BEST OF 2022: Patrick White Reviews the Year in Theater
We saw 240 shows in 2022. My partner, Chris Foster, and I are quite happy with that number. Well, it’s Thursday and we’ve only seen 239 but there are still 3 days left in the year…We need to see one more play or musical to make the nice, round number of 240. It’s not quite the gargantuan number of 2019 which was 317 but we did start a theater company, Harbinger, this year producing 6 plays. Chris and I both directed 3 separate plays and acted in a two-hander, “Destroying David,” together.
We are often asked, “How do you see so many plays?” One night this summer, we left a play we opened and set out at 5 am for a quick weekend at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival and took in 5 plays on Saturday from 11 o’clock in the morning to 11 o’clock at night. In July we were lucky enough to see 36 shows. Attending theater is the lifeblood of who we are.
Beyond this list, there were literally dozens of noteworthy shows. We admired many things about Bridge Street Theatre’s season, especially their commissioning Brad Fraser to write “Shelley’s Shadow” for them. The Performing Arts Center at Rhinebeck has become a new destination, producing such hard-to-find titles like “Amelie,” “Parade” and “Howie the Rookie.” Julianne Boyd had a stellar final season at Barrington Stage particularly with her much loved production of “A Little Night Music.” Fort Salem Theatre have become old friends and the more we get to know Kyle and Jared, the shorter the drive seems. We happily entered a bunch of new theatres for the first time including The Depot, Goodspeed and Geva as well as the new home for Saratoga Children’s Theatre on Maple Avenue. After the riotous teamwork of “She Kills Monsters,” we expect we’ll be returning there shortly.
There was sad news this year, as well. We lost our good friend and super fan Ken Screven, who could always be counted on for his attendance and full-throated advocacy of Capital Region theater. The Theater Barn in New Lebanon suspended operations in July and regrettably closed its doors for good the week before Christmas. Williamstown had a truncated schedule with only two plays and a concert staging that had been previously produced elsewhere. The plays were exceptional (one made the Best list) but I hope their schedule grows soon. Finally, the Spa Little Theatre has been taken over by SPAC and there’s only music scheduled for the future, as I had feared once Home Made Theater left the building.
Now, it’s time to celebrate intentional theater! Theater that recognizes the risks, rewards, and responsibility of producing plays and musicals that are essential to its audience. These are the shows last year that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, made me bark with laughter and jump to my feet pounding out applause, gratefully delighted that I made the trip out to the theater.
By Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman
Directed by Owen Smith
Playhouse Stage Co at Cohoes Music Hall
From the moment you walked into the historic hall and saw Daniel Jameson playing Lee Harvey Oswald sitting uncomfortably center stage as a reel of images of recent political television and parade marches played on the wall behind him, you knew that PSC Artistic Director Owen Smith was going to draw a direct line from the MAGA malcontents to history’s hitmen. After his triumphant “Sweeney Todd” in the Hall in ’19, Smith returned to directing with the recently departed Sondheim again and served up a detailed, specific classic with a superb cast across the board, especially in the minor roles, Dan Costello as Guiteau and Jacob Lehning as Zangara.
A Case for the Existence of God
By Samuel D. Hunter
Directed by David Cromer
A rapturous tale of communion, two men (Will Brill & Kyle Beltran) improbably share the deepest details of their souls in a bank loan manager’s office. The close quarters and intimate detail may remind you of the quarantine but the imagination, yearning and transcendence that arrives through this deeply empathic experience will crack open your heart and affirm your faith in stories shared together in a small room. The amazing staging by David Cromer doesn’t have the two men leave their chairs for the first hour but you will never be at a loss for where you are and how you got there.
