Theatre Roundup 2k12

Most everyone is, by this point, exhausted by the usual slew of year-end retrospective top-10 lists, myself included. Particularly when it comes to theatre, I tend to either disagree with the pieces selected or I didn’t get to see them, meaning that the lists are actually a summary of what I should have seen but didn’t get around to. Not exactly enjoyable reading.

And yet, here I am. The fact of the matter is, I’m fortunate that I got to see some really remarkable things during 2012, and a handful of productions did seem to have lodged themselves into my consciousness for good. Reflecting is fun, and I figured if I’m going to sort through my theatrical adventures of the past twelve months, I may as well share it publicly. By all means, take it for what it’s worth—the results of an undergraduate’s successes with student rush, mostly—and feel free to write off my opinions, or, if you feel so inclined, share your own. Lord knows I could discuss this stuff for hours on end.

On the whole 2012 was a great year for theatre for me, despite the early lines and lottery-induced anxiety. I don’t take any of this for granted—getting to see so much for so little is a true gift and I consider myself very fortunate. The good productions far outweighed the bad, and the really good were really freakin good.

So, presented in the order in which I attended them, here is my Top 12 of 2k12:

Ameriville by Universes; Presented by ArtsEmerson

Music, poetry, spirtuals, and political activism. I had never seen anything like it, and it made a die-hard Universes fan out of me.

Now. Here. This. by Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell, and Jeff Bowen; Produced by the Vineyard Theatre

I’ve been a fan of the [Title of Show] gang since 2007, so to finally see them live and in person presenting such a funny, relatable collage was a true thrill for me. These guys are simply excellent in all things, and I’ve been listening to the cast album pretty much nonstop for the past few weeks.

As You Like It by William Shakespeare; Produced by Shakespeare in the Park

My very first Shakespeare in the Park experience! A great production led by the incredible Lily Rabe presented in the historic and stunning Delacorte. I fully plan on going to as many Shakespeare in the Park productions as possible in the future, but this was a wonderful way to begin.

Tribes by Nina Raine; Presented at the Barrow Street Theater

I went to see Tribes on a whim, not at all prepared for what truly incredible play it was. It was probably the most personally relatable play I’ve ever seen, and if caught me off guard in the best way possible. Out of every production on this list, this one is the most certain to stick around in my head.

Venus in Fur by David Ives; The Longacre Theater

The play itself is excellent, but Nina Arianda gave a performance that pretty much outscores any other I saw this year. I was completely enamored and captivated in the best way possible.

Hotel Nepenthe by John Kuntz; Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company

Again, another production where I had no idea what to expect. It’s a difficult production to describe, but I was completely in love with the off-the-wall style of performance and Kuntz’s voice as a playwright; it was also a great testament to ensemble acting. I laughed my face off and cried a little bit and was pretty scared for my life for the duration. It was a fun night.

The Orient Express (Or, the Value of Failure) (A Work-In-Progress) by Mike Daisey; Presented by the Theatre Communications Group

While I had never seen him perform in person, I was, of course, familiar with Mike Daisey, or rather, the controversy of Mike Daisey. I had read the transcript of The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs and had closely studied the major “retraction” debacle in one of my arts management courses. But, to sit among the leaders of American theatre (the piece was presented at the 2012 TCG Conference in Boston, which I attended), and to hear Mr. Daisey masterfully articulate his experience and his thoughts surrounding it, was a true gift. This monologue has not been widely performed, so I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten to see it. I developed a strong respect for Mr. Daisey after that performance.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare; Produced by Island Shakespeare

I went to see this charming production with my friend James at his request, and it was one of the best decisions I made all summer. Much Ado is my favorite Shakespearean comedy, and this production was a great example of finery and detail; not only were the actors masterful in their performances of the text, but the immersive structure of the production and the fact that if they weren’t delivering lines, they were speaking Italian for goodness’ sake, combined with the outdoor theatre and the players’ fully embracing the whimsy in the play made for a wonderfully remarkable night.

Marie Antoinette by David Adjmi; Produced by the American Repertory Theatre

This production tended to be hit or miss among my friends and colleagues, but I personally admired the writing, performances, and gusto with which all parties involved attacked the subject matter. The directing and design were bold, and it gave me a lot to think about. I still find myself thinking about it on a regular basis, so it fully deserves its place on this list.

Sequence 8 by Les 7 Doigts de la Main; Presented by ArtsEmerson

I always have a special love and appreciation for incredible physical feats; this is probably because I’m gangly and not flexible in the slightest. Regardless, the impressiveness of the performances were only outshone by the artistic detail and polished presentation of the entire production. I sat with my mouth agape the entire time. I wish I could see it again and again.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee; The Booth Theater

Much has been said about this revival; I don’t have much to say except I thoroughly loved it as much as everyone predicted I would. Masterful play, masterful actors, masterful direction…it was a great lesson in the craft of American drama. I hope to see it again, but if I can’t, I’ll certainly treasure the fact that I got to see it at all for many years to come.

Our Town by Thornton Wilder; Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company

Another production that has received much coverage and acclaim; similarly to Virginia Woolf, I went in with high expectations which were magnificently exceeded. I would love to live in David Cromer’s mind for a little bit, because he can certainly direct some quality, quality theatre. This was the last play I’ll get to see in 2012, and it was a wonderful note to go out on.

The Honorable Mentions:

Gatz (Elevator Repair Service); February House (The Public Theatre); Uncle Vanya (SoHo Rep); Uncle Vanya (Sydney Repertory Company); One Man Two Guv’nors (Broadway); The Luck of the Irish (The Huntington Theatre Company); The Lyons (Broadway); Cockfight Play (The Duke on 42nd St); Clybourne Park (Broadway); Pippin (The American Repertory Theatre); Hamlet (Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, presented by ArtsEmerson); Fela (International tour, presented by ArtsEmerson); War Horse (Broadway).

