2009's Ten Memorable Theater Moments You Might Have Missed!
That beautiful final scene of In The Next Room or the vibrator play would have made my list. So would Chad Kimball's thrilling 11 o'clock number in Memphis. But my traditional end-of-the-year column is never about the top ten shows or great moments from high-profile productions. I like to recall my favorite moments from plays and musicals my dear readers may not have seen, just to serve as a reminder of the enormous wealth of theatrical magic to be experienced in New York. So here, in no particular order, are 2009's Ten Memorable Moments You Might Have Missed:
In Escalera Baggs' tense drama, Silent Heroes, the wives of six Marine Air Corp flyers who have teamed up on a mission have gathered in a waiting room, informed that one of their husbands has crashed into a ball of inescapable fire. Nobody will know who has died until the planes of the five survivors have landed. While the women have formed a close kinship to support one another though difficult times, the chill of reality sets in each time the rumble of an engine is heard and we see how each one is aware that she cannot hope for her man to be safe without hoping someone else's is dead.
In a year that brought us such marathons as Mourning Becomes Electra, The Norman Conquests and a four hour long Othello, the swiftest five hours of theatre to be enjoyed was Classic Stage Company's crackling good premiere production of Ann Carson's clever adaptation of the ancient Greek story of bloody family doings titled An Oresteia. A favorite moment came when Annika Boras, as a muddied, snarling, grief-stricken and murderously-crazed Elektra, growls in all seriousness to pretty little Chrysothemis, "Men like women with character."
Let's just say every moment Laurie Metcalf was on stage during Brighton Beach Memoirs.
For Town Hall's Fifth Annual Broadway Cabaret Festival, Scott Siegel got the brilliant idea to devote the entire second half of the Broadway Originals concert to reuniting the Broadway cast of Falsettos for a ten-song presentation. The camaraderie and affection the performers have for both the material and each other was clearly visible through the multiple on-stage hugs and warm smiles but by the time the show ended with Michael Rupert singing "Father to Son" to the now grown-up Jonathan Kaplan (who would be flying off to get married the next day) there were very few dry eyes both on stage and off.
Playing a wildly flamboyant holy man in Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe, André De Shields literally climbed over seats to place his "healing hands" on lady audience members, practically lap dancing them to salvation as he exclaimed, "Didn't they tell you there is no fourth wall in this church?"
In the Mint Theatre Company's production of Is Life Worth Living?, a hotel owner in a seaside Irish town tries to bring culture to the summer tourists by hiring a Russian theatre troupe to perform a season of Ibsen and Chekhov; a move that results in community-wide depression and an increase in suicide attempts. When the dramatists are replaced by a lighter form of entertainment, lighting designer Jeff Nellis provided a hilarious moment by simulating rays of carefree sunshine suddenly bursting through the gloom.
Jim Brochu begins Zero Hour with his back to the audience as he growls warnings to someone knocking on his studio door. As he turns around, mid-growl, you'll be forgiven if you think you're seeing a ghost. In look, manner and voice his resemblance to the great Zero Mostel is a remarkably accurate recreation.
In her autobio-musical, Shafrika, the White Girl, Anika Larsen gave us a real-life taste of her unusual childhood with three biological siblings and an ethic mixture of six adopted ones with a clip from a home movie showing her and several other Larsens, all under seven, singing a boisterous chorus of "We Shall Overcome."
In a scene from my favorite solo piece of the year, The Night Watcher, Charlayne Woodard offered a memorable portrayal of a great-grandmother who tries to get her to adopt her grandson's abused infant girl because she doesn't feel capable of doing it at her age. The woman's description of a horrifying act of violence which could have killed the baby is all the more effective because the story is told with a straightforwardness and simplicity that reminds the listener that such incidents are not as unusual as we may think.
The most memorable song lyric of the year comes from my favorite musical of the year, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson: The Concert Version. Playing America's sixth president as an angst-ridden emo rocker, Benjamin Walker gets in touch with his feelings through composer/lyricist Michael Friedman's power ballad anthem, "Life sucks! / My life sucks in particular." The Public Theater is bringing this one back in 2010 and I can't wait to see it again.
Now it's your turn. Please leave a comment and share your favorite theatrical moments of 2009 that our readers might have missed.
Center photo by Lia Chang: Jennifer Akabue, Gina Rivera, André De Shields, Kisa Willis and Charletta Rozzell in Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe.
Follow Michael Dale on Twitter at michaeldale.