Stage might

Pub date December 18, 2012

YEAR IN THEATER In addition to Christmas lights, the seasonal landscape would not be the same without a thick, shiny coating of awards. We reflect on some highs (and a few lows) from the year in theater with a nod of appreciation here, a nod of respect there, or just a nod, short and involuntary, before the house lights jolt us awake again.

Best theme, or, the year of living nervously Every year it seems like an unplanned, unintentional theme emerges from the collective theatrical hive mind, and this year it was definitely our ever-uneasy relationship with technology. From Mugwumpin’s Future Motive Power, an electric ode to the oft-overlooked genius of inventor Nikola Tesla; to Josh Costello’s dynamic adaptation of Cory Doctorow’s tech-age YA novel Little Brother at Custom Made Theatre Co.; to a stunning revival of Philip Glass’ 1976 opera Einstein on the Beach — technology’s omnipresence seeped onto the stage.

An incomplete list of other plays that variously explored this theme in 2012: Machine at the Crucible, FWD: Life Gone Viral at the Marsh, The Hundred Flowers Project at Crowded Fire, Status Update at Center REP, She Was a Computer by Cara Rose DeFabio, Zombie Vixens From Hell by Virago Theatre Company, and a quintet of newly-translated August Strindberg chamber plays at Cutting Ball Theater. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Best ensemble Choreographer-performer Keith Hennessy’s experimental project Turbulence (a dance about the economy) was the most unusual and fascinating piece to appear this year, hands down, and it featured a deceptively chaotic eruption of performances by a highly skilled ensemble of artist-generators whose sheer present-mindedness made me toss out my zafu in frustration. (Robert Avila)

Best “The Peasants are Revolting!” Just like a case of herpes, you just can’t keep a good revolution down, and who better to tackle the over-the-top outrageousness and poke-to-the-establishment’s-eye of Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade than the wild and wily Thrillpeddlers? Set in a dilapidated insane asylum spray-painted with “Occupy” slogans and bathroom humor, starring the Marquis de Sade (Jeff Garrett) and a fully engaged complement of rabble and aristocracy, and stuffed with show tunes and moments of questionable taste, Marat/Sade played out like it was written expressly for the notoriously ribald and exhibitionistic Thrillpeddlers, right down to the “copulation pantomime.” (Gluckstern)

Pithiest acronym for a musical: Actor-musician-playwright DavEnd’s rowdy and saucy and smart new musical F.A.G.G.O.T.S. the Musical, directed by D’Arcy Drollinger, had a very long title (Fabulously Artistic Guys Get Overtly Traumatized Sometimes: The Musical!) but all too short a run when it premiered this year at CounterPULSE — so it was great to learn it’s coming back in February 2013. (Avila)

Best armchair cultural revolution The experience of watching The Hundred Flowers Project at Crowded Fire was like being trapped in a distilled version of Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and all its ostentatious unpredictability. An unstable yet mesmerizing territory of shifting alliances and heightened paranoia, implicating even the colluding silent majority of the audience, Christopher Chen’s epic sprawl created a landscape of Big Brother totalitarianism with the deceptively innocuous building blocks of social media technology and theatricality. A recurring theme in the piece is that of zeitgeist, and Chen admirably captured the nervous implications of our own. (Gluckstern)

Best couple to give George and Martha a run for their money Megan Trout and Joe Estlack as Beth and Jake in Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind at Boxcar Theatre. Trout and Estlack were powerhouses, terrifying and devastating by turns, but director Susannah Martin’s production was a winner all around, fitting nicely into Boxcar’s generally outstanding four-play Sam Shepard festival. (Avila)

Most glam-infused baker’s dozen Another from Boxcar: its summertime take on beloved rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch was certainly the most vibrant live production of it I’ve ever seen. Filling the stage with 12 Hedwigs and one very kickass Yitzhak (Anna Ishida), director Nick A. Olivero enhanced the rock club vibe with his unique line-up of “fractured” Hedwigs in skintight gear dripping with sweat and glitter, a guest DJ, and plenty of interaction with the rowdy Hed-heads who packed the house. (Gluckstern)

