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Top Ten

The Year on Stage

THE BALLAD OF A LADYMAN: Jordan Siebert (pictured with, uh, Jordan Siebert) brought Hedwig to plucked and tucked life at Mobtown Theater.

Top Ten 2004

The Year in News “There’s a myth that emanates around some floors in Annapolis,” Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley told... | By Van Smith

The Year in Quotes 1 “The First Amendment doesn’t say you have to be good.” — street-performance advocate Stephen Bair...

The Year in Sports Suffice it to say that 2004 will not go down as a banner year in the annals of Baltimore sports. ... | By Gabriel Wardell

The Year in Film Cheer up: 2004 was a good year—at least for film. While the past 12 months didn’t produce a film as ...

The Year in Television The “moral values” referendum surprised and rebuked lefties in Hollywood and elsewhere. The post-Nip...

The Year in Music Run down the list of recent heavyweights that released albums in 2004 which have moved units but los...

The Year in Local Music Only one local music story really percolated around Baltimore newsrooms this year: Paula Campbell. T... | By Bret McCabe

The Year in Art Sure, 2004 was the year of Baltimore’s very own public art controversy, in the guise of Jonathan Bor...

The Year in Books Yeah, publishers keep telling us that the book business these days really belongs to nonfiction, tha...

The Year on Stage The vamping post-op transsexual of our No. 1 selection notwithstanding, this year’s roster of Baltim...

Posted 12/15/2004

The vamping post-op transsexual of our No. 1 selection notwithstanding, this year’s roster of Baltimore’s 10 best theater productions seems noteworthy mainly for its hard hewing to the classics. In our critics’ estimation, local troupes fared best, by and large, in their handling of dramatic stalwarts, rather than more recent scripts. But this is by no means to say that Charm City’s drama scene has taken a conservative turn. Adapting a tale as universally recognized as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, for instance, without seeming either disloyal or cute, is no small feat. And sending an arc of electricity through the work of Anton Chekhov—in which ennui fills the stage like furniture—is the dramaturgical equivalent of death-defiance. Plus, there’s never any shortage of freshness in the city’s stage scene—we refer to you this summer’s rather successful Baltimore Playwrights Festival—so consider this reassurance that the city’s thespians got our back covered, as well as our advance guard. (Blake de Pastino)

1

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Mobtown Theater

It’s not often that local community theaters fill up their seats. It’s even rarer for them to have to extend their productions. But the Mobtown Players had to do just that with their dazzling production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Jordan Siebert carried this show with a performance that achieved a level of intensity that the big-screen version just wasn’t able to capture. His transformations went far beyond the script’s predictable camp without ever descending into pathos. Terry Long’s emotionally focused direction, meanwhile, along with a smooth backup band and a genuine club atmosphere, also turned this into one of the season’s major successes. (John Barry)

2

Julius Caesar, Baltimore Shakespeare Festival

From its early outdoor productions at the Evergreen House to its new home in Hampden, the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival has become a force to be reckoned with in the city’s theater scene. And with its production of Julius Caesar it took a seat in Baltimore’s top theatrical tier. Aptly described in the program as “a play about a bunch of men standing around talking about doing something, doing it, and then talking about having done it,” Julius Caesar could have easily been a snore. But with a uniformly strong cast and bold direction by BSF mainstay Tony Tsendeas, Caesar transcended its verbosity to become one of this year’s most enthralling productions. Tsendeas modernized the play, putting the murderous senators in suits instead of togasbut rather than being gimmicky, the modernization gave the play a real sense of relevance. But it was the strength of its cast that really made this show stand out; from powerful performances by Stephen Patrick Martin as Caesar and Robert John Metcalf as Brutus, to smaller parts like Dana Whipkey’s one-scene turn as Cinna the poet, there was no weak link. Which leaves us with just one thing to say: Hail Caesar. (Anna Ditkoff)

3

Troilus and Cressida, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company played the low-expectation card when it billed this satire of Homer’s Iliad a “workshop production,” but we would have been happily surprised by the two-year-old ensemble’s smart, polished version of Shakespeare’s rarely staged mockfest under even the brightest of lights. The Swan of Avon’s cynical take on the counterfeit heroics of war proved especially resonant against the backdrop of our own martial adventures abroad, but it was the biting performances of Tara Garwood as foul-mouthed Thersites and Valerie Fenton as besotted slut Cressida that raised the bar for area Bard stagings. Bonus points for realistic violence. (Gadi Dechter)

