Maggie’s Picks- Top 5 Shows of 2015

top-5Maggie’s Top 5 Shows of 2015

I can’t believe some of the good fortune I’ve had, both with Theater By Numbers assignments and in the quality of shows I’ve seen as a patron of the arts. 2015 was the year of challenging theater and impressive undertakings with even more impressive results. If you had told me I was in for a year of plays that offered candid glimpses into sexual abuse, the lives of desperate, poor New Orleanians, or the world before standardized sign language, I’d have called you a liar!

Here are my Top 5 Picks:

 

Show: R+J: The Vineyard

Company: Oracle Productions & Red Theater

Venue: Oracle Theater

TEN WORD SUMMARY: The language of Shakespeare without having to hear a thing.

RATING: d12= “Heckuva Good Show”

Red Theater’s re-telling of “Romeo and Juliet” set in a largely deaf community in late 19th century Martha’s Vineyard features both deaf and hearing actors, super titles for some more intricate exchanges, and interpreters as needed for audience members. The concept that creators Aaron Sawyer and Janette Bauer have concocted involves more than just comprehension; they want to immerse every person in the history, culture and stigmas of deafness. Deafness factors into the atmospheric and musical soundscape, designed to give us the feel of sonic distortions that many deaf individuals experience, adding an additional disorienting layer to confusion and anxiety. Characters, stomp, bang and clang more often than shouting; the experience was eye-opening to anyone, myself included, who have never contemplated the view point of the deaf theatergoer.

 

Show: Sucker Punch

Company: Victory Gardens Theater

Venue: The Zacek McVay Theater

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Feel the punches, drip sweat; you’re almost in the ring.

RATING: d20= “One of the Best”

“Sucker Punch” does a tremendous job at making boxing action realistic and gut wrenching. It is a perfectly encapsulated coming-of-age story that is keenly aware that though events take place in nostalgic London of the 1980’s, the racial tension that inspired riots then is just as potent today. We follow Leon (Maurice Demus), who’s natural ability takes him from his neighborhood to international notoriety. There’s an overwhelming intimacy and exhilaration in the way we experience Leon’s matches in this production. The ring is the only place where he fears no repercussions. But outside, he keeps bumping into the invisible boundaries that his friends, mentors and primarily white institutions have set for him and other young black men. It’s there he’s increasingly outmatched.

 

Show: The Grown-Up

Company: Shattered Globe Theatre

Venue: Theatre Wit

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Magic emulates real life in this fairy tale for adults.

RATING: d12= “Heckuva Good Show”

“The Grown-Up” is a magical, multi-headed creature, recognizable to anyone that has ever built turrets out of couch cushions or decided that their orange shag carpeting was actually deadly lava. It is a gorgeous fairy tale built out of nothing, instilling you with equal parts childlike wonder and ache of any adult caught up in the memory of a place that is forever out of your grasp. It’s a joy to watch such an effective ensemble, doing such heavy lifting, and becoming the elements that add dimension to each lightly sketched world they inhabit. Each performer is a flash of color emerging when light bounces in prisms from our hero’s crystal doorknob, and we’re distracted enough with their wit and revelry to forget what lies behind the next door. Director Krissy Vanderwarker gives the story the spotlight, and wisely scrubs away anything unnecessary.

 

Show: REALLY, REALLY

Company: Interrobang Theatre Project

Venue: Athenaeum Theatre

TEN WORD SUMMARY: I’m with Liz Lemon; always be mistrustful of today’s youths.

RATING: d10= “Worth Going To”

Paul Downs Colaizzo’s “REALLY, REALLY” drops us smack dab into a communal hangover courtesy of the wildest party on campus. There’s enough camouflage to trick you into thinking you’re about to set foot into a frivolous collegiate social sphere, and the deepest concerns of these co-eds is sussing out who made the biggest, drunkest fool of themselves and who hooked up with the sketchiest character. But, Animal House, this is not. When very serious allegations of rape enter the fray, we exactly what shallow stuff these students are made of, and what an insignificant thing truth and honesty can become when your future is threatened. The show punches the wind out of the myth of a carefree and well-adjusted college student. No one escapes this play without being morally compromised. One of the hardest shows I’ve ever had to watch and recover from; and I mean that in the best way.

 

Show: Airline Highway

Company: Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Venue: Steppenwolf Theatre Company

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Last day in the life of a crumbling motel queen.

RATING: d20= “One of the Best”

Lisa D’Amour’s “Airline Highway” is a sometimes warm, sometimes biting tribute to the sparkle and decline of a once proud motor court now all but abandoned by all but the most desperate for four walls and a roof.  We’re invited to join the parking lot social circle, breathe deep the cigarette haze and drink in dawn soundtrack of rumbling vending machine and muffled radio at the Hummingbird Motel.  The ensemble is an incredible force. They are bombastic, deeply flawed and thrilling to watch as each stumbles further from the ideal self they’ve expended such effort to project. As the keg runs dry, each of them faces the harsh light of their true nature; some are wizened, and others run from the unkind mirror. The production is astoundingly lifelike, and it’s almost spell-breaking to see actors taking their bows.

 

HONORABLE MENTION:Ibsen’s Ghosts”, Adaptation by Greg Allen for Mary Arrchie Theatre. (Be sure to catch a show with Mary Arrchie before their doors close for good!)