They had style, they had grace. Alice Ripley gave good face.
As we come to the close of another theatrical year, it’s time to not only name the best productions of the year, but to reflect on the year’s theatrical offerings as a whole. Some years there are trends; some years there aren’t. And sometimes when we’re burnt out from a busy theatergoing month, or when a string of disappointing productions has left us disillusioned, or when Faye Dunaway comes to town for a month and slaps a crew member, it’s easy to forget that Boston’s theater scene is a uniquely vibrant creature, one that yields everything from glitzy world premieres to blood, sweat, and tears-stained fringe productions, and everything in between.
I’ve done a little bit of complaining this year. I have—publicly and privately—bemoaned the state of Boston theater, bemoaned the state of Boston theater criticism, and worried—because I care—about the state of our stages. But 2019 was a pretty good year; better than I gave it credit for being, and a bird’s eye view of the year yielded not a sigh but rather several smiles.
In a year where grand slams—such as the Lyric’s productions of The Wolves and The Little Foxes, as well as the Huntington’s remounting of Broadway’s Indecent and David Byrne’s pre-Broadway American Utopia—end up on the runners-up list, we can see just how high the bar has remained this year. There’s also Company One’s vibrant Vietgone, American Repertory Theater’s one-of-a-kind Endlings, Arlekin’s stylized production of The Stone, and Israeli Stage’s flawless The Return that have stuck with me all year long. And very recently, Moonbox’s Parade—which is still running—blew me away. (Because of timing, Apollinare’s Cry It Out and Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) will be considered for 2020).
But these are the 10 that really stuck with me, the productions that seemed to stop time, and—for the most part—the productions that struck me with that elusive bolt of lightning, the lightning that I hope will split me in two each time I walk into a theater.
Cambodian Rock Band, Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Cloud 9, The Nora Theatre Company/Central Square Theater
The Crucible, The Nora Theatre Company/Central Square Theater
Dear Evan Hansen, Broadway in Boston
Dragon Mama, American Repertory Theater
Moby-Dick, American Repertory Theater
Once, SpeakEasy Stage
School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play, SpeakEasy Stage
The Seagull, Arlekin Players
Sunset Boulevard, North Shore Music Theatre
Theater critic for TheaterMania & WBUR’s TheArtery | Theater Editor for DigBoston | film and music critic for EDGE Media | Boston Theater Critics Association.