This past year (2011), we saw about 133 plays, musicals, and operas (give or take one or two). We visited stages throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, and attended local theatre on our trips to New York, Ashland OR, Nashville TN, Mendocino CA, Miami FL, Glasgow Scotland, and Edinburgh Scotland. We rated 68 of those productions “5” on a 5-point scale. Clearly, it was a good year, we are often very happy with what we see, and we also tend to study and choose wisely (as much as possible) before attending. Our complete list of shows we saw can be found HERE.
Below are our lists of the top-ranked, prioritized shows as we look back over the year.
OUR 2011 TOP 10 SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
PLAYS & MUSICALS
1. The North Pool - Rajiv Joseph, TheatreWorks
The truth shifts constantly as a suburban Vice Principal confronts a Syrian student in this riveting cat-and-mouse thriller that takes place in the VP's office on a Friday afternoon after class.
2. No Exit - Jean-Paul Sartre, A.C.T. (The Virtual Stage & Electric Company Theatre production)
A live-cinematic production. A mysterious valet ushers three people into a shabby hotel room, and they soon discover that hell is other people arguing about their lives.
3. Clybourne Park - Bruce Norris, A.C.T.
Takes Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun", of a black family moving up to an all white neighborhood, as a jumping off point for a clever refocusing on the politics of race, class, and real estate gentrification.
4. How to Write a New Book for the Bible - Bill Cain, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Every family creates a sacred story out of love. The writer moves in with his mother when she becomes too sick to care for herself. Their reunion heals old wounds, opening a heartfelt and humorous new chapter in their relationship.
5. The Glass Menagerie - Tennessee Williams, Marin Theatre Company
Aspiring poet Tom reluctantly works in a warehouse to support his overbearing mother and debilitatingly shy sister, Laura. Pushed by his mother, he finds Laura a gentleman caller to try to coax her from her fragile private world.
6. Ruined -Lynn Nottage, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
A look at the lives of women in a land ruled by whiskey and bayonets. As civil war ravages the Congo, the lucky ones find a home—and a regular meal—in a building that serves as both brothel and refuge.
7. Reborning - Zayd Dohrn, San Francisco Playhouse
A chilling yarn of a young artist who crafts custom made dolls begins to suspect that a demanding client may be the mother who abandoned her at birth.
8. Tigers Be Still - Kim Rosenstock, San Francisco Playhouse
The spectacular misadventures of Sherry, an art teacher who, in the midst of mentoring a troubled teen and dealing with a tiger on the loose, faces her biggest challenges at home … getting her sister to sober up and her mother to come out of the bedroom.
9. Nymph Errant - Cole Porter, Rommey Brent, 42nd Street Moon
A young Englishwoman sets off to experiment with life, and travels the Continent in search of adventure, romance and sex! While her escapades are zany, bizarre and outrageous, a torrid affair eludes her.
10. The American Clock: A Vaudeville - Arthur Miller, A.C.T. M.F.A. Program in Acting
A story based on Miller's own family during the Great Depression. He connects his history to the struggles of the rest of the nation by integrating material from Stud Terkel's Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression.
HONORABLE MENTIONS of SF BAY AREA SHOWS
--> [Title of Show] - Jeff Browen, Hunter Bell, TheatreWorks
A musical by a pair of talented writers about a pair of talented writers writing a funny new musical.
--> Honey Brown Eyes - Stefanie Zadravec, San Francisco Playhouse
Inspired by actual events, the play contrasts the everydayness of domestic settings with the ravages of the Bosnian War. Set in two kitchens, it follows two soldiers that were once in a band together caught on opposite sides of the war - one who has to face the consequences of his own brutality, and another who comes to terms with his own cowardice.
--> Period of Adjustment - Tennessee Williams, San Francisco Playhouse
Christmas Eve in High Point,TN 1958. George takes his new bride to meet friend and fellow soldier, Ralph, for the holiday celebrations. As snow settles outside, the idyllic scene begins to dissolve. While past hopes and dreams are recounted, the bittersweet reality of their marital relationships surface with comical and poignant results.
--> The Temperamentals - Jon Marans, New Conservatory Theatre Center
The story of two men - the communist Harry Hay and the Viennese refugee Rudy Gernreich - as they fall in love and build the first gay rights organization in the pre-Stonewall United States.
--> Fly By Night - Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick, Kim Rosenstock, TheatreWorks
A musical about a hapless sandwich maker, torn between his feelings for his wife and her sister, who discovers romance during the 1965 NYC blackout.
OUR 2011 TOP 5 ONE-PERSON SHOWS
1. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs - Mike Daisey, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Monologue whose subject is the moral health of a society hooked on the products of Jobs' company and with the physical health of the labor that produces them.
