Compiled below is a list of my 10 favorite theatre experiences followed by an additional 8 honorable mentions. No show appearing on this list is a production where I was directly involved in the process. This is simply a list of 18 profound works of art I selected out of the 147 shows I attended this year an audience member.
10 - The Roommate
By Jen Silverman
Directed by Phylicia Rashad
Steppenwolf Theatre - It’s not hard to imagine a version of Silverman’s two-hander where it more closely resembles a stock comedy of unlikely personalities stuck together under one roof. Luckily, Silverman is a much better playwright than that, and delivers on a hysterical and refreshing play about female friendship. Rashad’s production of The Roommate contained everything the 2017 Williamstown Theatre Festival production lacked. Tempo and rhythm were synced, and every joke landed. Ora Jones (brilliantly costumed in caftans deserving of their own entrance applause) and Sandra Marquez were the comedic duo we did not deserve, but desperately needed in 2018. As the play’s heart blossoms in the final third, the entire audience, including myself, was raptured.
9 - A Shayna Maidel
Written by Barbara Lebow
Directed by Vanessa Stalling
TimeLine Theatre - Stalling’s work on Lebow’s tender tale of family reunion outdid itself in all ways possible. From the solid ensemble of actors to the haunting sound design elements, every moment was carefully tuned and delivered in a cohesive and emotionally earned package, and culminated in a tearful finale.
8 - Boy
By Anna Zeigler
Directed by Damon Kiely
TimeLine Theatre - A twist on the classic coming of age tale, Boy ventured into the darkness that unfolds when truths begin to fall apart. Kiely’s staging on a traverse configuration worked well to display Ziegler’s nonlinear structure, and the cast did an excellent job charting the chaos of their character’s lives within this framework. Boy was a brilliant play because it was capable of being so many different plays at the same time, but always emotionally wrecking.
7 - Doppelgänger (An International Farce)
by Matthew-Lee Erlbach
Directed by Tina Landau
Steppenwolf Theatre Company - I love plays specifically focused on one issue when living in the action of the story, but manage to be a big-picture commentary after pulling-back and reflecting on the entirety. Doppelgänger (An International Farce) is one such play, and what makes it exemplary is in its technique. Built as an 11-door farce, the play hums along faster than an episode of Veep, and contains jokes from a diversity of comedy styles. Landau ensures every added layer is carefully introduced and executed with the precision required of a messy farce. The chaos is so extreme that I forgot to stop and ask where it was all going, and in this the play succeeded. So much landed in the final moment, I couldn’t rise from my seat after it was all over. No other experience in 2018 pulled the rug out from under me with such force like Doppelgänger.
6 - Manuel Cinema’s The End of TV
By Kyle vEgter and Ben Kauffman
Directed by Julia Miller
Chopin Theatre - I completely lost myself within the sweeping quest for identity set against the booming internet age of the 1990’s. The End of TV was a live cinematic powerhouse that achieved theatrical heights other artists only wished they could reach, all while deftly arguing against capitalism.
5 - You For Me For You
By Mia Chung
Directed by Elly Green
Sideshow Theatre Company - Mia Chung’s perspective-evolving play made the audience question everything seen before their eyes. Green crafted a seamless, surreal production which disoriented as much as it allowed for us to feel empathy for the characters.
4 - Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
by Todd Kriedler
Based on the screenplay Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Directed by Marti Lyons
With associate director Wardell Julius Clark
Court Theatre - Though the idea of a sitcom play rarely appeals to me, I knew this production was going to be something special from the moment I took my seat and noticed a white-washed set with exposed scaffolding on both wings of the proscenium. “If you can’t beat em, join em” Marti Lyons must have proclaimed when she decided to fully lean into the sitcom ethos of this script. Why ignore the obvious? It was a smart decision and proved art can always be found despite the container.
3 - Waiting for Godot
by Samuel Beckett
directed by Garry Hynes
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre - Waiting for Godot is a play with which I’ve had a torrid relationship over the course of my theatre career. Initially, I kept getting bogged down with attaching metaphors and symbols to every piece of it. It wasn’t until this year after seeing Garry Hynes revival where I finally understood Beckett’s point. It’s not the interpretations we attach to the text that make the play, the text is the play. Garry Hynes threw away all previous ideas on prior action and focused on the immediate action. It was a masterclass on remaining present, unconcerned with what came before or what will come next.
2 - Hang Man
by Stacy Osei-Kuffour
directed by Jess McLeod
The Gift Theatre - There’s no sense in guessing what horrors are to come in a play that opens with a black man hanging from a tree, noose around his neck. It would take someone with a cracked imagination to get it right with Hang Man. This downright bonkers play was like experiencing a car wreck and not realizing it until you’re already in the ambulance. Living in the play, it seemed Osei-Kuffour wrote an avant-garde piece, but as the calamity settles, it became clear she had composed the satire to end all satires about white, savior complexes. Jess McLeod’s production darts out of the gate, and continues to accelerate as all characters frantically try to take control of the steering wheel without fear of careening off a cliff.
1 - Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2, and 3)
by Suzan-Lori Parks
directed by Niegel Smith
Goodman Theatre - Past Suzan-Lori Parks productions I’ve seen never managed to ground her poetic language to the drama of a live event unfolding before an audience. When this was finally achieved, it was like watching Shakespeare the way it’s meant to be done. Niegel Smith’s revival of Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts, 1, 2, and 3) at the Goodman Theatre was a masterpiece. 3.5 epic hours gracefully sail by without missing a single beat along the way.
(in alphabetical order)
33 to Nothing, written by Grant Varjas, directed by Tyrone Phillips, music direction by John Cicora, and produced by A Red Orchid Theatre
In The Canyon, written by Calamity West, directed by Elly Green, and produced by Jackalope Theatre
Insurrection: Holding History, written by Robert O’Hara, directed by Wardell Julius Clark
and produced by Stage Left Theatre
Master Class, written by Terrence McNally, directed by Nick Bowling, music directed by Doug Peck, and produced by TimeLine Theatre
Suddenly Last Summer, written by Tennessee Williams, directed by Jason Gerace and produced by Raven Theatre
The Light, written by Loy Webb, directed by Toma Langston, and produced by The New Colony
The Wolves, written by Sarah DeLappe, directed by Vanessa Stalling, and produced by Goodman Theatre
Until the Flood, written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller, and produced by Goodman Theatre