‘Cedar Springs,’ looked at straights in the gayborhood.

Critical rankings of the best of 2017 in stage.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
Executive Editor
[email protected]

There were tons of great plays and musicals presented locally this year, but we narrowed it down to 10 (plus the best touring show we saw)…. As well as the actors who made a difference.

Top tour. Something Rotten! (ATTPAC Broadway Series). This frolic through the Renonsense was a whiz-bang nerdgasm about the hidden history of musical theater. It was easily the most exhaustively entertaining touring production of the year.

10. Hit the Wall (WaterTower Theatre); directed by Joanie Schultz. WTT’s new artistic director made a statement with the first production under her watch, an in-your-face anthem about the Stonewall Riots.

9. Br’er Cotton (Kitchen Dog Theater); directed by Rhonda Boutté. In the era of Black Lives Matter and the call to “get woke,” Tearrance Arvell Chisholm’s bracing, alert yet abstract drama about an African-American teen self-radicalizing, and unable to see beyond the limits of his own rage, was a sobering and important reflection on where we are as a culture … and how far we have to go.

8. The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord (WaterTower Theatre); directed by Emily Scott Banks. Three important writers spanning more than a century find themselves in limbo, negotiating the scope and limitations of religious principles. It sounds heady, and it is, but also fast-paced, smart and entertaining. If only Sunday school were this inviting.

7. The Minotaur (Theatre 3); directed by Jeffrey Schmidt. One of three riffs on ancient myths to make a strong impression this year, this one the murky fable of the Labyrinth, with all its Joseph Campbell iconography intact. Like Discord, it employs a trio of thinkers to parse out the morality, but it’s the emotional grab, embodied by Darren McElroy as the cursed monster, that clinches the deal.

6. Hair (Dallas Theater Center); directed by Kevin Moriarty. The definitive counterculture musical always risks devolving into quaint-ified period piece, but the DTC’s recent version created a genuine “happening” — not condescending nostalgia, but turning the Wyly into a unique community, if only for a few hours. Groovy.

5. Cedar Springs; or Big Scary Animals (Theatre Three); directed by Jeffrey Schmidt. Intensely localized, this dark comedy by playwright Matt Lyle posits what happens when a well-intentioned but unsophicated older couple move next door to a gay mixed-race family, at least two of whom have poor social skills. Who’s to blame for all the misunderstandings? Lyle toys with your expectations and loyalties and forces the audience to see The Other in a sympathetic (or critical) light, and does so through one of the densest string of laugh-out-loud comedies you’ll ever see.

4. Hood (Dallas Theater Center); directed by Douglas Carter Beane. Like The Minotaur, this updating of the Robin Hood legend trades in the iconography of myths, but turns the tropes on their head in this exhaustingly energetic romp through Sherwood Forest.

3. Pride & Prejudice (WaterTower Theatre); directed by Joanie Schultz. Jane Austen has been so over-adapted, a new version of one of her Regency novels sounds like dread, but this version, by playwright Kate Hamill, traded on its familiarity for a streamlined farce instead of a staid comedy of manners. Nineteenth century romantic entanglements have rarely felt so modern.

2. The Necessities (Second Thought Theatre); directed by Joel Ferrell. Playwright Blake Hackler’s four-hander about the denizens of a small Texas town precariously navigating their ways through the emotional damage of life was a deft, moody, heart-breaking character study.

1. Electra (Dallas Theater Center); directed by Kevin Moriarty. The DTC won the Tony Award this year for best regional theater in the country, and by all indications, this production of the Greek tragedy was the clincher, and justly so. Adapting the production for an outdoor space (the audiences moves three times), adding an essential element of noise-cancelling headphones to pipe the dialogue and sound effects into your brain with shocking clarity, and turning a lurid and melodramatic story into a shockingly relevant and visceral experience, this was transformative theater — the one unforgettable show of the year.