2. Hugh Jackman in Performance, Curran Theatre - Best of Broadway
An evening of song and dance. Big tribute to Peter Allen's Boy From Oz.
3. Shylock – Gareth Armstrong, Edinburgh Fringe Festival
A dazzling dissection of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. Guy Masterson gives a comedic, deeply moving performance, celebrating the richness of Shakespeare's language and conjuring a host of characters from Portia to Pontius Pilate and confounding the stereotypes.
4. Loveland - Ann Randolph, The Marsh
Franny Potts faces up to the loss of her mother while flying from LA to Ohio surrounded by strangers.
5. The Real Americans - Dan Hoyle, The Marsh
Fleeing the liberal bubble of SF and hipster friends, Hoyle spent 100 days traveling through small-town America in search of some tough country wisdom and a way to bridge America’s urban/rural divide.
OUR 2011 TOP NEW YORK SHOWS
1. The Book of Mormon - Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Robert Lopez, Eugene O'Neill Theatre
From creators of South Park and Avenue Q. Two young Mormons embark on a mission to spread the gospel in Uganda.
2. The Normal Heart - Larry Kramer, Golden Theatre (Joe Mantello, Ellen Barkin)
The story of a city in denial unfolds like a real-life political thriller — as a tight-knit group of friends refuse to let doctors, politicians and the press bury the truth of an unspoken epidemic behind a wall of silence. Ahead of its time on many of the core issues it addresses — gay marriage, the healthcare system and, of course, AIDS.
3. Jerusalem - Jez Butterworth, The Music Box (Mark Rylance)
The Royal Court Theatre's production is a modern mythic tale of the death of a god. In the woods of southwest England, Johnny "Rooster" Byron, former daredevil and modern-day Pied Piper, is a wanted man. The council officials want to serve him an eviction notice, his son wants to be taken to the country fair, a stepfather wants to give him a serious kicking and a motley crew of friends wants his ample supply of drugs and alcohol.
4. Unnatural Acts - Tony Speciale and members of Plastic Theatre, Classic Stage Company
Inspired by events at Harvard University in 1920, when a student's suicide sparked a campus-wide investigation by a secret court of administrators who convened to investigate, expose and ultimately expel a group of homosexual students.
5. Anything Goes - Cole Porter, Timothy Crouse, John Weidman, Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse, Guy Bolton, P.G.Wodehouse, Stephen Sondheim Theatre (Sutton Foster, Joel Grey)
The passengers on this luxury cruise include an evangelist turned nightclub singer, a gangster disguised as a minister, hopeless romantics and stowaways. The Cole Porter score include "I Get a Kick" "You're the Top," "Friendship" and "Easy to Love."
6. Catch Me If You Can - Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Terrence McNally, Neil Simon Theatre (Norbert Leo Butz)
Frank Abagnale, Jr., a world-class con artist, creates an array of identities - airline pilot, doctor, lawyer - with no qualifications. He's got the straight-arrow FBI agent Carl Hanratty on his trail. Based on the Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks movie.
--> And Our Most-Talked About Show…But the one we least liked at the time of the 14 shows we saw that week:
Sleep No More - Felix Barrett, Maxine Doyle, and The Company of Punchdrunk
An immersive dance and mime production inspired by Macbeth, told through the lens of a Hitchcock thriller. The audience, wearing white bird masks, randomly roams through 6 floors/100 rooms with no guidance and experiences a sensory journey.
OUR 2011 TOP NON-SF/NY SHOWS
1. From the Fire - Elizabeth Swados, Cecilia Rubino, Paula Finn; Edinburgh Fringe Festival
A haunting dramatization/oratorio of the uprising of 20,000 young women in New York City and the infamous Triangle Factory Fire of 1911, which galvanized social change.
2. Measure for Measure - William Shakespeare, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Who legislates morality? The Duke's deputy is hell-bent on stamping out moral decay. He reactivates outdated Draconian laws and aims his arrogant crosshairs at a young man whose fiancée is pregnant, sentencing him to death. The deputy is sternly incorruptible—until he meets Isabela, a beautiful religious novice whose desirability arouses him. A modern production flavored with live music by the mariachi band Las Colibri.
3. Anton's Uncles - Richard Alger, Tina Kronis, Theatre Movement Bazaar; Edinburgh Fringe Festival
An adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. A deconstruction of the original where only the men remain. The text is a distillation of the original with new material added. The movement score emphasizes the unspoken, unseen, and unexpressed for a fresh, physical, and funny impression of Chekhov's classic.
4. The Pitman Painters – Lee Hall, National Theatre, Glasgow, Scotland.
In 1934, a group of Ashington miners hired a professor to teach an art appreciation evening class. Abandoning theory in favor of practice, the pitmen began to paint – prolifically. Within a few years avant-garde artists became their friends and prestigious collectors acquired their work; but every day they continued to work, as before, down the mine.
