Theatre Review Print



The Top 10 Touring Shows & the Top 10 Local Shows of 2006;

and Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till Is The Best of the Best Shows of 2006

January 16, 2007 - Triangle-Wide:


The proliferation of Triangle theatrical presentations in 2006 — the Triangle Theater Review Theater Calendar listed 426, including fundraising events — makes selecting a single top 10 list even more difficult than usual, so this year there are two: a list of the Top 10 Touring Shows and a separate list of the Top 10 Local Shows. We have listed the 10 top shows in each category, plus five Runners Up that missed the final cut by an eyelash and other productions of exceptional merit that deserve Honorable Mention. We have also provided brief excerpts from the original reviews by Scott Ross, Alan R. Hall, Jerome Davis, Carl Jeeter, and yours truly. Enjoy! — Robert W. McDowell.

Top 10 Touring Shows

The top 10 touring shows (in alphabetical order) include:

Annie (Broadway Series South, March 14-19 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium). The NETworks Presentations, LLC, Roger Hess and TC Theatrical production of Annie was a brand-new Annie for a brand-new century. The show’s lyricist Martin Charnin, who directed Annie’s multiple Tony Award®-winning 1977 Broadway debut and the Tony-nominated 1997 revival, once again demonstrates his theatrical genius by creating a fresh, new, highly entertaining version of what has to be one of the most familiar (and overproduced) shows in the American musical theater repertoire. Charnin staged the National Tour with verve on spectacular new sets by scenic designer Ming Cho Lee, and choreographer Liza Gennaro devised some delightful dance numbers to enchant children of all ages. New arrangements by musical director/conductor Keith Levenson also freshen this familiar score by Charles Strouse (music) and Charnin (lyrics). Conrad John Schuck, who was a replacement billionaire industrialist Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks in the original 1977 production and starred as Warbucks in the 1997 Broadway revival of Annie, reprised that role here with brio, opposite sensational newcomer Marissa O’Donnell, who at age 12 already has a fine flair for comedy and a big Broadway voice. — R.W.M.

The Canterbury Tales
(N.C. State University Center Stage, Oct. 10 in Stewart Theatre). The bold and bawdy and very, very funny Aquila Theatre Company stage adaptation of The Canterbury Tales, devised and designed by artistic director Peter Meineck and associate artistic director Robert Richmond, was a clever condensation of the 14th century milestone in English literature by Geoffrey Chaucer. The show provided a splendid showcase for a highly talented cast who brought the colorful Canterbury pilgrims completely to full, glorious, gritty life. Fight coordinator Kenn Sabberton was wonderfully wicked as the avaricious, insufferably cocky Miller and as a feckless Friar, much more interested in the pleasures of the flesh than in spiritual matters. Louis Butelli played the quarrelsome Reeve and the thoroughly corrupt Pardoner with brio; and Lindsay Rae Taylor made the Nun a pretty, petite picture of innocence and reverence — but boldly discarded that saintly character for other, more worldly roles when the occasion demanded. Andrew Schwartz cut a fine courtly figure as an aging knight; Basienka Blake was a hoot as the earthy, plainspoken, five-times married Wife of Bath; and Jonathan Braithwaite added a cheeky characterization of the Summoner. — R.W.M.

Disney’s The Lion King (Broadway Series South, Sept. 15-Oct. 22 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium). Given all the preshow ballyhoo, Triangle audience expectations for the Broadway Series South presentation of Disney’s The Lion King were sky high; and the Gazelle Tour, produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, directed by Julie Taymor, and choreographed by Garth Fagan, actually exceeded them. It was easy to see why the 1997 Broadway musical based on the Academy Award®-winning 1994 animated film won the 1998 Tony Award® for Best Musical. Taymor and Fagan, who won 1998 Tonys for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Choreography for The Lion King, are assisted on the current national tour by their fellow 1998 Tony winners for Best Scenic Design (Richard Hudson), Best Costume Design (Julie Taymor), and Best Lighting Design (Donald Holder). Moreover, Taymor also has created the spectacular costumes for the vivid characters of this memorable animal fable set in sub-Saharan Africa, and she has brilliantly collaborated with Michael Curry on a dazzling array of masks and puppets that capture the essence Disney’s animated characters. Indeed, the harnesses for the huge lion-head masks of Mufasa the Lion King (L. Steven Taylor) and his wonderfully wicked brother Scar (Dan Donohue) dangle the masks overhead but allow the actors to bring the masks down over their faces as they slink, cat-like, in and out of scenes. — R.W.M.

