We’ve amassed a mountainous stack of ticket stubs in 2014. But in putting together our year end list of noteworthy show, we didn’t peak into the pile. Instead we chose those productions that were most memorable, ones that still, sometimes months later, demand to be talked about.
THE CHERRY ORCHARD
ACTORS’ SHAKESPEARE PROJECT
Directed By Melia Bensussen
Anton Chekov’s classic absurdist family tragedy was elevated and made new again thanks to the magnificent staging at the Founder’s Hall of Pine Manor College. Audience members sat along the walls of the central sitting room as characters moved in and out of doorways and disappeared up stairwells and behind curtains. The setup challenged the notion of a venue’s purpose and parameters, as well as blurred the often solid line between audience and cast. The result was a wholly immersive production that allowed spectators a more intimate understanding of a play that might have otherwise not been as accessible if presented in a more traditional space.
THE SHAPE SHE MAKES
AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATER
Directed By Jonathan Bernstein, Choreographed by Susan Misner
While “Finding Neverland” broke box office records, it’s not Captain Hook that continues to haunt us, but Quincy Beth Harris of A.R.T.’s “The Shape She Makes.” The bare bones set allowed the athletic, deliberate, and delicate choreography to take center stage. A rewinded and repeated duet drawing from modern and ballet aptly portrayed the freeing and fleeting nature of casual sex, simple miming detailed the struggles of depression-induced binging in its grave heaviness, and twirls and tumbles mapped the inherently complicated mother-daughter relationship. In short: a real treat of lyrical hybrid theater.
BRIDGE REPERTORY THEATER
Directed By Michael Bello
Ten erotic encounters unfolded in a cabaret-style set, and occasionally on the table where you had rested your drink, in “Hello Again”—undoubtedly the sexiest play in Boston theater this year. Capturing the unique flair of each decade in the 20th century while exploring the timelessness of human connection and sexuality, the episodic but never choppy musical, at once intimate and boiling over, ended Bridge Rep’s inaugural season with a bang. Besides being a testament to the idea that fun can also be profound, “Hello Again” reminded that the young companies in town are heavy hitters, too.
HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY
Directed By Peter DuBois
That each of the four characters in Lydia R. Diamond’s “Smart People” is a Harvard affiliate allows for a bundle of well-placed local-minded humor, but ultimately the intertwined stories of well-intentioned liberals treacherously navigating conversations about race speaks to the zeitgeist. Thought-provoking but hardly pedagogic, Diamond’s clever and comedic script—handled masterfully by director Peter Dubois and projected by an impressive, balanced quartet of actors—is one of the most original, honest, and rattling works on contemporary race relations we’ve encountered. How about an encore?
COMPANY ONE THEATRE
Directed By M. Bevin O’Gara
Aditi Kapil’s Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy was groundbreaking in more ways than one—the plays shone a spotlight on the contemporary American experience shared by the millions of kids hailing from multicultural backgrounds and addressed issues of intersectionality, gender identity, and dysphoria in an era of post-colonialism. “Brahman/i” was the masterpiece of the trilogy, showcasing the brilliance and wit of Kapil’s writing. Furthermore, it affirmed that people of color and people outside of the traditional gender binary have a presence and a voice in Boston’s theater scene.
Directed By Mark Dornford-May
Hailing from Cape Town in South Africa, Isango Ensemble’s reimagining of Mozart’s opera with a marimba orchestra and found instruments was hard to explain to those of the more traditional opus-going audience. But experiencing the performance itself was transcendent—the energy of the instrumentalists and singers was infectious, and the whole vibe of the piece was transformed into a pure force of life-altering joy. The production catapulted audiences out of their comfort zones in the best way possible, reimagining not just Mozart’s opera, but our notions of culture, the world, and what art is and can be.
SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY
Directed By David R. Gammons
Since “Necessary Monsters” sees performances into January, we may find ourselves tacking the darkly comedic puzzle-like post-modern masterpiece onto our best of list for 2015, as well. And while we could gush about the production at length, we instead implore you to meet the monsters yourselves.