Last year at this time, Scott Ross and I reread our reviews of the hundreds of
theatrical productions that played the Triangle in calendar 2003 and hammered
out the Robert’s Reviews list of the 10 best shows of 2003 in record
time, with nary a cross word between us. That is surprising, given the passion
that we as theater critics feel for all things theatrical and the opinionatedness
and stubbornness of writers in general.
This year, Robert’s Reviews added Lissa Brennan, Alan R. Hall, and Todd
Morman to our roster of critics. (And there will be further additions in the
months to come.) So, in selecting our 10 best shows of 2004, Scott, Alan, Todd,
and I put our heads together via e-mail; and the Scott and I made the final selections.
(Sadly, Lissa Brennan has left the area.)
What follows is a listing of Robert’s Reviews’ choices of the 10
best theatrical productions to play the Triangle in calendar 2004, plus links
to this FREE e-mail theatrical newsletter’s previews and reviews of each
show. Please note that, unlike most other top 10 lists, our list includes some
productions that only brightened Triangle stages for one or two days.
The 10 best shows of 2004 were (in alphabetical order):
1. Little Women: The Musical (Theater
Previews at Duke et al.,
Oct. 13-31). The March sisters and Marmee came vividly to life in this bodacious
adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1869 coming-of-age novel, featuring a
libretto by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein.
Superbly directed by Tony Award® nominee Susan H. Schulman, Little Womenstarred
Tony winner Sutton Foster as spunky Jo March, a teenaged tomboy who delights
in writing blood-and-guts stories and adapting them for herself and her three
sisters to perform for their Concord, Massachusetts neighbors. Maureen McGovern
was delightful as Marmee, the March family matriarch who heroically struggles
to make ends meet while father is away fighting the Civil War; and John Hickok
was charming as Professor Fritz Bhaer, the introspective German immigrant who
finds a new life (and a new love) in Jo March. Little Women provided
a rare opportunity for Triangle theatergoers to see the out-of-town tryout of
a Broadway-bound musical. R.W.M.
2. Luminosity (PlayMakers
Repertory Company, April 7-May 2). The playwright Nick Stafford and PRC artistic
director David Hammond, who staged it with breathtaking aplomb, achieved without
question the production
theatrical season. An unalloyed miracle of intelligent stagecraft (including
one of the most effective first act curtains I’ve ever seen) Luminosity posed
the most urgent questions concerning murder, duplicity, economic barbarism, bigotry,
racial exploitation in both the abstract and the concrete, empathy,
redemption even the
legitimacy of art and
the ways in which we must accept even the distant past as a means of connecting
with and, finally, transcending
it. Triangle audiences may have to search long and hard for another play as deeply
rewarding as this. I know I will. Luminosity was precisely the sort
of work our
theater needs and so seldom receives. It made one proud. S.R.
3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Actors
from the London Stage at Duke Performances,
Five veteran British actors Guy
Burgess, Caroline Devlin, Jan Shepherd, Christopher
Staines, and Nicholas Tigg divided
all the roles and staged a sublime production of this rollicking romantic comedy
on a bare stage in simple costumes, with just
five wooden cubes for scenery/seats and a few carefully selected novelty items,
such as bug-eyes on springy stalks for fairies and ass’ ears for Bottom,
to heighten the hilarity. Tigg was terrific as Bottom, the ham actor who wants
to play all the major roles in Pyramus and Thisbe; but Burgess stole
the show with his absolutely inspired performance as Puck, jester to the fairy
a wide-eyed, grinning, pixilated sprite. Burgess nearly brought the house down
with his stiff Frankenstein-like walk and jerky slow-motion thrust of his fingers
in a horizontal V-for-victory sign to suggest a chink in the Wall that separated
the star-crossed lovers. R.W.M.
4. A Paradise It Seems: The Short
Stories of John Cheever (Wordshed
July 30-Aug. 1). The snooty WASPish suburbs limned by American novelist and short-story
writer John Cheever (1912-82) provide the backdrop for this provocative stage
of three Cheever stories “O
Youth and Beauty!,” “The Wrysons,” and “The
and directed by Matthew Spangler. The show featured a host of sharply etched
characterizations. Spangler was a stitch as squinty
eyed fading former athlete Cash Bentley, a former hurdler who brings many a party
to a premature end by getting drunk and trying to reenact his collegiate track
triumphs, using furniture from his neighbors’ living rooms as the hurdles.