Hamlet (Nov. 16-18, in the in Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Center for Dramatic Art). They had magic to do, these five Actors from the London Stage; and they definitely held their audience spellbound as they performed five-man Shakespeare in a marvelous minimalist modern-dress version of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The AFTLS carved up Hamlet like a Thanksgiving turkey and each played multiple parts with perspicacity, obvious relish, and crisp Shakespearean diction. Robert Mountford was a philosophic Horatio, a nervous Rosencrantz and a Guildenstern, and a fiery Laertes. Anna Northam added an earthy Queen Gertrude and an ethereal Ophelia smoothly segued from role to role. Richard Stacey made a most eloquent Hamlet, and he put a fine polish on the poetry of Hamlet’s soul-searching soliloquies. Terence Wilton made King Claudius the epitome of the boastful but resentful younger brother consumed by the ambition to supplant King Hamlet on the Danish throne and in his marital bed. He was also impressive as the wrathful Ghost of Hamlet’s Father. But Geoffrey Beevers, who played that wonderful old windbag Polonius, the marvelously macabre First Gravedigger, and the foppish courtier Osric, stole the show with his crowd-pleasing characterizations. — R.W.M.

Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes
(The Clayton Center Auditorium & Conference Center, April 9). Jason Petty, who earned a 2003 OBIE Award for Outstanding Performance for his charismatic portrayal of the title role in the Off-Broadway production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway, looks, acts, and sounds so much like the late country-music legend that, at times, he seems to be channeling the spirit of the 1961 Country Music Hall of Fame® inductee. In his new show Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes, Petty smoothly slipped in and out of his Hank persona while royally entertaining a highly appreciative audience with choice anecdotes about Williams’ life and legend and high-octane renditions of an eclectic selection of songs from some country-music giants who influenced remarkably prolific singer and song writer, some of Williams’ greatest hits, and a few songs from contemporary country-music stars who openly admit their enormous creative debt to remarkably prolific singer and song writer Hank Williams (1923-53). Performing with a simply fabulous four-piece band — Mark Baczynski on fiddle and mandolin, Andy Carroll on bass fiddle, D. J. Phillips on lead guitar, and Michael Stidolph on steel guitar — Jason Petty really rocked The Clayton Center. — R.W.M.

The Last Poets
(The Carolina Theatre, Sept. 23). The composition of The Last Poets may change, but the fire is still the same. This highly influential group of spoken-word artists started out with three members—Abiodun Oyewole, David Nelson, and Gylan Kain—on May 19, 1968 (Malcolm X’s birthday). In the ensuing 38 years, the membership of the group has changed several times. Original group member Abiodun Oyewole and Umar bin Hassan, who joined the group shortly after its inception, performed in Durham, with percussionist Don Babatunde, who opened the show with an awesome demonstration of African drumming performed on four conga drums of different pitches. When I first heard The Last Poets at the height of the Black Nationalist Movement in the early 1970s, they were so radical that they scared some black folk. Back then, they were activists, like the Black Panthers, who preached revolution; and they meant what they said. The Last Poets understand the black experience. Their name came from a verse by South African Poet Little Willie Kgostile: “When the moment hatches in time’s womb there will be no art talk, / The only poem you will hear will be the spearpoint pivoted in the punctured marrow of the villain.... / Therefore we are the last poets of the world.” — Carl Jeeter.

Man 1, Bank 0
(The Carolina Theatre, Jan. 25, and The Clayton Center, Jan. 28). Man 1, Bank 0 is a hilarious 90-minute multimedia one-man show, written and performed by the man who lived it. This classic David-vs.-Goliath story pits 28-year-old San Francisco free spirit Patrick Combs against corporate giant First Interstate Bank of California. On April 26, 1995, on a whim Combs deposited a junk-mail check for $95,093.35 — clearly marked “non-negotiable” into his checking account via an ATM. He endorsed it with a smiley face, thinking that he might be brightening some bored bank employee’s day with what he calls “a random act of banking kindness.” But the bank credited his account with the entire amount of “The Little Fake Check That Could!”; and weeks later, when the money was still in his account, Combs had the bank issue him a cashier’s check for $95,093.35 that he put it in one of the bank’s safety deposit boxes. Man 1, Bank 0 chronicles FICAL’s outrageously heavy-handed response when it belatedly discovered its error, and Combs’ attempts to give back the cashier’s check in exchange for a letter from the bank acknowledging its error and absolving him from future responsibility in the matter. — R.W.M.