4

Arcadia, Rep Stage

If Rep Stage weren’t so far out in the boondocks, Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia would have been the talk of the town. As it was, it was pretty damn good. Stoppard’s cerebral juggling wasn’t allowed to get in the way of his comic touch; for that, the credit has to go to director Kasi Campbell. Karl Miller’s sharp performance as the tutor of an aristocratic math prodigy anchors the play; while Bruce Nelson, who’s been having a pretty good year himself, gives another bravura comic performance as a hapless poetic punching bag. Deborah Hazlett, on the back of a performance as a looming big sister in Proof, gave a bursting-at-the-seams rendition of the regal Lady Croom. Finally, Tony Cisek’s magnificent set design provided an eerie palimpsest to Arcadia’s bouts of academic and artistic mudslinging. (JB)

5

Uncle Vanya, Everyman Theatre

OK, we’ve seen this one before—in fact we see it about once a year—but Everyman’s Vanya easily floats to the top. If you’re used to snoozing for two hours while waiting for the gunshot, you probably noticed that didn’t happen this time. Mitchell Hebert’s energized performance as Vanya cut right through the crap: His self-deprecation and self-loathing were almost inspiring in this psychotic vision of a life gone down the drain. Yeah, Chekhov is about boredom, so there’s going to be a little bit of that, but this Vanya seemed almost delirious in his boredom. As Vanya’s romantic nemesis, Serebryakov, Dan Manning was the perfect match, too, as a steely-eyed, cheerful nihilist. (JB)

6

Proof, Everyman Theatre

It would be tough to leave Proof off of any list of theater superlatives this year, be it best actress, best production, or best stage set. Megan Anderson was superb as the 25-year-old math genius Catherine; many Baltimoreans are probably hoping she doesn’t get too highly regarded, because we could always use her around here. But she was perfectly matched by Deborah Hazlett’s performance as her older, control-freak sister Claire. And the Plexiglas stage set—covered with mathematical equations—radiated its own star quality. (JB)

7

Babel: Or, How it Was Done in Odessa, Theatre Project

It’d be difficult to call Andrei Malaev-Babel’s performance of Babel: Or, How it Was Done in Odessa a one-man show. True, there was only one guy on stage, but there were about a dozen characters, and Malaev-Babel managed to switch between them with Stanislavskian facility. His most impressive transformation, though, is that of the narrator—Isaac Babel, the Jewish writer whose career and life were brought to an abrupt halt by Joseph Stalin shortly before World War II. Given the writer’s relatively low historical profile, his transformation from a literary icon/sacrificial lamb to a living, breathing character was impressive. And rightfully so, perhaps: The actor is not only the artistic director of D.C.’s Stanislavsky Theatre, he’s also the grandson of Babel himself. (JB)

8

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Center Stage

When Center Stage tackled Sweeney Todd, it reduced the Broadway orchestra to a chamber sextet, and the staging from Broadway spectacle to chamber drama. This more intimate approach (plus some discreet mic-ing) encouraged the actors to take a more conversational approach to the songs, which bloomed under such attention. So when the homicidal Sweeney sang to his barber’s razor as if it were his best friend, there was a personal tenderness in his vocals that would have been impossible in an operatic delivery. (Geoffrey Himes)

9

Art, Fells Point Corner Theatre

In the FPCT’s production of Art, we learned that when three men in a room don’t have much to say, they come out swinging. Playing Serge, a pretentious dermatologist, Dave Gamble offered up an imposing if haughty performance as the hapless dilettante who has decided to pony up 200,000 francs (whatever that is in dollars now) for a piece of modern art. Then Patrick Martyn and Micheal Styer, as his two friends, found the opportunity to turn this as a weapon against him. It doesn’t sound like much of a plot and it isn’t, so the onus was on director Steve Goldklang to keep the stakes up, and on the actors to keep the pace up. Goldklang succeeded, and his actors did as well; what made this so enjoyable was that the characters—and the audience—wound up thriving on one another’s insults. (JB)

10

The Seagull, Rep Stage

No surprises here. The best play by the best playwright of the last century in a crisp new translation by Tom Stoppard; Rep Stage could have e-mailed it in and we’d still have sat through all five acts semi-drooling. It wasn’t a perfect production—a bit slow to launch, some unevenness in the ensemble—but Karl Miller’s dazzling turn as tortured artist Konstantin, Cheryl Resor’s pungently pissed-off Masha, and the always scene-stealing Bruce Nelson as schlubby schoolteacher Medvedenko gave wings to Chekhov’s most sublime text. (GD)

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The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

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