10 Best Stage Shows of 2013
By Jerry Portwood
6. Choir Boy
Tarell Alvin McCraney remains one of the most original voices of his generation and his play about a fictional all-boys black boarding school reminded us of the complicated roles so many continue to play (read the interview). This summer MTC production directed by Trip Cullman showcased a crop of talented young actors (especially Jeremy Pope in the lead as Pharus) and made us eager for his next original work to capture our hearts and minds.
7. Sontag: Reborn
A one-woman show adapted from the journals of Susan Sontag may have sounded like a snooze, but Moe Angelos embodied the prickly genius with wit and wisdom, allowing her intellect to have a human side. Directed by Marianne Weems so that Angelos interacted with a video projection of an older Sontag (with that familiar shock of gray hair), it's not wonder that a few audience members each night anticipated her doppleganger to take a bow at curtain—only proving Angelos's talent for inhabiting a woman who once seemed impossible to like.
8. Waiting for Godot
Although I'd seen Patrick Stewart strut his stuff on the stage before, this was my first foray into live Ian McKellen, and now I know what all the fuss is about (and why we can only hope he's not remembered solely for his blockbuster mojo as Magneto-Gandalf). While the more opaque Pinter this was paired with, No Man's Land, is also a fascinating vehicle for the four actors (that include an astounding Shuler Hensley and Billy Crudup, who is unrecognizable in Godot), it was the McKellen-Stewart pairing that brought new insights into the Beckett classic, with a hilarious (yet subtle) homoerotic reading of Vladimir and Estragon that felt like an epiphany.
9. Twelfth Night
Although I have seen enough Shakespeare to keep me satisfied for several years, this was a year of some great, unusual takes (Alan Cumming doing his virtuosic solo Macbeth, directed by John Tiffany, may have been a head scratcher but go see the goth-vampire Ethan Hawke variety at Lincoln Center and it'll remind you how crazy-good that performance was). After seeing one of the worst Romeos of all times (it's true Orlando), it may have set us up for a back-to-basics approach and Mark Rylance playing Olivia in the wonderful all-male Tim Carroll-directed production. I know it doesn't mean we'll be free of Shakespeare anytime soon, at least it felt like a palate cleanser to prepare us for the hundreds more down the road.
10. Small Engine Repair
The most testosterone-filled production (even more so than the all-male British double bills mentioned above) was also one of the most confounding. I'm sick of Mamet (or Mamet wannabes) by now, but John Pollono constructed a play that felt contemporary and authentic, engaging with the pitfalls of social media without coming off as stale and disconnected or just overwritten dick jokes. He also played Frank, its patriarchal core, with an understated confidence that most men could relate to—no matter if you have children or not. I still feel as if my hands are tied since no one wants the central conflict and plot twists to be revealed and spoiled for future audiences, but let's just say that the biggest dick joke turned out to be the best. (Read the interview)