1984
(N.C. State University Center Stage, Sept. 16 in Stewart Theatre). Watching The Actors’ Gang’s production of George Orwell’s 1984 was like observing an autopsy. You know what’s coming and you steel yourself for it, but it’s the details that get you. Film star Tim Robbins, who directed the production and presides over The Actors’ Gang, was not in town; but his work and his political philosophy was laid out on the table for all to see in this provocative, clever adaptation by Michael Gene Sullivan. In this show, the pleasure and horror of the story was, in fact, in the details. The ensemble of five men and one woman moved in sync like a drill squad — like a “well oiled machine”—lining themselves up, down, and sideways; stomping and strutting with crisp precision, in an effort to mirror the lockstep mentality the State has imposed. Only P. Adam Walsh, as the individualist thinker 6079 Smith (first name: Winston), stands apart, trembling, undulating, spazzing, even salivating in a performance that is a visual representation of the intricate bag of blood, flesh, and bones that is the most complex of machines, the human being. — Jerome Davis.

The Taming of the Shrew
(N.C. Shakespeare Festival, Oct. 13, 15 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater, Raleigh). This vivacious version of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is Shakespeare — and High Point-based NCSF — at its finest. Imaginatively staged by director John Woodson, provocatively performed by a stellar cast shining like supernovas, and beautifully designed by Joe Gardner (sets), Laura Simcox (costumes), and Todd Wren (lights), this magnificent NCSF production is not only a Shrew for the ages, but also the best argument for the timelessness of the Bard of Avon’s vivid characters and provocative plots. Daniel Murray and Monica Bell have a grand time creating feisty, hot-blooded characterizations of the legendary male chauvinist pig Petruchio and the equally legendary hellcat bride Kate and bringing these larger-than-life characters to full, glorious life. Graham Smith employed a seemingly infinite assortment of funny facial expressions, comic mannerisms, tics, and twitches to steal the show as Gremio, an indefatigable wealthy but superannuated suitor for the hand of fair Bianca (Jennifer Lee Jellicorse). Director John Woodson apparently gave Smith a license to steal, and Smith gleefully walked away with every scene in which he appeared. — R.W.M.

Wonderful Town
(Broadway at Duke, Nov. 29 in Page Auditorium). Music Theatre Associates’ tour of the Tony Award®-winning 2003 Broadway revival of Wonderful Town gave understudy Kristin Stewart a chance to star — and, oh boy, did she sparkle. Stewart confidently stepped into the lead role of somewhat plain and undeniably prickly aspiring writer Ruth Sherwood, substituting for tour headliner Deborah Lynn, and quickly demonstrated a fine flair for comedy. Stewart was quick with a quip and sure with a lyric. Her solo of “One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man” was a delight; and so were her duets with co-star Allison Berry, who played beautiful blonde aspiring actress Eileen Sherwood. Tour director/choreographer Jen Bender put lots of pizzazz in the show’s production numbers — which were fresh, new takes on the big numbers of this 1953 musical, whose 50th anniversary Broadway revival, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, took the Great White Way by storm. Bender got crowd-pleasing performances from Kristin Stewart and Allison Berry, who made Eileen both irresistible to men and truly an innocent; and music director/conductor David J. Hahn and his onstage orchestra performed the show’s score by composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green with brio. — R.W.M.

Runners Up include: The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (Duke Performances presents L.A. Theatre Works, Nov. 8), Cirque Dreams: Jungle Fantasy (Broadway Series South, Dec. 26-31), Delirium (Cirque du Soleil® at the RBC Center, April 12-13), Life: A Guide for the Perplexed (N.C. State University Center Stage presents the Flying Karamazov Brothers, Jan. 19), and The Rat Pack — Live at the Sands (Broadway Series South, Nov. 28-Dec. 3).

Top 10 Local Shows

The top 10 local shows (in alphabetical order) include:

Ancient History
(Glass House Theatre at Common Ground Theatre, Feb. 2-12). The first work of Chapel Hill-based Glass House Theatre Company, David Ives’ intimate play Ancient History packed a wallop in more ways than one. From loving intimacy to fiery debacle, the play covers a lot of territory. Glass House artistic director Deborah Winstead hand-picked her two-member cast of Jack and Ruth, selecting Jay O’Berski and Dana Marks. Together, Winstead, O’Berski, and Marks build on playwright David Ives’ work until it is amazingly real; Marks and O’Berski are as natural onstage as if their characters actually were in Ruth’s bedroom, and not sitting in the middle of 50 exceedingly close-by strangers. To watch as these two actors create and destroy a relationship is both fascinating and unnerving. Were it not for the pauses that Ives builds into the show — “other choices” signaled by a light change and a phone bell — it might be too real for us to stomach. Winstead has drawn so much reality from her cast that, without the jarring reminder that we are inside a theater, we might well mistake what we see as being real, and be unable to stop ourselves from interfering before it gets where it is clearly headed. — Alan R. Hall.

Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till
(EbzB Productions and Mike Wiley Productions at Deep Dish Theater, June 8-25). In this devastatingly powerful and dynamic one-man show, actor/playwright Mike Wiley recreated two small towns, more than a dozen characters, and the specifics of a racially led murder that was not so very uncommon in the rural Delta of southern Mississippi. Serena Ebhardt of EbzB directs Dar He, which only runs about 95 minutes including an intermission; but it is so packed with intense, tight characterizations and creatively-portrayed locales that we were rapt from the very first word. Those first words are spoken by Look reporter William Bradford Huey, as he begins to tell us what he learned from the men responsible for the death of 14-year-old Emmett “Bo” Till. Wiley is a marvel to watch as the characters he portrays appear and disappear before us. Wiley recreates Till, Huey, and all of the other characters with a depth and clarity that make each one readily identifiable, and as distinct as an entire cast of players could make them. Accompanying and widening the scope of the show is a masterful creation of pictures from the real episode, as designed by Ben Davis. — A.R.H.

Einstein’s Dreams
(Burning Coal Theatre Company, Nov. 30-Dec. 17 in Leggett Theatre at Peace College):. Burning Coal Theatre Company originally presented, Einstein’s Dreams, Kipp Cheng’s imaginative adaptation of the impressionistic novel by Alan Lightman, in its second season. It was a great success, but this show far outdoes its predecessor, which was also directed by Rebecca Holderness. A brilliant cast of seven characters and seven ensemble actors do not so much move about the stage as they do dance. New York City actor and playwright Cliff Campbell played Einstein, who is not necessarily the lead of this production. That role goes to Liserl (Quinn Hawkesworth), the name of both Einstein’s typist, and also—in Einstein’s dreams — the daughter he never knew. A carefully choreographed and superbly presented work, entering the most magnificent mind of the 20th century and exploring the depths of this man’s life, work, and dreams, Einstein’s Dreams was a poetic presentation of past, present, and future of a man who was, at the time, only 26 years old; but he became universally known for his masterful thesis on Time and Relativity. This production was as stellar as the universe Einstein seemed to know intimately. — A.R.H.

The Fall to Earth
(Manbites Dog Theater, March 16-April 2). The Fall to Earth, a swift and deadly 95-minute three-woman play by Joel Drake Johnson, kept us asking questions until all of them are answered in one swift, decisive eruption. Mother Faye (Marcia Edmundson) and her estranged daughter Rachel (Dana Marks) enter their motel room in a small town distant from either’s home. There is a tension between them. The third member of the cast is a policewoman named Terri (Cheryl Chamblee). These three women work together to form an ensemble that is both riveting and mesmerizing, handling all of the surprises that the author throws at us and lending a truly amazing amount of reality to the show. Under Jeff Storer’s direction, they bloom simultaneously, and create complex, deep characters, each with her own problems and secrets. We learn that Rachel and Faye have come to a small town in the mountains, somewhere in the U.S. We learn nothing that even differentiates which mountains they might be; we only know that Kenny, Faye’s son and Rachel’s younger brother, lived here until his death a few days ago. That’s the “why” of the play—or at least a portion of it. The remainder of why is the crux of the matter and the meat of the entire play. — A.R.H.

Frozen
(PlayMakers Repertory Company, Jan. 18-Feb. 12). Bryony Lavery’s good, though not great, play Frozen received a splendid staging by director Drew Barr. Deborah Hazlett was both funny and assured as psychiatrist Agnetha Gottmundsdottir; when the character goes up during an academic speech it feels queasily as though it’s the performer who’s done so. That’s craft. James Kennedy’s Ralph the serial killer is an enigma that cracks itself open now and then, only to retreat again into the unknowable. (His response to tender proffer of a handkerchief by the mother of one of the children he killed is a hideous obscenity.) The crowning glory, however, is Julie Fishell’s intensely felt performance as Nancy Shirley, the mother of the last child Ralph abducts and murders before he’s caught by the police. It is Nancy who makes the greatest psychic journey in the play, from jovial, if caustic, wife and mother to grief-smacked survivor, from enraged advocate to tentative humanist—too aware, perhaps of the life that’s passing her by to dwell forever in the realm of misery and militant anger. Fishell never tips her hand, or makes this excursion schematic. Hers is a magisterial presence, innately humane and profoundly sympathetic. — Scott Ross.

