When I think back on favorite reviews this year, it’s the challenges that resonate strongest. As a former actor who’s “jumped the stalls” to become a critic, it can sometimes be difficult, knowing how hard it is to bleed your heart out on stage only to be cut up in a review. But I believe strongly in being honest and thoughtful about your opinion, no matter how stridently others may disagree with you (and to stay civil when they do!). After all, feeling passionate about theater is an emotion we should all nurture.
Fellow We Love DC theater reviewers Don and Patrick feel the same. We love theater, and strive to see as much as we can to bring you our thoughtful critiques. Though the three of us have different backgrounds – Patrick and I from both behind the curtain and onstage, Don in the audience – it’s the common desire to spread the word on the best theater in DC that drives us to write. We hope you’ve enjoyed our reviews in 2010, and we’ve pulled together a selection of our favorites to look back on and enjoy.
Let’s start with Don (who never pulls any punches!), then get Patrick’s view on his first quarter reviewing with us (we didn’t scare him away!), and I’ll caboose (because it takes me the longest to make up my mind…).
It’s somewhat challenging to do an end-of-year lookback for theater. The theater community runs on a non-calendar year, so from that perspective we’re just half-way into the current season and some of the things I saw in January/February are so last year to the theater companies.
So if I’m diverging from their timetable, why not diverge a little further when kicking off my lookback? The first thing I saw this year that I relate to theater wasn’t theater at all – it was Cherry Red’s SNUFF.MOV. I didn’t love it – I felt about as ambivalent about it as I did their recent show, Wife Swappers – but I love that they do it. Cherry Red represents a bleeding edge of experimentation and fun for me, and I’m delighted to see them coming back around to do some more shows and events in the DC area… even if I’m waiting to love them again as much as I did years ago. Here’s hoping they keep swinging for the bleachers.
Unfortunately my year in theater took a bit of a dip towards the middle, seemingly starting with a lot of our readers thinking I was a dip – when I covered [Title of Show], which I found enjoyable but pretty specialized. After that was Gruesome Playground Injuries, which I didn’t enjoy and which started a conversation with Jenn which I turned into an article: what do I want out of theater? Happily that piece was preceded by a Fringe piece which delighted me, Red Hood, and was followed by several pieces which really used the live theater format to good effect. House of Gold‘s material wasn’t entirely my bag, but I was impressed with how they made something that couldn’t have happened anywhere else. Candide, on the other hand, hooked and thrilled me through almost the entire show.
Add on a few other musicals, one of which I reviewed and enjoyed and another which I didn’t and didn’t… and that’s my year. Looking back feels both very full and surprisingly slim. That’s all I saw? I still didn’t make it out to a Synetic show? Oh well, that’s pretty much a first-world problem, isn’t it? Besides, my enthusiasm for the new year exceeds my regrets. Synetic doing Lear and No Rules abandoning this brief flirtation with banality and putting on an interesting-sounding show are the two things that come most immediately to mind.
2010 marked the first year I began reviewing shows for We Love DC (if you want to call it that). My first review was back in September (for Studio’s Circle Mirror Transformation), so I’ve only been writing up shows for a quarter of 2010. After spending many years behind the stage I found it quite different evaluating shows from the audience. I don’t think I’ve seen so many shows in a period of time before. Usually those that work in theatre are too busy with their own shows to fit in time to see others. I will say that it’s been an absolute pleasure to experience performing arts in one of the biggest theatre scenes outside of New York City. I’ve really enjoyed the comedic fare this year like The Odd Couple over at Theatre J and Studio Theatre’s Superior Donuts. Of course there’s a few shows I’ve seen this year that I didn’t completely enjoy and I have to say that Ford Theatre’s Sabrina Fair was the worst of them all this year.
I look forward to visiting more DC venues and catching even more shows and I’m already getting a head start: this week I’m going to hit the road and check out theatre outside of The District in Annapolis, MD.
It’s so hard to highlight just a smattering of the brilliant theater I saw this year, from Solas Nua’s rude Belfast boys in Johnny Meister + The Stitch, sweaty black box performance at its best, to Folger’s clean and cool Hamlet which showed us that the text’s truly the thing, to the riveting In Darfur by the always hard-hitting Theater J, to Woolly Mammoth’s hilariously wicked In the Next Room or the vibrator play. Never let it be said that DC lacks top-notch theater!
One of the biggest events in DC theater for 2010 wasn’t a production at all, it was the opening of Arena Stage’s incredible new complex being touted as the anchor for the revitalization of SW Waterfront. The space is amazing, and I’m looking forward to reviewing Arabian Nights later this month. I’m hearing community grumblings about the changes to Southwest Nights ticketing that definitely warrants more research. All in all, it will be fascinating to watch the new space develop in 2011.
The most difficult play I wrote a review for was definitely The Studio 2ndStage’s Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven, playwright Young Jean Lee’s amazing experimental piece that blew my mind afterwards as I sat down thinking, “how the hell do I write a review of a non-linear piece?” I realized how much I rely on the rigid Aristotlean training in drama I received, and how it actually sometimes is a hindrance. The end result is one of my favorites reviews and certainly one of the most thought-provoking productions I saw this year.
Equally difficult for completely different reasons was reviewing Synetic Theater in 2010, as with each production they hit higher heights and I ran out of superlatives. But with Othello they achieved their most complex “silent Shakespeare” rendition. Teasing out the psychological drama they masterfully created was a difficult task, yet probably the most erudite fun I’ve had reviewing all year.
But my absolute favorite piece wasn’t a review at all – it’s the profile I wrote on beloved DC actor Rick Foucheux. It’s long been my ambition to start interviewing local DC legends to give readers a view behind the scenes. Mr. Foucheux’s generosity was truly inspiring.
So there you have it, the theater team’s 2010 wrap-up! If you have any suggestions for 2011 – companies you’d like to see highlighted, productions you are curious about, interviews with DC theater professionals you’d like to read, please let us know. We’re here to make our coverage as robust as possible in 2011.