by Gail M. Burns, January 1, 2009

I have never gotten around to writing one of these Year-in-Review articles, possibly because I always thought I had to couch them in terms of “Best” and “Worst” which is foolish on many, many levels.

But there is now so much theatre in this region that no one critic covers the same set of productions. Everyone’s perspective is different and therefore they all count.

Here’s mine.

My Favorite Plays 2008

I loved the BTF productions of Shaw’s Candida and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. If we needed to be reminded why these plays are considered classics and these playwrights giants of the 20th century theatre, these were the productions to do so. More, more!

Dueling Feydeau farces! I think I liked A Flea in Her Ear slightly better than The Ladies Man but it’s a hard call – Annette Miller doing the can-can or Debra Jo Rupp in a teddy? Elizabeth Aspenlieder mounting every male in sight with almost painful gusto, or Brooks Ashmanskas wearing nothing but a top hat...on his crotch? And whose ridiculous speech impediment was funnier, Michael Twoomey’s lisp or Carson Elrod’s inability to pronounce consonants? Frankly, both productions were pee-your-pants funny. How blessed were we to have both in our backyards?

BSC mounted two excellent one-man shows – I Am My Own Wife and This Wonderful Life. Some of my colleagues complained that the latter was pointless, which it was, but it was also beautifully staged and performed and highly entertaining.

The New York State Theatre Institute (NYSTI) opened their 2008-2009 season with forceful and thought provoking productions of Twelve Angry Jurors and Of Mice and Men.

The WTF mounted a near-perfect string of American plays, all but one relatively new works, on its Nikos Stage. Beyond Therapy, The Atheist, Broke-ology, The Understudy, and Not Waving were each a joy, introducing new talents and returning old favorites to the Williamstown family.

I didn’t write a review, but the Cap & Bells production of The Tempest, directed last May by Lydia Barnett-Mulligan, a Williams College junior (then a sophomore) who I first interviewed as a teenager involved with the Fall Festival of Shakespeare at Chatham High School, was astonishing for its beauty, freshness, and innovation.

Community Theatre Kudos - Plays

I got a kick out of the young and energetic production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet mounted at Main Street Stage and the good-hearted community theatre talent assembled by the Ghent Playhouse for their production of Picnic.

My Favorite Musicals

This year’s Panto – Jack and the Beanstalk – was a memorable experience.

She Loves Me, imported to the WTF from Boston’s Huntington, was perfectly cast and a delight from start to finish.

Forever Plaid, of course. The Theater Barn seems incapable of mounting a bad production of this little charmer. And their production of Musical of Musicals: The Musical was good fun for people like me who know way too much about way too many musicals.

The triumphal return of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee to Barrington Stage was delightful. I didn’t think anyone could play William Barfee better than Dan Fogler, but Eric Petersen proved me wrong!

NYSTI and C-R productions at the Cohoes Music Hall both revived recent successes. While NYSTI’s 1776 felt a little redundant it remained solid and entertaining, but Cohoes re-imagined La Cage Aux Folles with fabulous results. Jim Charles in a dress – who could as for anything more?

Community Theatre Kudos

The Town Players of Pittsfield emerged from a long and sorry slump with a charming production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.

And I Was Really Glad I Saw...

Seeing Rock City at the Barrington Stage Musical Theatre Lab

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at MASS MoCA

Cosi fan Tutte – the inaugural outing for the Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre (HHOT).

Adam Guettel’s newly pared-down production of The Light in the Piazza at the Weston Playhouse

Big Disappointments

All’s Well That Ends Well (Shakespeare & Company) Tina Packer tried WAY too hard to make one of Shakespeare’s crummy plays less crummy, and only made it crummier.

Trumbo: Red, White, and Blacklisted (BSC) Wake me when it’s over...

The Canterville Ghost (Shakespeare & Company) As Jonathan Levine said in The Pittsfield Gazette, this production was neither super nor natural.

Home (WTF) The only clinker for the WTF in 2008. A dynamic cast adrift in an inscrutable, outdated script.

Letters from a Window in the Sky (NYSTI) The one true head-scratcher of 2008. What the heck was it supposed to be and why was it there? We may never know.

The Violet Hour (BSC) I adored this one right up to its denouement, which then ruined the whole thing for me – Damn!

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2009

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