The Last Night of Ballyhoo
(Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy, July 19-30). Raleigh, NC actor, director, and designer extraordinaire John C. McIlwee struck theatrical gold with a 24-karat presentation of The Last Night of Ballyhoo by Alfred Uhry. The role of sweet, sensitive college dropout Lala Levy is a plum part; and HSN publicist Hilary Russo devoured it with obvious relish. Marilee Spell brought similar gusto to her portrayal of Beulah “Boo” Levy, Lala’s obstreperous domineering mother; and Robin Dorff gives a pip of a performance as Boo Levy’s long-suffering brother Adolph Freitag, who heads the family bedding business. Adolph also unwittingly precipitates Boo’s latest tirades against “the other kind” when he hires Joe Farkas (New York actor and Durham native Brendan Bradley), a Brooklyn Jew of Eastern European ancestry as his assistant. Bradley was fantastic as Joe Farkas; Susan Huckle was terrific as Sunny Freitag, the sheltered Wellesley College student who’s completely unaware of the antipathy of American Jews from Germany to their fellow religionists from Eastern Europe; and Carolyn McKenna quietly stole scene after scene with her superbly understated performance as Rebecca “Reba” Freitag, a good-hearted if scatterbrained soul who’s constantly thwarting Boo Levy’s wish to rule the Freitag-Levy-Freitag roost. — R.W.M.

Moonlight and Magnolias
(Actors Comedy Lab in N.C. State University’s Thompson Studio Theatre, July 14-30). Set in the office of producing legend David O. Selznick (David McClutchey), Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight and Magnolias is a comedy based in fact—uh, sort of. It is a scenario that might have taken place on that fateful date in 1939 when Selznick shut down the soundstage of his soon-to-be major blockbuster, Gone with the Wind. The script he has already been shooting for three weeks is a disaster, and Selznick asks a massive personal favor of his close friend Ben Hecht (Seth Blum): he doesn’t want a rewrite, he wants a whole new script. Selznick has fired director George Cukor, and pulled powerhouse director Victor Fleming (Kevin Ferguson) off The Wizard of Oz. Selznick plunges into a maelstrom by locking the office door and demanding the impossible from Hecht and Fleming. With the aid of his secretary (Morrisa Nagel), the three try their durnedest to turn out a superior shooting script in the five days Hecht grudgingly has granted his old friend. Director Bunny Safron gets crackerjack comic characterizations from all four actors. Moonlight and Magnolias is the yardstick you will use to measure every comedy of the coming season. — A.R.H.

The Music Man
(North Carolina Theatre, Nov. 3-12 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium). The North Carolina Theatre didn’t need 76 trombones or 110 cornets to stage a big, brassy, absolutely beautiful production of The Music Man by Meredith Willson. Former “Dukes of Hazzard” star and 1999 Tony Award® nominee Tom Wopat and Broadway star Jacquelyn Piro Donovan, who played conman Harold Hill and Marian the Librarian, lit up the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium stage with a pair of incandescent performances as the title character and the small-town girl who finally convinces career conman Harold Hill to go straight. New York director/choreographer Richard J. Sabellico made a most auspicious NCT debut with his imaginative and exuberant staging of this classic of the American musical theater; musical director Edward G. Robinson and the large and lively NCT orchestra made the familiar tunes in Meredith Willson’s musical score sparkle anew, like priceless gems of the finest color and quality; and the spectacular sets (originally designed by James Fouchard for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera) and fabulous period costumes (furnished by Costume World and supplemented by outfits crafted by costume supervisor Cindy McGowen) make The Music Man a feast for the eye as well as the ear. — R.W.M.

Vanishing Marion
(StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, April 6-23 in Swain Hall at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Under StreetSigns artistic director Joseph Megel’s brisk and sensitive direction, the world premiere of Seattle playwright Jeanmarie Williams’ exhilarating comic drama Vanishing Marion is a smashing success. Williams’ play is moving, funny, and bracing in both its intelligence and its acute representation, not of recognizable human types, but of absolute human beings. Hollis Wansley’s Marion is beyond praise. She navigates the character’s emotional extremes with a laser-like precision; she is by turns acidic, funny, livid and pitiable without recourse to any special pleading. She merely is. Wansley, like the play itself, is never less than deeply, verifiably human. Aside from her almost supernal beauty, Melora Rivera’s Lucia is exquisitely poised; — and Elisabeth Lewis Corley (Rita), Sarah Kocz (Leslie), and Amy Flynn (Carole) all create memorable characters. Director Joseph Mengel’s quick-silver staging, like Rob Hamilton’s superbly rendered set with its cheerless wallpaper and a dining table at which no one ever eats, brims with nimble invention. And his beautifully assembled cast is about as good as it is possible to imagine. Theater this good is as rare as perfect love. Go, and fall deeply. — S.R.