Best supporting cast Rami Margron in Precious Little at Shotgun. A fine three-member ensemble (also featuring Zehra Berkman and Nancy Carlin) was made to seem much larger thanks especially to Margron’s nimble work as, alternately, a streetwise graduate student, the nebbishy daughter of an aging research subject, a chirpy medical counselor, a relentlessly talkative little girl, and an entire crowd of visitors to the zoo. (Avila)

Most pleasurable peeks behind the mask Although the subject matter of each play were completely different, what The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (at Aurora Theatre) and Truffaldino Says No (at Shotgun Players) had in common was their unmasking of traditionally disguised figures whose role in life is to entertain: professional wrestlers and commedia dell’arte stock characters. Masks off, a pair of truly memorable characters emerged — fall guy in the ring Macedonio “Mace” Guerra (Tony Sancho), and Truffaldino (William Thomas Hodgson), set to follow in the pratfalling footsteps of his father, the famous Arlecchino (Stephen Buescher). While neither play was entirely without flaw, these winsome protagonists bore their respective identity crises with wit, bravery, and heart. (Gluckstern)

Most prescient debut Mojo Theatre. It was in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many miles away from the storm’s path, in an obscure upstairs theater of the old Redstone Building on 16th Street, that Lost Love, a little jewel of an existentialist comedy from director-playwright Peter Papadopoulos, marked the San Francisco debut of impressive newcomers Mojo Theatre — and prefigured the day’s events with humane intelligence and uncanny meteorological instincts. (Avila)

Best example of “I might as well have slept in and just read the press release” The art of the interview is a delicate balance of research and serendipity, and just as important as knowing what questions to ask is knowing when to let the subject take the lead — which made interviewing the truly legendary playwright Eve Ensler on her newest piece, Emotional Creature (performed at Berkeley Rep), so frustrating. She never deviated from her well-worn script with any fresh insights, to the point where it didn’t seem to matter what my questions were. My only consolation is the fact that every other interview I’ve read with Ensler on the topic has unfolded almost word-for-word the same as my own — so at least I know I’m not alone. (Gluckstern)

Sexiest scene in which the actors don’t move (but the stage does) Alex Moggridge and Marilee Talkington at a slowly rotating pub table in Mark Jackson’s Salomania at Aurora. Eros and Thanatos seemed in a slow dance with each other in this striking flirtation between a jaded frontline soldier and a war widow recently liberated from stultifying domesticity. (Avila)

Most graceful bow Becoming Grace at the Jewish Theatre. Naomi Newman’s potent solo play, built from the words and writing of author Grace Paley, closed the 34th and final season of San Francisco’s esteemed Jewish Theatre (formerly Traveling Jewish Theatre). (Avila)

Best musical theater collaboration The Ratcatcher at the Imaginists. This Santa Rosa company is a must see for lovers of smart, intimate, community-based theater, and their latest, a re-telling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin legend, is a pitch-perfect dystopian fairytale featuring a memorable cast and an irresistible musical score by full-partners in the production, the Crux. It’s worth the drive, but here’s hoping they bring it down to SF sometime. (Avila)

Best death scene Michael Zavala in Phaedra’s Love at Bindlestiff Studio. Do It Live!’s worthy production of Sarah Kane’s reworking of the Hippolytus myth climaxes with Hippolytus (a hipster hedonist in Zavala’s capable rendering), castrated and disemboweled, but finally interested in life. (Avila) *


Short takes by Robert Avila:

Best impersonation of a pervy authority figure Sara Moore as Mr. Roper in Three’s Company at Finn’s Funhouse

Best argument for going color blind Red at Berkeley Rep

Best approximation of a teenager Ann Lawler as Theresa in 100 Saints You Should Know, at Theater Rhino

Worst approximation of teenagers Jesus in India, at the Magic Theatre

Best actual teenagers Director Nick A. Olivero’s excellent, age-appropriate cast in Dog Sees God at Boxcar

Most existentially satisfying use of a digital delay Sara Kraft’s TRUTH++ at the This Is What I Want festival at SOMArts

Best lounge act without a lounge Anne McGuire (and Anne McGuire) and Wobbly in Music Again at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art