THEATER Freud called dreams wish fulfillment; or reality, disguised, but basically as we’d like it to be. If you asked the Buddha and Heisenberg about reality, you’d get pretty much the same answer. Not that any of these guys went to the theater a lot in 2010. This year oscillated between quasi-documentary fidelity to facts and burrowing hallucinations like those induced by Gysin and Sommerville’s spinning stroboscopic Dreamachine. (A facsimile of one even graced The Burroughs and Kookie Show, Christopher Kuckenbaker’s Fringe Festival winner and definitely a peak stage encounter in 2010.) But it all amounted to an assault of some kind on the sleepwalking world outside. Dreaming in the theater can be much more lucid.
Best political theater riffs: In the Wake (Berkeley Rep) was not a perfect play, but Lisa Kron’s slightly lopsided new political dramedy had a way of upsetting some fundamental and suspect assumptions of mainstream liberals that was at times electrifying. Dan Hoyle’s The Real Americans, while not as politically provocative, also ventured outside the “liberal bubble” into red state territory, bringing back reportage in the form of deft rapid-fire characterizations, comedy, and music by the young but prodigious solo performer–playwright of Tings Dey Happen and Circumnavigator. And finally, the 51-year-old San Francisco Mime Troupe’s reaffirmed that its brand of agitprop is still a going concern. Posibilidad, or the Death of the Worker, set partly in the USA but inspired by the recent factory takeovers by workers in Argentina, was a shrewd, funny, tuneful plea for cooperatives against the grinning, co-opting tendencies of “capitalism with a human face.”
The most hyped production: Terrell Alvin McCraney’s trilogy, The Brother/Sister Plays. The only one that really worked for me was the second, The Brothers Size, which got a very strong production at the Magic under Octavio Solis. It was lean, focused, a small story with subtle, far-reaching reverberations. The other two plays reached consciously for the grandiose without finally grasping much. Nevertheless, the precedent-setting coordination between the Magic, Marin Theatre Company, and American Conservatory Theater in introducing these plays to the Bay Area was an exciting development.
Boldest venture: Berkeley Rep’s London import, Afghanistan: The Great Game, a seven-hour marathon of short scripts by 12 playwrights on the history and politics of this current critical object of U.S. imperial desire. A mixed bag theatrically, though impressively produced, but the historical perspective — boiling down to a dismal pattern of imperial design and hubris, infamy, and failure — was a point well taken. Indeed, the antiwar protest outside the White House on Dec. 16, where 131 arrests were made ahead of President Obama’s declaration of “progress” in Afghanistan, seemed its logical conclusion.
Best solo performances behind a large desk: Paul Gerrior in Krapp’s Last Tape (Cutting Ball); Joel Israel in Reluctant (Brava).
Best Pas de Donut: Howard Swain and Lance Gardner in Superior Donuts at TheatreWorks.
Best mise-en-scène as meaningful, mindful mess: This Is All I Need by Mugwumpin.
Best visiting productions: Japan’s Zenshinza Theatre Company at Zellerbach (Cal Performances); West Side Story at the Orpheum; Jane Austen Unscripted at BATS’ Bayfront Theater.
Best indefinable night in a theater: Dan Carbone at the Dark Room.
Best experiential fare: Etiquette by London’s Rotozaza (hosted by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at the Samovar Tea Lounge).
Best extraterrestrial fare: Cynthia Hopkins’ The Success of Failure (or, The Failure of Success) at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Best all-around design: The Tempest at Cutting Ball.
Best productions with death references in the title: Don’t Feel: The Death of Dahmer by writer-performer Evan Johnson; and when i die, i will be dead, a pair of dance/theater pieces by Alicia Ohs. Both Don’t Feel and when i die were nurtured and staged at the now-shuttered queer performance incubator Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory. Until some hoped-for resurrection, R.I.P. Mama Calizo’s.
Best (deconstruction of) Shakespeare: Juliet, directed by Mark Jackson at San Francisco State.
Best Bill Murray: Jody Frandle in Caddyshack Live! at the Dark Room.
Best debut by a new company: Symmetry Theatre with Show and Tell at the Thick House.
Best ensemble casts in a comedy: Learn to Be Latina (Impact Theatre); Shotgun Players’ production of The Norman Conquests (with a special nod to Richard Reinholdt in the title role); Man of Rock (Climate Theater); Scapin (ACT).
Best ensemble cast in a drama: Aurora Theatre Company’s Trouble in Mind (with a special nod to Margo Hall).
Best non-singing lead in a comic opera: Patrick Michael Dukeman in Jerry Springer, the Opera (Ray of Light Theatre).