Wit
(Raleigh Little Theatre, Feb. 10-26): . Margaret Edson drew on her experiences as a volunteer in the oncology unit in a local hospital to write Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit, creating for us the stern but witty Dr. Vivian Bearing (eloquently played at RLT by Mary Rowland). Bearing teaches college-level English Literature, and specializes the Holy Sonnets of Poet John Donne. Using her immense knowledge of the subject, she uses Donne’s renowned “Wit” as a weapon against her cancer. Dr. Bearing’s own instructor, E. M. Ashford, is brilliantly performed by Patsy Clarke. Her physician, Dr. Harvey Kelekian, is expertly portrayed by veteran Triangle actor Fred Corlett as a man of science and research, without any kind of a bedside manner. Going Kelekian one further is the up-and-coming Dr. Jason Posner, recreated by Kevin Ferguson, who he reminds Dr. Bearing he took her class, and then proceeds to give her a pelvic examination. While comedic, the scene shows clearly the humiliation and insensitivity doctors can inflict upon their patients. Conversely, Nurse Susie Monahan, played by Triangle newcomer Diane Monson, is compassionate, caring, attentive, and gives Dr. Bearing the out of DNR: “Do Not Resuscitate.” Monahan is the human element in a hospital teeming with those more interested in their careers than their cases. — A.R.H.

Runners Up include: Agnes of God (Ghost & Spice Productions at Common Ground Theatre, Jan. 12-29), Candide (Raleigh Little Theatre, June 2-18), Collected Stories (Flying Machine Theatre Co. at CGT, July 21-Aug. 5), God’s Man in Texas (PlayMakers Repertory Company, March 1-26), and Lend Me a Tenor (University Theatre at N.C. State’s TheatreFest 2006, June 15-25).

Honorable Mention honors go to The ArtsCenter: Rewind (Dec. 1); Both Hands Theatre Company: Exactly What T(w)o Do (Dec. 7-16 at Manbites Dog Theater); Burning Coal Theatre Company: Miss Julie (May 11-28 in Leggett Theatre at Peace College) and 1776 (Sept. 21-Oct. 8 in Pittman Auditorium at Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh); Burning Coal Theatre Company and Theater of the American South: Oldest Living Confederate Widow: Her Confession (Oct. 21 staged reading at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh); Deep Dish Theater Company: The Exonerated (Oct. 26-Nov. 18) and Orson’s Shadow (Aug. 24-Sept. 16); Manbites Dog Theater: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (Nov. 3-5, 9-12, 15-18); North Carolina Theatre: South Pacific (April 29-May 7); PlayMakers Repertory Company: I Am My Own Wife (Sept. 13-17); Raleigh Ensemble Players and the Town of Cary: Blowfish (Nov. 15-19 at ); Ride Again Productions: The Christmas Letters (Nov. 30-Dec. 10 in Swain Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill); StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance and PlayMakers Repertory Company: Will the Circle Be Unbroken (Sept. 7-8 in Memorial Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill); Theatre in the Park: An American Daughter (Sept. 15-17, 21-24); and Wordshed Productions: On Greed and Loneliness (Sept. 20-Oct. 1 in Swain Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill).


Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till Is The Best of the Best Shows of 2006

By our count, there were 426 theatrical productions (including fundraising events) in the Triangle in 2006; but only one of them — Ebzb Productions and Mike Wiley Productions’ stirring multimedia presentation of Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till — made all four Top 10 lists published by the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill news media. A one-man show written and performed by Mike Wiley and directed by Serena Ebhardt, Dar He was a devastating dramatization of one of the most infamous murders of the Civil Rights Era.

The three runners-up to Dar He made three of the four 10-best lists published Dec. 31st by The News & Observer (Orla Swift, Roy C. Dicks, Adam Sobsey, and Jim Wise) of Raleigh, NC; Jan. 9th by Triangle Theater Review (Robert W. McDowell, Scott Ross, Alan R. Hall, Jerome Davis, and Carl Jeeter) of Raleigh; Jan. 10th by The Independent Weekly (Byron Woods) of Durham; and Jan 15th by Front Row Center (Alan R. Hall, who also writes for TTR) of Chapel Hill. They include (in alphabetical order): Ancient History (Glass House Theatre); The Exonerated (Deep Dish Theater Company); and The Fall to Earth (Manbites Dog Theater).

