The Year in Theater
Another American: Asking and Telling, by Marc Wolf, Center Stage Wolf's one-man show about the military's don't-ask, don't-tell policy brought home both the hardship and the humor of gays' service experience. He beautifully embodied 18 of the 200 people he interviewed to research the piece, mixing longer stories with short anecdotes, showing both sides of the issue, and giving his audience opportunities to laugh as well as cry.
Cabaret, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, book by Joe Masteroff, Morris A. Mechanic Theatre When first staged in 1966, this musical combined the savvy of composer Kander, lyricist Ebb, and original director Harold Prince in evoking the cabaret culture of Berlin in the late 1920s. This year's touring revival, helmed by director Sam Mendes (American Beauty), was a sexy and savage reminder of just how great this play is. Although Lea Thompson was hardly the most charismatic Sally Bowles one could imagine, Jon Peterson was an erotically charged Emcee, definitely pushing the show into R-rated territory. His energy pervaded the production, making for a terrifically unwholesome evening.
The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, Everyman Theatre With an all-star cast, an atmospheric set, and precise directing, Miller's evergreen examination of the Salem witch trials came to life with in-your-face intensity. Kyle Prue, Bruce Nelson, and Juliet Brown turned in fine performances in this scary tale about a Puritan town's bloody battle with truth. A witch hunt has never been so bewitching.
Freedom Summer,by Carol Weinberg, Vagabond Players Weinberg took a 1964 episode from the civil-rights movement--the disappearance in Mississippi of activists Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney--and deftly wove fact and fiction in this Baltimore Playwrights Festival entry. Although the script had some heavy-handed polemical touches, it also had its share of powerful moments. Matthew J. Bowerman, as Goodman, and Lynda McClary, as a New York housewife whose political consciousness is raised by the tragedy, gave moving performances.
Full Gallop, by Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson, Maryland Arts Festival Maravene Loeschke gave a powerhouse performance in this one-woman show as longtime Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, who was unceremoniously fired from the publication and forced late in life to decide what to do next. Loeschke made Vreeland likable while still wallowing in her subject's diva-hood. Coupled with a marvelous set, her performance made this play an extremely entertaining night of theater.
The Mystery of Irma Vep, by Charles Ludlam, Rep Stage Ludlam's delightfully heavy-handed skewering of lord-of-the-manor Gothic mysteries and silent-movie hysterics had audiences rolling. Bruce McMonagle and Bruce Nelson chewed the scenery with wide-eyed, hyper-enunciated glee in an off-center production directed by Kasi Campbell.
Old Wicked Songs, by Jon Marans, Theatre Hopkins This Pulitzer Prize near-miss about a crotchety Austrian music professor and his brash American pupil was absorbing, moving, and magnificently acted by Stephen Antonsen and Robert Riggs. Schumann's Romantic-era song cycle Dichterliebe served as the soundtrack for this intergenerational tale of forgiving, forgetting, and forging ahead that was emotionally gripping until the very last note.
The Road to Mecca, by Athol Fugard, Everyman Theatre Fugard, a South African, has had to fight for his right to make his art. He's found a sister of sorts in the late Helen Martins, a visionary South African artist who faced threats of her own. Portrayed with both delicacy and strength by local theatrical heroine Tana Hicken, Martins' quiet battle against the forces of repression reaches fullest fruition during the play's brilliant penultimate scene, when Helen lights candles to bring her home--her lone creation--to shimmering light.
She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith, Center Stage The 18th-century England of Oliver Goldsmith was brought to roistering life by Center Stage in its inaugural production of the 2000-'01 season. Except for a few strained attempts at hipitude in costuming and music, this was an excellent, traditional production that hewed faithfully to Goldsmith's farcical tale of mistaken identity and pranks gone wrong in a single night in a stately country home. Director Irene Lewis and a uniformly excellent cast brought us a world where love wins, drink cheers, laughter heals, and all mistakes can be corrected in an England that is forever green.
2.5 Minute Ride, by Lisa Kron, Center Stage Lisa Kron wrote and performed this amazing one-woman show that juxtaposed her family's annual trip to an amusement park with her father's visit to Auschwitz, where his parents died. Kron expertly blended comedy and drama, pushing and pulling between the two and using unconventional deliveries to bring new insight into the pain and horror of the Holocaust.
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