Our critics rank the best of 2013 in film, stage and music and more
Year-end “best of” lists are always a mixed bag. Theater is the liveliest art form, and there can be gaffes or “off” days on performances, shows that grow on you and those that start strong but diminish with memory. And what do you do with the seemingly endless revivals and classics that pop up year after year?
But North Texas stages are ripe with talent — so much so, many excellent shows failed to make the cut this year. This list (technically not 10 shows, but 14) captured some of the spirit of the year for me. Good job, folks. Keep it up.
10./9. A Raisin in the Sun/Clybourne Park (Dallas Theater Center). On their own, both of these plays may not have made my Top 10 (though Raisin probably would’ve). But collectively, as presented in repertory by the DTC — Lorraine Hansberry’s original, groundbreaking masterpiece about mid-century race relations and Bruce Norris’ recent unofficial “sequel,” which turns much of the sensitivity of Raisin on its head — made for a thoughtful one-two punch.
8. Children of a Lesser God (Contemporary Theatre of Dallas). Mark Medoff’s play about the conflict between the deaf and hearing worlds can be problematic — not in its subject matter, but its themes — but Marianne Galloway’s performance as a deaf woman angered at the hearing world was so emotionally raw you almost forget its puzzling choices as a play. It’s the most successful staging of the show I’ve ever seen.
7. Sweater Curse: A Yarn about Love (independent). Full disclosure: My friend and fellow critic Elaine Liner wrote and starred in this one-woman show, so you might think I was predisposed to like it. But I was unprepared for how beautiful and well-acted her story is, explaining the travails of dating (from youth to middle age) as reflected through the act of knitting.
6. The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife (Theatre Arlington). Charles Busch’s straightest (literally) comedy is a kind of urban fantasy story about an Upper West Side quasi-intellectual in a safe but unexciting marriage and the jolt of energy brought to her by the appearance of an old friend. But is the friend real? This deconstruction of modern mores was one of the best looking shows of 2013, and solidly acted by a tight cast.
5. Fly By Night (Dallas Theater Center). This new musical, set on the eve of the great East Coast blackout in 1964, is a rangy piece, covering a cross-section of folks whose lives intersect in some charming and heartbreaking ways. Although a little too long, the score is occasionally magical, and David Coffee’s second-act solo brought down the house.
4. One. Man. Show. (Kitchen Dog Theater). Tim Johnson, who mostly directs at Kitchen Dog, wrote and performed in this almost-solo production, a confessional musical comedy about his own struggles with HIV, middle age and in a grander way, the problems of modern society. It’s a vaudeville multimedia performance art piece. If that sounds weird, it is; it’s also brilliant.
3. Enron (Theatre 3). The Enron scandal has a special, musty place in the hearts of Texans (Houstonians more than Dallasites, to be sure), and this dissection of the hubris that allowed people to be fooled (and fool themselves) into financial ruin was sometimes almost too poignant, like reliving a nightmare. Director Jeffrey Schmidt assembled a top-notch cast for a play filled with absurdities (the occasional song, raptor-like marionettes) intermixed with all-too-real truths we are still grappling with.
2. RX (Kitchen Dog Theater). One of Kitchen Dog’s strongest seasons ever never got better than this comedy about modern healthcare, with Tina Parker as a harried publishing exec so heavily medicated she doesn’t seem to mind her life is a mess. Max Hartman, Martha Harms, John Flores and the rest of the cast crackled with lively dialogue and a frenetic yet droll pacing by director Christopher Carlos.
1. Second Thought Theatre’s 2013 season (A Behanding in Spokane, My Name is Rachel Corrie, Gruesome Playground Injuries and In a Forest Dark and Deep). I’ve never even named a tie for my No. 1 spot, not to mention a season, but it’s finally time. 2TT made an artistic comeback about two years ago, but reached its peak with its four shows in 2013 that were among the most compelling across the board, starting with the sick comedy A Behanding in Spokane (the title says it all) and ending with the eerie two-hander In a Forest Dark and Deep. It turned the Bryant Hall rehearsal room on the Kalita Humphreys campus into a crucible of excellent work and design. Kudos to artistic director Steven Walters for bringing it all together.
ACTOR OF THE YEAR
I confess it: This is my favorite story of the year.
It’s not because it’s my last (thank god) or the best written (it’s not, I hope). It’s because after 51 weeks of saying what theaters don’t always do right, I get to say what the actors who make those plays happen did perfectly.
It’s a bigger deal than some think. Actors in Dallas toil long and hard for little recompense, but they are essential artists who elevate our community in countless ways (you’re more likely to see them in TV commercials and on billboards than stages sometimes, but they are OK with that — it pays the bills). So to single out the ones who, as much as a year later, still resonate … well, it’s simply a privilege.
A privilege to remind everyone that Cindee Mayfield began the year strongly (with January’s The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife), reached a high mid-year with June’s Lydie Marland in the Afterlife and ended strongly this month with Other Desert Cities. She also made many of her co-stars (Elias Taylorson, Brandi Andrade, Barbara Bierbrier and Catherine DuBord) raise their games to memorable levels.
Full casts of other shows collectively shone as well, especially Drew Wall, Barrett Nash, Van Quattro and David Jeremiah, who made a potent quartet in the dark comedy A Behanding in Spokane.
Among large casts, Doug Jackson (Enron) and Linda Leonard (Kiss of the Spider Woman) distinguished themselves, as did Liz Mikel as the matriarch in A Raisin in the Sun; and David Coffee, who’s heartbreaking solo in Fly By Night transformed the show from good to great. Another actor who scored, like Mayfield, in multiple roles: Max Hartman in Penelope and RX.
Several people you don’t usually think of as actors also impressed me: journalist and film festival programmer Todd Camp, as a gay man delivering his partner’s eulogy in Standing on Ceremony: The Marriage Plays and theater critic Elaine Liner moving in front of the footlights for her one-woman show Sweater Curse.
Tim Johnson is also best known for something other than acting (he’s a gifted director), but his confessional performance in One.Man.Show. was brave and striking. Another solo show that stood out was Georgia Clinton’s turn as Molly Ivins in Red Hot Patriot. Johnson even even directed two actors to career-best work: Rhonda Boutté and Raphael Parry in The Chairs. What skill!
But my four favorite performances of 2012 were all turned in by women. I couldn’t take my eyes off Heather Henry in In a Forest Dark and Deep as she rose and fell with emotional nuances as a woman hiding gruesome secrets. Marianne Galloway (herself hearing impaired) turned the prickly character of a deaf-mute into a comprehensible damaged child in Children of a Lesser God. In a much lighter vein, Arianna Movassagh played vulnerability and hopefulness with comic mastery in the fluffy but enjoyable farce Made in Heaven.
But ultimately, the performer I think of most is one who seems to figure into every year’s best-of list. In RX, and then again Detroit, Kitchen Dog co-artistic director Tina Parker showed how it’s possible to be strong and weak as a marshmallow at the same time. No one does — nor has done in my memory — the combination of intelligence, willfulness and innocence with such deftness as Parker. She’s a Renaissance woman made for the contemporary (st)age, and for that alone — but much more — Parker deserves recognition as our actor of the year.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 27, 2013.