James Carpenter and Stacy Ross in Magic Theatre’s Any Given Day by Linda MacLean, the best play of the year. Photo by Jennifer Reiley Below: the cast of Marin Theatre Company’s Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker, another highlight of the Bay Area theater year. Photo by Kevin Berne.
One of the things I love about Bay Area theater is that picking a Top 10 list is usually a breeze. My surefire test of a great show is one I can remember without having to look at anything to remind me about it. The entire list below was composed in about five minutes, then I had to go look through my reviews to make sure they were all really this year. They were, and it was a really good year.
10. “The Happy Journey from Trenton to Camden” by Thornton Wilder, part of Wilder Times, Aurora Theatre Company
9. The White Snake by Mary Zimmerman, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
8. Tenderloin by Annie Elias with Tristan Cunningham, Siobhan Doherty, Rebecca Frank, Michael Kelly, Leigh Shaw, David Sinaiko and David Westley Skillman, Cutting Ball Theater
7. The Scottsboro Boys by John Kander, Fred Ebb and David Thompson, American Conservatory Theater
6. The Aliens by Annie Baker, San Francisco Playhouse
5. The Hundred Flowers Project by Christopher Chen, Crowded Fire and Playwrights Foundation
4. Spunk by Zora Neale Hurston, adapted by George C. Wolfe, California Shakespeare Theater
3. Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker, Marin Theatre Company
2. The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer, American Conservatory Theater
1. Any Given Day by Linda MacLean, Magic Theatre
Playwright Annie Baker appears twice on this list and could have appeared a third time for Aurora’s Body Awareness. This was the year of Annie Baker in the Bay Area – the first time her work was done here, and with any luck, not her last.
The most valuable player award in this list goes to Stacy Ross, who was extraordinary in #1 (Any Given Day) and #10 (“The Happy Journey from Trenton to Camden”). In Any Given Day, she appeared opposite James Carpenter, another valuable player, and to see two of the Bay Area’s best actors work opposite each other in a remarkable play was sheer theatrical joy.
Three of the shows on this list – The Normal Heart, The Scottsboro Boys and The White Snake – all originated at other places, but that doesn’t make them any less brilliant or make ACT or Berkeley Rep any less canny for having the wherewithal and smarts to present them to local audiences.
Another name that is on this list twice is George C. Wolfe, represented as the adapter of Zora Neale Hurston’s Spunk, seen in a joyous production at Cal Shakes, and as director of the riveting and emotionally intense The Normal Heart at ACT.
There are two new plays here (#5, Christopher Chen’s The Hundred Flowers Project and #8, Cutting Ball’s ensemble-created Tenderloin). They couldn’t have been more different, but they were both illuminating and exciting and felt a whole lot bigger than the small spaces in which they were taking place (in scope and importance, not in size).
As ever, thank you for reading Theater Dogs. This is a labor of love, and it would be silly for me to be here without you.
Happy New Year.
And thank you Chad for continuing to be a champion of the theater. Even when I don’t agree with them, your reviews are always a pleasure to read, and your passion for the theater comes through lead and clear.
Always enjoy reading your reviews. I gladly await the the new reviews.
A belated reply but sliding in as 2012 concludes–you, too, dear Chad, continue to be one of the highlights of the theater for all of us who share the love of it with you-your reviews are insightful and always reflect the deep passion you have for theater–we celebrate you! Looking forward to hearing what you have to say in 2013.
Always a pleasure to read your reviews, Chad! I’m a long time fan and so appreciate the enthusiasm and care you take with each review. Thanks for championing Bay Area Theater!
Great list. I would have added “Little Brother” and “Bruja,” but am so glad for the attention “Any Given Day” is receiving. I LOVED that play.
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