This 2018 edition of the best of Boston theater is the fourth time I’ve sat down to compile such a list but the first time I haven’t struggled to fill it. Last year, I capped the list at seven because the thought of shoving things in just to get to 10 hurt my soul.
But 2018 was different. I didn’t only easily fill the 10 slots, but I actually had to toil over which productions to omit. As such, nine worthy productions that in other years would have found themselves heralded as one of the best of year will be relegated to mere mentions, a sign that the theater scene in Boston is alive, well, and fucking kicking.
Praxis Stage’s raw and real All My Sons and ART’s astounding The Black Clown ripped my heart out; Flat Earth’s The Nether and the national tour of the Tony-winning The Humans haunted me; an all-star concert version of On the Town with the Boston Pops and Christopher V. Edwards’ wonderful reimagining of Much Ado About Nothing at Actors’ Shakespeare Project delighted me; Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Richard III on the Common and Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s Equivocation reminded me of why I love the theater; and Olivia D’Ambrosio’s stunning and startling production of Dark Room was the talk of the town this summer.
But here are the 10 that rose to the top; the ones I couldn’t stop thinking about, and the ones that made me feel most alive. Thanks for a great year.
Between Riverside and Crazy, SpeakEasy Stage
This Pulitzer winner by Stephen Adly Guirgis brimmed with humanity in a gripping, beautifully acted production directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene. Ensemble acting at its finest with heart to burn—I felt a little bit better about humanity after the lights came up.
Cabaret, Moonbox Productions
Rachel Bertone’s perfect production was like a punch to the stomach, and it’s the only production this year that I saw more than once. Bertone and her glorious cast dug deep—and thought big—to bring out shades and nuances to this Kander and Ebb classic that I have never seen before.
Guards at the Taj, Underground Railway Theater
Jacob Athyal and Harsh Gagoomal were a dream team in this unforgettable pitch-black nightmare comedy by Rajiv Joseph about two Imperial guards whose friendship is put to the test when they are tasked with chopping off the hands of 20,000 men who built the Taj Mahal. Bloody, sexy, and brutally human, this sleek and sly production directed by Gabriel Vega Weissman had me on the edge of my seat.
Hamilton, Broadway in Boston
I’ll keep this one short and sweet: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterwork really is a miracle and this first-rate touring production nearly stopped my heart.
Hype Man: A Break Beat Play, Company One Theatre
Oh, Hype Man, how I love you. Idris Goodwin’s startling and urgent play about personal and professional relationships on the brink of collapse after an unarmed black teenager gets shot by police was everything that modern theater should be.
Love! Valour! Compassion!, Zeitgeist Stage Company
There’s a reason that this Terrence McNally classic isn’t staged very often, and it’s not because it isn’t any good. Director David Miller managed to make it all happen—even the swimming—on a shoestring budget in a tiny theater. Tender, terrifically acted, and touching, this is one production I still haven’t been able to shake off all these seven months later.
Man in the Ring, Huntington Theatre Company
This heartbreaking story of six-time world champion boxer Emile Griffith, who famously killed his opponent in the ring in 1962, was brought to vivid, electric life by playwright Michael Cristofer and director Michael Greif. Cinematic and heartbreaking: It’s not every day that you see grown men crying at the theater.
Measure for Measure, Cheek By Jowl/Pushkin Theatre at ArtsEmerson
One of Shakespeare’s notorious problem plays was rendered practically perfect in this sleek and stylish production by Declan Donnellan. Breathless, stark, and vividly moving, this production was flat-out electric.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Apollinaire Theatre Company
Danielle Fauteux Jacques’ free, outdoor production truly was a miracle under the stars. Chelsea’s waterfront PORT Park was used in astonishing ways and the 20-person cast was a well-oiled comedy machine, turning one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays into one of the best things I’ve ever seen in Boston, let alone in 2018.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical
There was no better way to christen the newly restored Colonial Theatre than with this shamelessly enjoyable and relentlessly gorgeous new musical, which deservedly opens on Broadway this summer. With its breathless visuals, top-shelf performances, and miraculously arranged pop score, Moulin Rouge! was the best of all possible worlds.