By Bruce Norris
Directed by Pam McKinnon
“Downstate” is one of my favorite plays of the last decade from the moment I read it, but it is also the hardest play to convince someone that they would love it or at least enjoy it. It is about four convicted sex offenders…stop right there. What happens to the casual playgoer is what these characters are up against when living in their halfway house and they venture out to buy groceries or work, no one wants to consider their plight of how can we integrate these men back into society. Facing one of theater’s deepest questions of “How do we live together?” this play can be very funny, suspenseful and thrilling in its climax. Steppenwolf’s production is star-studded with this Chicago company’s very best, such as Francis Guinan, K. Todd Freeman, Tim Hopper and Co-Artistic Director Glenn Davis leading the way. I will keep praising this play while those around me step away.
By James Ijames
Directed by Saheem Ali
This year’s Pulitzer Prize winner is a reimagined “Hamlet” set in a Southern barbecue cookout and the lead character is an obese, gay black man named Juicy. It takes Shakespeare’s play and explodes its investigation of self to take in race and sexuality as well. First and foremost, the play is a kick where the Players scene is a game of charades and while the language was exquisite, Saheem Ali’s staging created a party you were delighted to attend. I will never hear “Creep” the same way again. Moving to Broadway this Spring, put it on your list.
How I Learned to Drive
By Paula Vogel
Directed by Evan Jones & David Rook
Albany Civic Theater
Through adverse circumstances the cast and director doubled down and concentrated on the step-by-step storytelling of Paula Vogel’s shimmering 1998 Pulitzer Prize winner of a play and crafted a beautiful and harrowing trip. Evan Jones taking over the leading role of Uncle Peck was never more frightening than when he was at his most reasonable, avuncular self and Jen Van Iderstine just broke my heart with every step forward she took. They received terrific support from Anthony Holloway, Elizabeth Sherwood Mack, Cay Stevens and Assistant Director David Rook.
Man of God
By Anna Ouyang Moench
Directed by Maggie Burrows
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Four young women are on an unspecified Christian mission to Bangkok with their pastor from California when they discover a camera in their bathroom positioned to photograph them at their most vulnerable. Their stunned reaction to it ranges from perplexed to outraged to hysterical as evidenced by revenge fantasy interludes which take the shape of different film genres from martial arts to gangster to splatter. The final five minutes played in silence were spellbinding.
By Samuel Beckett
Directed by David Girard
Troy Foundry Theatre
Shannon Rafferty in a pitch-dark room with only her mouth illuminated delivered Beckett’s furious denunciation of lived experience as the character repeatedly denied that what she was describing at a furious speed and intensity had happened to her. The technical accomplishment was matched by an emotional intensity that utterly captivated me. “Not I” was one of three Beckett plays presented at the Hart Cluett Museum in Troy.
By Ronan Noone
Directed by Theresa Rebeck
Dorset Theatre Festival
It’s Upstairs/Downstairs at the Tyrones as the kitchen help of Eugene O’Neill’s fictional family from “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” take center stage and prove that they can be just as incisive, self-lacerating and wounding as their employers. Noone’s World Premiere received a sterling production on a meticulously detailed set by Christopher & Justin Swader and packed with humor and great performances helmed by Dorset’s Resident Playwright Rebeck. The final production under the Artistic Directorship of Dina Janis, which makes us terribly sad.
Very Mundane Government Meeting
By Matt Reichel
Directed by Laura Darling
Like kids playing cops and robbers Ash Visker and Max Beyer exploded onto the Masonic Lodge stage and held my attention hostage for a gleeful, anarchic 20 minutes. Nothing made me laugh harder this past year than this balls to the wall farce of a third-rate government take-over, gleefully supported by Alex Grandin, a deliciously dotty Rich Angehr and a pitch perfect, slam bang direction by Laura Darling. This one-act in ConfettiFest XVIII is a highlight of all the ConfettiFest’s I’ve seen.
By Jeannine Tesori & Brian Crawley
Directed by TJ Collins
Schenectady Light Opera Company
Director TJ Collins and Music Director James Alexander created an epic journey with this small ensemble cast musical about a young woman on a bus trip seeking to get a facial scar wound healed. The piece moved beautifully with minimal set and total involvement from the cast with the three leads Allie Mantica, Zach Kaiser and Samuel Evans seeking the miracle of community.