Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Best of 2012: The Best Plays I Saw

To be candid, it can be a challenge for me to stay focused—or even awake—throughout an 80-minute play. So it’s especially impressive that of the 18 non-musical productions I saw onstage in 2012, all in the Chicago area, my favorite one was nearly 5 hours in length.

Not that I would have minded if Eugene O’Neill had figured out how to make The Iceman Cometh just as compelling in half the time, but it was certainly a pleasure to see the epic play performed by a splendid cast at Goodman Theatre, including the marvelous Nathan Lane, Brian Dennehy, Stephen Ouimette and others.

It is also rather gratifying that I liked and would recommend 17 of the 18 plays I saw this year, bestowing @@@@1/2 (out of 5) to the top 5 on my list below and @@@@ to 10 others. Besides the 15 I cite here, I also enjoyed I Love Lucy: Live on Stage, which wasn’t so much a play as an enactment of two classic teleplays, and Black Pearl Sings, a two-woman show at Northlight that had a good amount of singing but really couldn’t be considered a musical.

The only play I truly didn’t like in 2012 was Camino Real, a non-linear work by the great Tennessee Williams, which had many patrons exiting the Goodman Theatre early. I stuck it out, primarily to justify giving it the worst review I’ve given anything on Seth Saith.

Fortunately, that was the only stinker in an otherwise stellar year at the Goodman, where I have long been a subscriber.

A couple of the biggest revelations of the year were 33 Variations, a play that wove a biographical study of Beethoven around a family drama, and an excellent world premiere staging of The Book Thief by Steppenwolf for Young Adults. In bringing Markus Zusak’s novel to life through an adaptation by Heidi Stillman, the fine cast led by Francis Guinan and Rae Gray created a truly first-rate drama.

Before providing my list of the Best Plays of 2012, I should note that I am really ranking the productions I saw, not necessarily the plays themselves. While many of the works are of fairly recent vintage, this should not be construed as a ranking of the best new non-musical stage works, but merely a list running down my favorites from the 18 plays I saw this year.

1. The Iceman Cometh – Goodman Theatre (my review)
written by Tennessee Williams; directed by Robert Falls

2. 33 Variations – TimeLine Theatre (my review)
written by Mois├ęs Kauffman; directed by Nick Bowling

3. War Horse – Broadway in Chicago (my review)
written by Nick Stafford; directed by Bijan Sheibani

4. The Cripple of Inishmaan - Redtwist Theatre (my review)
written by Martin McDonagh; directed by Kimberly Senior

5. The Book Thief - Steppenwolf Theatre (my review)
written by Heidi Stillman; directed by Hallie Gordon

6. Metamorphoses - Lookingglass Theatre (my review)
written and directed by Mary Zimmerman

7. Sweet Bird of Youth - Goodman Theatre (my review)
written by Tennessee Williams; directed by David Cromer

8. Race - Goodman Theatre (my review)
written by David Mamet; directed by Chuck Smith

9. After the Revolution - Next Theatre (my review)
written by Amy Herzog; directed by Kimberly Senior

10. Good People - Steppenwolf Theatre (my review)
written by David Lindsay-Abaire; directed by K. Todd Freeman

Honorable Mention

Black Watch - Chicago Shakespeare Theatre/National Theatre of Scotland (my review)
written by Gregory Burke; directed by John Tiffany

The Odd Couple - Northlight Theatre (my review)
written by Neil Simon; directed by BJ Jones

Freud’s Last Session - Mercury Theatre (my review)
written by Mark St. Germain; directed by Tyler Marchant

Broken Glass - Redtwist Theatre (my review)
written by Arthur Miller; directed by Michael Colucci & Jan Ellen Graves

The School For Lies - Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (my review)
written by David Ives; directed by Barbara Gaines

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