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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 31, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 53
The best theater of 2010
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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The best theater of 2010

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

The end of the year rushes at us, and brings with it the temptation to look back at what we've experienced. Here's a summary of what impressed me the most this year in theatrical accomplishments, along with some memorable moments. I celebrate the fact that I was privileged to be in the audience for these productions.

Hands down, the best staged reading I have ever, ever, ever been to was in 2010: All My Sons, read by Our American Theater Company featuring Richard Ziman, Therese Diekhans, Shanna Allman, Eric Riedmann, Todd Licea, Heather Hawkins, Chris Dietz, Heather Gautschi, John Ulman, and Rhys Hamlet. It had more emotional punch and delivery than most of the fully staged productions I saw. I urge them to consider mounting it as a full production, if possible, with as much of this cast returning as possible - especially Richard Ziman, Therese Diekhans, and Eric Riedmann.

Here are this year's best-in-show categories of bravura acting performances, outstanding ensembles, and excellence in local playwriting. Also, sometimes a scene setting is so effective that it elevates whatever the performance is to a higher level.

Bravura acting performances highlighted these productions: Maria Glanz as the titular Belle of Amherst (Emily Dickinson) was beautifully mannered, enchanting, and of course poetic, mounted by Sound Theatre Company. Marya Sea Kaminski wore her soul on her sleeve as Electra in a Seattle Shakespeare Company production of the same name, haunting in her aching grief. Bradford Farwell was riveting as mathematician Alan Turing in Breaking the Code, so much so that most of the rest of the excellent Strawberry Theatre Workshop ensemble faded in importance. Connor Toms and Peter Crook imbued their characters with deep humanity in both Cider House Rules (Parts 1 and 2) at Book-It Repertory.

Gin Hammond's one-woman play Returning the Bones was masterfully performed with her exceptional abilities. The unforgettable Condola Rashad brought the Congo to Seattle's Intiman in Ruined and sang her way into our hearts. Seattle Shakespeare's Darragh Keenan was the most American possible Hamlet - in the best possible way. Eric Ankrim showed us his strength as the lead in both Joss Whedon's internet sensation, Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog (Balagan Theatre), and with prince-and-pauper tricks in Village Theatre's The Gypsy King. As the ghoulishly sweet, nervous shut-in in Trout Stanley (one of Balagan's best productions in 2010) and the expletive-spouting girlfriend from hell in ArtsWest's mounting of Reasons to be Pretty, Angela DiMarco also displayed her excellent range. Jerick Hoffer was hysterical as a six-foot-tall 9-year-old in Book-It's Red Ranger Came Calling.

Some of these shows also included outstanding ensemble work that deserves notice. Cider House Rules was a tour de force in ensemble acting and both parts put together make one unforgettable story. John Lang's direction and the cast of Hamlet made it a pinnacle Shakespearian experience. Ruined brought us face to face with some of humanity's worst aspects, hoping we will be moved to make changes. Red Ranger Came Calling stripped the sugar off the holiday, revealing the tart and fun interior with great music by Edd Key and Myra Platt.

Village's Lost in Yonkers was beautifully acted and sumptuously clothed and lit. Marianne Owen headed a strong ensemble with ACT Theatre's beautifully paced production of Trip to Bountiful. Fences at Seattle Repertory was another ensemble of beautiful acting and quiet power. Gypsy King was a feel-good musical with all kinds of talent on stage, as was Theater Schmeater's Pageant Play, a fantastic laugh at the pageant industry with spot-on acting. Intiman's A Doctor in Spite of Himself wasn't really a Moliere translation as much as an homage to the great writer, but Moliere would likely have rolled in the aisles as this ensemble romped on the gorgeous set, shook their wonderful wigs, and cracked each other up. Taking Steps was an excellent offering by tiny Phoenix Theatre. Taproot's Man of La Mancha was overall one of the best productions they've mounted, with a strong cast and a beautifully rendered castle dungeon set.

Excellence in local playwriting was on display with Scotto Moore's When I Come to My Senses, I'm Alive at the Annex Theatre, a not-so-distant-future science fiction exploration about being able to record someone's emotions and then give them to an audience to feel (for a fee)! Also, being able to claim nationally-recognized Yussef El Guindi as 'local' is a pleasure as Theater Schmeater mounted his Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes, exploring the idea of Arab stereotyping, and ACT includes his new play, Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, presented at Icicle Creek Theater Festival this summer, in their 2011 season. Since Gin Hammond wrote her solo show, she also gets a big nod for writing excellence. Though David Schmader's Straight was a remount, those of us who had not seen it before can attest to its incisive look into the 'cure for homosexuality' fallacies. Also, John Longenbaugh's excellently conceived combination of Scrooge and Holmes created what could become another Christmas tradition with Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol.

Scenic designs that helped make productions more memorable: ACT's Female of the Species with set by Robert A. Dahlstrom established the wealth and era of the successful writer. Washington Ensemble Theatre's Robopop and Sextet, both sets by Andrea Bryn Bush, used unusual set effects. Robopop used side panels and electronic imaging interestingly, and Sextet's inch-deep trough of water and box-like enclosure constrained the production in unusual ways. Bush won the 2010 Gregory Award for scenic design, deservedly.

Seattle Repertory's Glengarry Glen Ross by designer Eugene Lee established a lush, high-end restaurant for deal-making and gave way to an enormous cavern of a factory sales atmosphere. The Rep's Speech and Debate by designer Matthew Smucker projected texting on the wall, along with the characters thoughts and images, scene-change introductions, and youthful tongue-in-cheek visuals that immensely supported the play.

Other notable productions
Other high-gloss, memorable productions that should be mentioned include 5th Avenue's Candide, probably one of the best performances of this difficult musical you'd ever get a chance to see, the lightning-footed dance corps in Village's 42nd St. and Village's unemployed factory workers getting down to their Full Montys.

Theater Schmeater continues to mount new episodes of Twilight Zone that delight during the summer months and produced an intense look inside writer Shel Silverstein's genius-addled mind with An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein, a collection of very bizarre shorts. Seattle Repertory highlighted the many talents of Hans Altweis in An Iliad. WET also created a balls-to-the-walls production of Hunter Gatherers that poked fun at fresh meat and pushed the boundaries of relationship plays. ArtsWest's production of Sunlight, a political examination of lawyers, torture, government memos, and drawing the line, was a taut and smartly directed evening with a solid ensemble.

Red Light Winter was the intense and intimate introduction to new company Azeotrope Theatre, a choice that indicates their intention to make a significant mark. Artattack Theatre produced an excellent Neil LaBute evening of Fat Pig that clearly examined attitudes about female beauty and weight that we'd rather not confront in ourselves. Anders Bolang and Annie Lareau threw themselves into Stone Soup's Fool for Love, Sam Shepard's dark story of no-holds-barred obsession.

Lastly (only in terms of this article), those who saw Seattle Children's Theater productions of Getting Near to Baby and The Borrowers saw excellent theater for all ages, continuing SCT's mission of bringing plays with important values to the stage with the highest levels of professional theater.

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