5. Memphis, the Musical - Joe DiPietro, David Bryan, Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville, TN
Sex and race and rock ’n’ roll: a white radio DJ whose love of good music and a talented songtress transcends race lines and airwaves in the turbulent south in the 1950s.
6. The Boy James – Alexander Wright, Belt Up Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Inspired by Peter Pan and its author J.M. Barrie, it shows a battle of the imagination between James' older and younger selves; a mental tug-of-war between the inevitable onset of adulthood and the eternal appeal of Neverland.
7. The Pirates of Penzance - Arthur Sullivan, W.S. Gilbert, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
A day at the beach for the daughters of a modern Major General provides Frederic and his pirate mates with a chance encounter and a first-rate opportunity to marry with impunity. Punchy musical references to modern pop-music styles (doo-wop, gospel, Broadway show tunes) are woven into many numbers.
8. Ghost Light - Tony Taccone, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Jonathan Moscone (based on his own experiences), a gay stage director, is forced to come to terms with a loss that shattered his youth: the assassination (1978) of his real-life father, Mayor George Moscone. As he prepares to direct Hamlet, the parallels between Shakespeare's drama and his own experience overwhelm him. In dreams, and anxious talks with his close friend Louise, he gradually unknots the trauma, and the later guilt and bitterness.
9. The Imaginary Invalid - Molière, Oded Gross, Tracy Young, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
A 1960s French pop culture is overlaid on this 17th-centary play. The wealthy Argan is a housebound hypochondriac with every disease in the book. Lurking around are quacks only too happy to (mis)treat him. Family troubles, including a money-grubbing wife and two headstrong daughters, add to Argan’s miseries.
10. Ovid’s Metamorphosis – Peter Bramley, Lucy Egger, Pants on Fire, Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Transposes the epic Roman poem to a musical set in 940s wartime England, a time when heroes were a real-life concept and movie stars were like gods and goddesses.
OUR 2011 TOP OPERAS
1. The Ring Cycle (4 operas, 17.5 hours over 6 days)
Das Rheingold - Richard Wagner, San Francisco Opera
The lust for power, the lure of gold, the sacred beauty of nature, the destructive impulses of man: These timeless themes dominate both American history and Wagner's Ring. The dwarf Alberich futilely attempts to seduce the maidens who guard the Rhine River’s gold. If forged into a ring, it would give its wearer universal power, as long as he renounces love. Alberich steals the gold and fashions the ring. Meanwhile, Wotan, king of the gods, must find a way to pay the giants Fasolt and Fafner for the construction of Valhalla, the immortals’ opulent new home. Using trickery, he steals Alberich’s ring to settle his debt. The bitter dwarf places a curse on the ring and anyone who possesses it.
An epic tale of an emotionally volatile father and his disobedient children (Siegmund & Brünnhilde) done with a distinctly American touch while honoring its mythic roots. Wotan, king of the gods, strives to undo the curse of the ring by fathering a pure-of-heart hero by a mortal woman. But he finds himself torn as events spin out of control and his offspring defy his will.
A coming-of-age story in which a fearless young hero discovers his destiny. Wotan's hope for recovery of the ring now rests with his grandson Siegfried, who must reject his adoptive father, forge a magical sword and slay a fearsome dragon to prove himself worthy of its mighty power—and the extraordinary woman who awaits him.
The sacred union of Siegfried and Brünnhilde is threatened by three scheming siblings, one of whom was sired by Alberich to take possession of the ring. Driven by greed, their actions inevitably lead to chaos and destruction, until Brünnhilde—wise, pure of heart, heroic—steps forward to return the universe to its natural order in an act of self-sacrifice.
2. Heart of a Soldier - Christopher Theofanidis, Donna Di Novelli, San Francisco Opera
Based on the book by James B. Stewart on the life of Rick Rescorla, a Brit-turned-Yank who left a military career to become head of security for a company with offices in the World Trade Center. On Sept. 11, 2001, he safely evacuated the company's 2,700 employees from the south tower and returned for a final sweep. The tower collapsed shortly thereafter.
3. Carmen - Georges Bizet, San Francisco Opera
Corporal Don José deserts his fiancée and his regiment to run off with the bewitching Gypsy, Carmen. But when she shifts her affections to the dashing toreador Escamillo, Carmen meets her fate in the form of Don José’s knife blade.
4. Turandot - Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Adami, Renato Simoni, San Francisco Opera
The icy restraint of Princess Turandot is finally melted by the passionate love of her suitor, Calaf. He correctly answers her three questions and keeps his name secret for a night to win her and keep his head. The opera score includes Nessun Dorma , one of the world's favorite tenor arias.