Seven shows made two of the four 10-best lists published Dec. 31st by The News & Observer and Jan. 9th by the Triangle Theater Review, both of Raleigh, NC, Jan. 10th by The Independent Weekly of Durham; and Jan 15th by Front Row Center of Chapel Hill. They include (in alphabetical order): As the Crow Flies, Tales from Four Directions (Paperhand Puppet Intervention); Einstein’s Dreams (Burning Coal Theatre Company); Frozen (PlayMakers Repertory Company); The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (Manbites Dog Theater); Moonlight and Magnolias (Actors Comedy Lab); The Music Man (North Carolina Theatre); and Wit (Raleigh Little Theatre).

Fifteen other home-grown productions tied for eighth place, when they appeared on a single top 10 list. They include (in alphabetical order): Agnes of God (Ghost & Spice Productions); Bury the Dead (Raleigh Ensemble Players); Cabaret (North Carolina Theatre); The Cherry Orchard (Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern); Closer (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Dramatic Art Advanced Showcase); Exactly What T(w)o Do (Both Hands Theatre Company); God’s Man in Texas (PlayMakers Repertory Company); “Holy Hell” by Barbara Lindsay (The ArtsCenter); “Horseshoe Bend” by Rebecca Tennison & Kate Sheehy (RadiCackaLacky Puppetry Convergence); The Last Night of Ballyhoo (Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy); Loyal Women (Duke University Department of Theater Studies); Oleanna (Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy); Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) (Manbites Dog Theater); Three Sisters (on Ice) (Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern); and Vanishing Marion (StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance).

This year, for the first time, the Triangle Theater Review published two top 10 lists: one for touring productions and one for local shows. Front Row Center and The News & Observer each selected 10 shows, and The Independent Weekly chose a baker’s dozen. But none of these three lists included any touring productions in their top 10’s, so this edition of the “Best of the Best” includes only our “Top 10 Local Shows,” plus 10 from Front Row Center, 10 from The News & Observer, and 12 of the 13 from The Independent Weekly. (The Triad Stage presentation of “Master Harold” ... and the Boys [April 23-May 14], cited on Byron Woods’ 10-best list, is a Greensboro production.)

In 2006, Manbites Dog Theater of Durham was the top Triangle theatrical company, with three productions — The Fall to Earth, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, and Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) — appearing on one or more local top 10 lists. Moreover, as part of its “Other Voices” series, Manbites Dog also hosted two shows that Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern staged — The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters (on Ice) — and one show that Both Hands Theatre Company staged — Exactly What T(w)o Do — all three of which were numbered among the Best of the Best.

PlayMakers Repertory Company of Chapel Hill — last year’s winner, with four of its five 2005 presentations on Triangle 10-best lists — had two of its six 2006 productions — Frozen and God’s Man in Texas — on this year’s local top 10 lists. So did Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy (The Last Night of Ballyhoo and Oleanna), and the North Carolina Theatre (Cabaret and The Music Man).

All in all, there were 24 Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill shows listed in one or more Triangle top 10 ranking. Listed below in order of selection, with tied shows listed in alphabetical order by title, are the Best of the Best Shows of 2006. Links are provided for shows reviewed by TTR.

1. Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till (Ebzb Productions and Mike Wiley Productions, June 8-25 at Deep Dish Theater Company): Chosen by Front Row Center, The Independent Weekly, The News & Observer, and Triangle Theater Review.

2 (tie): Ancient History (Glass House Theatre, Feb. 2-12 at Common Ground Theatre): Chosen by Front Row Center, The Independent Weekly, and Triangle Theater Review.
2 (tie): The Exonerated (Deep Dish Theater Company, Oct. 26-Nov. 18): Chosen by Front Row Center, The Independent Weekly, and The News & Observer. For TTR review, see http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2006/102006/Exonerated.html.
2 (tie): The Fall to Earth (Manbites Dog Theater, March 16-April 2): Chosen by Front Row Center, The News & Observer, and Triangle Theater Review.