Hannah Blevins was delightful as Bentley’s mortally embarrassed wife, Louise;
but Chris Chiron stole the show with his passionate performance as poor bewildered
Neddy Merrill, whose fateful decision to swim home from a Sunday-afternoon party
through his neighbors’ backyard
pools has disastrous
unexpected) consequences for him, his marriage, and his home. R.W.M.
5. The Producers (Broadway
Series South, Nov. 2-7).
Retrofitting the scenario of his own riotous 1968 comedy to the late 1950s, Mel
Brooks (as composer/lyricist and co-author) gave The Producers which
record 12 Tony Awards® one
of funniest musical books in American musical comedy and the most insistently
tuneful, instinctively melodic Broadway score
by an amateur since the days of Frank Loesser. Lewis J. Stadlen, the star of
the national tour presented by Broadway Series South gave us the impecunious
Broadway producer Max Bialystock whole: the greedy wheeze, the outraged geshraiof
the fallen idol who knows he deserves better than the best, the unrestrained
lust for gold and glory that is its own form of comedic grace, and the hilarious
despair of the narrowly thwarted. Susan Stroman, the show’s irreplaceable
director and choreographer, provided the most consistently, insanely, profligately,
extravagantly brilliant and inventive staging of a musical since the heyday of
Bob Fosse. S.R.
6. Ragtime (North Carolina
Theatre, Sept. 11-19).
With a trio of incandescent performers in the leading roles, this luminous production
was a real super nova. A superb singer and truly gifted dramatic actor, Norm
Lewis gave a magnificent performance as charismatic African-American ragtime
pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr. Julia Murney was terrific as Mother, a typical
upper-middle-class WASP wife and mother in New Rochelle, circa 1906, until the
outrageous injustice involving Coalhouse pricks her moral conscience. Tony \winner
Michael Rupert gave a heart-rending performance as Tateh, a poor Jewish immigrant,
scratching out a meager living by selling silhouettes on the mean streets of
New York City. Director Joe Locarro made a most auspicious NCT directorial debut,
demonstrating exceptional imagination and resourcefulness in staging this epic
message musical in very high style indeed; and choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo
expertly reproduced Graciela Daniele’s Tony-nominated musical staging from
the original Broadway production, filling the stage with flash and movement. R.W.M.
7. Silver River (Manbites
Dog Theater, Feb. 12-28). Romulus Linney’s luminous, compassionate, and
redemptive new play, receiving its world premiere at Manbites Dog Theater, was
a stunningly crafted monodrama
that provided the great Christine Morris a superb vehicle in which to exhibit
the full range of her seemingly illimitable brilliance. Under Jeff Storer’s
simple, yet inspired direction, Linney concerned himself with some of the profoundest
notions of the last century, and this: motherhood, sensuality, the dissolution
of familial ties, the social position of women in the wider spheres of influence,
the grace that accompanies forgiveness, and the personal struggle to break free
of accepted bounds for the sake of one’s own, tortured, soul. Those who
missed Silver River may well regret it forever after. S.R.
8. Stones in His Pockets (Actors
Comedy Lab and Theatre in the Park, Dec. 3-12).
A Hollywood movie being shot in County Kerry, Ireland, ends up involving the
entire town. This is the premise of a two-man show, Stones in His Pockets.
Charlie (David Bartlett) and Jack (Tony Hefner) are the two principals in this
show. Director Rod Rich set these two up so that we saw more than just the two
of them onstage. This was done with music, lighting, creative staging. Part of
the fun of this show was getting to watch each character “enter” and “exit.” Since
neither Bartlett nor Hefner ever left the stage, watching this process was something
akin to watching a film script. The two-man cast must continuously put out massive
amounts of energy, because this show cannot ever stall; if it does, all is lost.
And both these two gentlemen were more than up to the task. A.R.H.
9. Sylvia (Towne Players
of Garner, Oct. 15-23). Director Beth Honeycutt scored another big hit with this
delicious comic soufflé.