Yep, I’m a lucky student indeed. Your move, 2013.

Finding a Star: How OUR TOWN is Helping Me Grieve

When I first heard the news about the horrific event at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday, I was deeply saddened. I thought of the many tragedies that have occurred during my lifetime, and grew melancholy at the thought of adding another one to the list on a seemingly ordinary day. As more and more information about the event became clear, and the number of those killed grew higher and higher, I went from being sad to being stunned. I sat at my desk watching updates via Twitter, thinking about the fact that unlike previous events, the victims here this time were almost entirely children. I grew angry as I thought about my own happy elementary school memories, and tried to process how the lives of the children fortunate enough to survive would be forever altered. I wasn’t in denial, but I wasn’t (and still don’t believe I am) in a place of acceptance. It simply couldn’t be true.

I paced around my room. I tried to write, which usually helps me sort out my emotions, but I just stared blankly at the page. I tried to distract myself with homework, but I simply couldn’t. I had to do something. I felt helpless. Everything was beyond my control.

I finally put on my coat and left. I walked through the chilly streets of Boston as the sun set, not thinking, letting my feet take me wherever they wanted to. I ended up at Trident, my favorite bookstore, and I settled in a back corner and just started reading whatever I could find. Title after title ended up in my lap, as I blindly leafed through the pages. I had to catch my breath. I had to force myself to calm down. I had to accept my helplessness.

Eventually, I managed the courage to walk home. It was dark and chilly, which somehow seemed appropriate. I still wasn’t any more resolved, but could push through.

The next twenty-four hours were spent trying to go about business as usual, whatever that means. I spent time with friends, took two finals, sent emails. Underneath everything was a heaviness in my heart that no distraction could shake completely. A friend is from the area and went to that elementary school. Her photos of the memorials and her own reconciling with the event made everything more personal for me; this wasn’t just a tragedy that happened somewhere off in a faraway land. This was something much larger, something that we collectively are going to be working to come to terms with for some time.

I read articles, I watched the news, I sat and wished for some understanding. This type of event wasn’t supposed to happen here. Years of American hubris have instilled this idea that we’re much better than that—such tragedies and massacres happen a comfortable distance away. Yet the signs were there, and we missed them.  Collectively, I thought, we are to blame—those who have been fighting to ensure our safety from such events weren’t working hard enough. I wasn’t working hard enough. Why hadn’t this been a greater priority in my life? Couldn’t I have done something to prevent this?

I’m not much of a talker when it comes to emotional challenges like these. I have to step back and figure things out for myself. I wasn’t interested in anyone else’s opinion, because at the end of the day, we’re still here, and our parents aren’t going through what the victims’ families are enduring. I sat and walked and asked question after question to the universe. I hated myself for not being so affected by previous shootings. I hated my government for not working harder to prevent this. I hated a lot of things about the world.

Last night, I went to see David Cromer’s production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. I had never read nor seen the play, and I was excited because I had only heard excellent things about this staging. Hopefully a night at the theatre would help me calm my nerves.

The similarities between the tragedy at Sandy Hook and the community of Grover’s Corners are astounding. I sat in my seat watching such a real portrayal of a community enduring multiple hardships, working together to come to an understanding of a tragic death. The event in Our Town doesn’t remotely compare to what happened to those children and teachers, but the sentiment was at least a hopeful one. If the Webb family and George could find some reconciliation, perhaps the families in Connecticut stood a chance.

I allowed myself to be swept into the story. I was completely enamored with this simple and profound production until an exchange in the final scene brought me quickly back to reality:

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? –every, every minute?”

“No.”

In a flash my thoughts were back in Sandy Hook elementary, the children who didn’t think they were responsible for realizing their lives that would soon be stolen from them. The families, the community, the rest of the country suddenly caring about people they didn’t know existed. The thought that so many who at one point had the potential of living very full lives simply…didn’t.

Tears welled in my eyes as other characters began chastising Emily in ways that seemed to ring entirely too true.

“Yes, now you know. Now you know! That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those…of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know—that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness.”

Tears were streaming down my face as I listened to this monologue. That couldn’t be true. There had to be another way.

As if the result of my willpower, Mrs. Gibbs suddenly responded:

“Simon Stimson, that ain’t the whole truth and you know it. Emily, look at that star. I forget its name.”

Emily looked at the star, and I tried to find a star of my own. Some sort of answer in this tragedy…

“A star’s mighty good company.”

“Yes. Yes, ‘tis.”

“…Sh, dear. Just rest yourself.”

Maybe there was some sort of reason or solution after all…maybe there was a peace or a greater understanding to come through such sadness. Maybe.

“They don’t understand, do they?”

“No, dear. They don’t understand.”

But I did. At least some of it. About cherishing each moment and those around me. About doing whatever is in my power to prevent such a tragedy from repeating. About spreading love, wholly and honestly.

I still don’t understand much about what happened in that school in Friday. I doubt I ever will…and if there is a satisfying answer out there, it’s certainly not going to be found in a 100-year-old play. But what became clear to me, as I watched actors look at an imaginary star while the lights faded and tears streamed down my cheeks, was that Newtown, Connecticut is our town, all of our town. Those children are our children, and we owe it to them to make things better. I don’t know much about the past three days, but I know that.

Wilder is right, a star is mighty fine company. I pray that those children and teachers find comfort in the stars, that their families and our mourning nation find peace in the night sky, and that we don’t ignore the stars that guide us towards a better future.

“You get a good rest, too. Good night.”

Maybe not tonight, Mr. Wilder, but with any luck, it won’t be too long in the future.