5 (tie): As the Crow Flies, Tales from Four Directions (Paperhand Puppet Intervention, Aug. 11-Sept. 3 in the Forest Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill and Sept. 8-9 at the N.C. Museum of Art): Chosen by The Independent Weekly and The News & Observer.
5 (tie): Einstein’s Dreams (Burning Coal Theatre Company, Nov. 30-Dec. 17 in Leggett Theatre at Peace College): Chosen by Front Row Center and Triangle Theater Review.
5 (tie): Frozen (PlayMakers Repertory Company, Jan. 18-Feb. 12 in the Paul Green Theatre in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art): Front Row Center and Triangle Theater Review.
5 (tie): The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (Manbites Dog Theater, Nov. 3-18): Chosen by The Independent Weekly and The News & Observer. For TTR review, see http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2006/112006/Goat.html.
5 (tie): Moonlight and Magnolias (Actors Comedy Lab, July 14-30 in N.C. State University’s Thompson Studio Theatre): Chosen by Front Row Center and Triangle Theater Review.
5 (tie): The Music Man (North Carolina Theatre, Nov. 3-12 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium: Chosen by The News & Observer and Triangle Theater Review.
5 (tie): Wit (Raleigh Little Theatre, Feb. 10-26): Chosen by Front Row Center and Triangle Theater Review.

13 (tie): Agnes of God (Ghost & Spice Productions, Jan. 12-29 at Common Ground Theatre): Chosen by Front Row Center. For TTR review, see http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2006/012006/Agnes.html.
13 (tie): Bury the Dead (Raleigh Ensemble Players, Sept. 7-23 in Artspace Gallery 2): Chosen by The News & Observer. For TTR review, see http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2006/092006/Bury.html.
13 (tie): Cabaret (North Carolina Theatre, Feb. 25-March 5 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium): Chosen by The Independent Weekly. For TTR review, see http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2006/022006/Cabaret.html.
13 (tie): The Cherry Orchard (Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, Sept. 21-Oct. 7 at Manbites Dog Theater): Chosen by The Independent Weekly. For TTR review, see http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2006/092006/CherryOrchard.html.
13 (tie): Closer (UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Dramatic Art Advanced Showcase, Sept. 1-4 in Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art): Chosen by The Independent Weekly.
13 (tie): Exactly What T(w)o Do (Both Hands Theatre Company, Dec. 7-16 at Manbites Dog Theater): Chosen by Front Row Center. For TTR review, see http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2006/122006/Exactly.html.
13 (tie): God’s Man in Texas (PlayMakers Repertory Company, March 1-26 in the Paul Green Theatre): Chosen by The News & Observer. For TTR review, see http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2006/032006/GMIT.html.
13 (tie): “Holy Hell” by Barbara Lindsay (Ten by Ten in the Triangle [festival], July 13-23 at The ArtsCenter,): Chosen by The Independent Weekly. For TTR review, see http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2006/072006/TenBy.html.
13 (tie): “Horseshoe Bend” by Rebecca Tennison & Kate Sheehy (RadiCackaLacky Puppetry Convergence, Aug 30 at The ArtsCenter and Sept. 1 at Historic Playmakers Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill): Chosen by The Independent Weekly.
13 (tie): The Last Night of Ballyhoo (Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy, July 19-30 in the Kennedy Theater, Raleigh: Chosen by Triangle Theater Review.
13 (tie): Loyal Women (Duke University Department of Theater Studies, Feb. 9-12 in Sheafer Theater in the Bryan Center on Duke’s West Campus): Chosen by The Independent Weekly.
13 (tie): Oleanna (Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy, Aug. 2-13): Chosen by The News & Observer. For TTR review, see http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2006/082006/Oleanna.html.
13 (tie): Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) (Manbites Dog Theater, June 8-25): Chosen by The News & Observer. For TTR review, see http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2006/062006/ThomPain.html.
13 (tie): Three Sisters (on Ice) (Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, April 27-May 14 at Manbites Dog Theater): Chosen by The Independent Weekly. For TTR review, see http://www.cvnc.org/reviews/2006/052006/ThreeSisters.html.
13 (tie): Vanishing Marion (StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance, April 6-23 in Swain Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill): Chosen by Triangle Theater Review.

Links to Top 10 Lists: Jan 15th Chapel Hill, NC Front Row Center article by Alan R. Hall: http://hometown.aol.com/theonlyarhall/reviews.html; Jan. 10th Durham, NC Independent Weekly article by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/; Jan. 9th Raleigh, NC Triangle Theater Review article by Robert W. McDowell: published immediately above; and Dec. 31st Raleigh, NC News & Observer article by Orla Swift: http://www.newsobserver.com/308/story/527064.html [inactive 1/08].