Janet Doughty and Rob Smith have great comic chemistry, and exploited it to the
fullest while playing Greg, a burned-out big-city business executive, and Sylvia,
a spunky stray dog that Greg meets in the park and
brings home to keep, much
to his wife’s consternation. Greg’s disillusionment with the corporate
rat race is every bit as palpable as his affection for Sylvia. Doughty’s
endearing antics as a flea-infested, shoe-chewing mutt who drastically disrupts
Greg and Kate’s household routine are highly amusing. Meg Dietrich plays
Kate, Greg’s increasingly exasperated schoolteacher wife and the show’s
straight woman, with considerable comic brio; and Michael Armstrong is a scream
as Greg’s obstreperous fellow dog lover Tom, Kate’s hard-drinking
old friend Phyllis, and the owlish gender-bending psychiatrist Leslie, whose
deliberately androgynous “look” is designed to unearth his/her patients’ hidden
feelings about sexual orientation. R.W.M.
10. Victoria (Dulcinea
Langfelder & Co.
at N.C. State University Center Stage, Nov. 20). There are not enough superlatives
justice to this magical multimedia
performance by Dulcinea Langfelder & Co. Using live actors, music, slide
projections, and video clips, actress/singer/dancer/choreographer Dulcinea Langfelder
and cohorts (especially Yves Simard, who plays a stern but sympathetic Orderly)
created an at-times hilarious but ultimately heartbreaking portrait of a spunky
old Jewish lady who may have lost her memory, her home, and her cat, but has
not lost her sense of humor despite suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
In sublimely eloquent facial expression, gesture, dialogue, mime, and most
remarkably in dance,
with or without her wheelchair serving as a surprisingly supple and versatile
dance partner, Dulcinea Langfelder casts new light on the
shadowy world of Alzheimer’s sufferers, where inchoate fears frequently
darken even the sunniest day. R.W.M.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (also in alphabetical order): Another Antigone (University
Theatre at N.C. State); Beau Jest (2nd Avenue South Theater Company); Boy
GiRL (Deep Dish Theater); The Chosen (Theatre Or); A Christmas
in the Park); Cinderella (Raleigh Little Theatre); Cirque Dreams (Broadway Series
South); Comic Potential (Actors Comedy Lab); 50! Evolution of a
Butch Lesbian(Laurie Wolf at Manbites Dog Theater); The Fist (Theatre Or); Floating
and the Glue Man (Raleigh Ensemble Players); Follies (University Theatre at N.C.
State); The Gardens of Frau Hess (Raleigh Ensemble Players); In
the Heart of
America (Raleigh Ensemble Players), The Invisible Man (Aquila Theatre Company
at NCSU Center Stage); Jekyll & Hyde (North Carolina Theatre); The
I (North Carolina Theatre); Kiss Me, Kate (Broadway at Duke); The
Lonesome West(Wordshed Productions); Macbeth (Tiny Ninja Theater at Manbites Dog Theater);
The Man Who Came to Dinner (Towne Players of Garner); My Fair Lady (North Carolina
Theatre); My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra (The Carolina Theatre);
Nixon’s Nixon (Manbites Dog Theater); Not About Heroes (PlayMakers Repertory
Company); Oklahoma! (Broadway Series South); One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s
Nest (Raleigh Little Theatre); A Perfect Ganesh (Wendell Theatre Group); Poor
Superman (Raleigh Ensemble Players); Pump Boys and Dinettes (Raleigh Little Theatre);
Safe House (Burning Coal Theatre Company); The Servant of Two Masters (Peace
College Theatre); Shirley Valentine (Ghost & Spice Productions); Sonnets
for an Old Century (Manbites Dog); Sweet Bird of Youth (Theatre in the Park);
The Tempest (Shakespeare & Originals); Ten by Ten in the Triangle (The ArtsCenter);
The Tragedy of King Richard II (PlayMakers Repertory Company); Underneath
Lintel (Flying Machine Theatre Company at The ArtsCenter); Vincent:
of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Manbites Dog Theater); Waiting for Godot (Burning
Coal Theatre Company); Women’s Minyan (Theatre Or); and You
Take It With You (Raleigh Little Theatre).
Note: On Jan. 13th, Robert’s Reviews will publish its
Fifth Annual Triangle Theater Awards. To start your FREE subscription to this
weekly Triangle theatrical
newsletter (not all of which is reprinted by CVNC), e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and
type SUBSCRIBE ROBERT’S REVIEWS
in the Subject: line.
Note: Copies of 2004 theatre materials no longer linked from
this article are