Like so many others, I have compiled a 10 Best List for my 2012 theatre going. It is something I feel I should do. It comes with the critical territory. But it is both a pleasure and a pain. It's a pleasure to think back on the many wonderful theatre adventures I've enjoyed over the past twelve months, and a pain to realize that in selecting only 10 to honor here, I am leaving out a great many worthy productions.
This past year, I saw over 5 dozen plays produced by 32 different theatre companies. This represents only a tiny fraction of the theatre produced in the Bay area. Of necessity, my choice of plays is highly subjective. Although I would like to see absolutely everything, obviously that is impossible. In some instances, a wonderful production may simply be too far a commute. In other cases, a theatre may choose not to provide a press ticket. (Although I'd like to purchase tickets for everything, it is simply beyond my means, considering the number of plays I attend.) Sometimes there are scheduling conflicts.
Of the shows that I did see and review, most were of high quality. I review on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. I did not find it necessary to give any show the lowest rating, and only a very few received less than a 3. A score of 3 or higher means that I am comfortable recommending the production.
I selected the following ten productions from those that received the top ratings of 4 or 5 stars (with one exception). Even given that caveat, I had to winnow down from a larger number.
All that said, the following alphabetically ordered list represents my considered opinion of what might be the best of the best in 2012 (follow the links for reviews):
"A Bright Room Called Day" by Tony Kushner. Produced by Custommade Theatre. Directed by Brian Katz. In my review, I noted that we in San Francisco are in the midst of a reawakening to the importance of history and politics in the theatre and that Custommade Theatre is one of the companies leading the way.
"The Aliens" by Annie Baker. Produced by SF Playhouse. Directed by Lila Neugebauer. When I wrote the review, I called this production "close to perfection". It may have been perfect. I certainly remember it that way. Unforgettable.
"Any Given Day" by Linda McLean. Produced by the Magic Theatre. Directed by Jon Tracy. Linda McLean's new play featured lead characters who are developmentally disabled. Amy Kossow's performance as Sadie was more than excellent.
"Circle Mirror Transformation" by Annie Baker. Produced by Marin Theatre Company. Directed by Kip Fagan. Annie Baker is a playwright of genius, well served by this production. Fascinating and moving.
"Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller. Produced by San Francisco Actor's Theatre. Directed by Keith Phillips. SF Actor's Theatre specializes in ensemble playing in the style of the Actor's Studio. Director Keith Phillips and lead actor Christian Phillips bring years of experience and insight to this particular approach. This production is included for Christian Phillips' exceptional performance as Willie Loman, worthy to be called great.
"Hamlet" by William Shakespeare. Produced by Cal Shakes. Directed by Liesl Tommy. Director Liesl Tommy has been busy building an international reputation as one of the hottest new talents in world theatre. With this Hamlet, she delivered on that promise. Masterful.
"Kingdom Denied" written and directed by Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu. Produced by The Academy of Hawaiian Arts. This Hula musical was an unequivocal delight. Mr. Ho'omalu is a great and charismatic artist who deserves to be more widely known and appreciated. Readers take note: keep an eye out for any productions involving this man.
"My Fair Lady" by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, based on the play by George Bernard Shaw. Produced by SF Playhouse. Directed by Bill English. Quite charming, and featuring a raffishly perfect Charles Dean as Alfred P. Doolittle. Dare I say loverly?
"Phaedra's Love" by Stacy Kane. Produced by Do It Live Productions. Directed by Ben Lendmesser. This production launched the second season of a remarkable young company, drawing much of its talent from our own San Francisco State University. An impressive directorial debut by Ben Lendmesser and a stand out performance by Michael Zavala.
"Woyzeck" by Georg Buchner, adapted by Ann-Christin Rommen & Wolfgang Wiens, music and lyrics by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, original concept by Robert Wilson. Produced by Shotgun Players. Directed by Mark Jackson. I wrote of this production that "there is not a single moment, musical or dramatic, that fails to hit its mark."
Well, that's my best shot. All of these productions deserve to be celebrated. No doubt there are many more. I hope this makes a case that great theatre is alive and well in the Bay area.
And how about this for a New Year's resolution: support live theatre! We'll all be the better for it.