, directed by Regina Washington. Too often we learn of these stories not in schools, as bemoaned by the Cry Havoc teens, but through Google. Or, through theatre. It is as Chinua Achebe reminds us of the African proverb: Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.
2018 was the year of history through theater. It really does matter who tells the stories.
2018 YEAR IN REVIEW
Friday, December 28
- The Year in Comedy by Chief Comedy Critic Kevin Beane
- Danielle Georgiou's Sixth Position: A Year of Movement
Saturday, December 29
- The Year in Dance by Chief Dance Critic Cheryl Callon
- The Year in New Dance Works by Katie Dravenstott
- The Year in Dance by Emily Sese
Sunday, December 30
- The Year in Music and Opera by Chief Music and Opera Critic Gregory Sullivan Isaacs
- The Year in Music and Opera by J. Robin Coffelt
- The Year in Music and Opera by Wayne Lee Gay
Monday, December 31
- The Year in Performing Arts Books by Cathy Ritchie
- The Year in Classical Music Recordings by Andrew Anderson
Tuesday, January 1
Wednesday, January 2
- The Year in Theater by Frank Garrett
- The Year in Theater by Jan Farrington
- The Year in Theater by Janice L. Franklin
- The Year in Theater by Martha Heimberg
- The Year in Theater by Jill Sweeney
- The Year in Latinx Theater by Teresa Marrero
Thursday, January 3
- The Year in Performing Arts News by Mark Lowry
- A challenge for our readers
- The Year in Theater by Mark Lowry
Friday, January 4
- Looking ahead to 2019