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The Year in Stage

Photo: Stan Barouh/Rep Stage, License: N/A

Stan Barouh/Rep Stage

Emily Townley (left) and Bruce R. Nelson in The Goat at Rep Stage.


The year in local stage is bookended by a pair of DIY transitions: the management changes at the Load of Fun Theater (LOF/t) that disrupted its scheduling (and was inadequately covered by local media, especially me) and the Annex Theater leaving its Station North Arts District home for someplace else. Neither is entirely a local theater game-changer, but both provide the sort of underground and something-else programming and experience that Baltimore theater and performance need to remain healthy and interesting. DIY venues are what keep this city’s performance community engaged and pertinent and provide the space for touring DIY companies or performance artists from elsewhere. Baltimore needs such spaces as much as it needs its performance laboratories/workhorses such as the 14-Karat Cabaret and Theatre Project, without which Baltimore might not have been able to catch New York company Studio Six’s riveting and unnerving . . . the itsy bitsy spider . . . , an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevksy’s Demons. These are the spaces that add depth, character, and experimentation to more traditional theater companies that continue to thrive in the city. (Bret McCabe)

 

1 The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? (Rep Stage)

The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? is a comic tragedy about a husband who has an affair with a goat—comic for us, tragic for his wife. It’s also a reminder that no matter how sophisticated we think we are, there’s always something that can still astound us. Playwright Edward Albee has taken the all-too-familiar one-set, four-character play about a marriage in crisis and nudged it in the direction of absurdist satire—but not all the way. Albee walks the fence between Eugène Ionesco and Arthur Miller with acrobatic agility, providing not just the shock and humor of the unimaginable but also the recognizable emotions of real people caught in such a situation. (Geoffrey Himes)

2 Two Rooms (Everyman Theatre)

In Lee Blessing’s unfortunately timeless play Two Rooms, Michael (Clinton Brandhagen) has been kidnapped by terrorists and his wife Lainie (Dawn Ursula) is forced to deal with a governmental bureaucracy willing to do little for his safe return. As Michael and Lainie reached out to each other—him from a barren cell in Beirut, her from an empty room in their U.S. home—Brandhagen and Ursula created a powerful love story despite almost never sharing the stage. Both actors gave shattering performances—Brandhagen managed to connect with the audience despite being bound and blindfolded, and Ursula’s combination of strength and fragility was spellbinding—and Blessing’s script made an extraordinary situation relatable. (Anna Ditkoff)

3 Natural Selection (Single Carrot Theatre)

Eric Coble’s Natural Selection nearly perfectly aligns with Single Carrot Theatre’s strengths. Natural’s bipolar bounce between the ludicrously funny and frighteningly paranoid in its portrayal of lives lived almost entirely at a distance via computers creates a dramatic space that would be cartoonish if it wasn’t so uncomfortably familiar. Kudos to the cast for hitting this play’s thematic sweet spot on the head—especially Elliott Rauh, Aldo Pantoja, and Christopher Rutherford, who impressively combined Rainn Wilson’s nebbish self-awareness with Nic Cage’s inspired scenery chewing. (BM)

4 All My Sons (Everyman Theatre)

All My Sons is an old-fashioned play in which family secrets are dragged out of the shadows in a time of crisis, and it’s not difficult to see them coming before they arrive. But as he did in the very similar show Death of a Salesman, also about a compromised businessman, a blindly devoted wife, and two sons, playwright Arthur Miller makes each character such an intriguing mix of virtues and flaws that we never tire of trying to measure the exact proportions. Plays set in World War II and its aftermath are usually an occasion for dividing the world into heroes and villains. But this script and this production instead revealed the hero and the villain within each person—and by implication the contradictions within us all. (GH)

5 Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Center Stage)

Ma Rainey is no more the main character in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom than Godot is the main character in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Like Beckett’s Estragon and Vladimir, Wilson’s African-American musicians in a 1927 Chicago recording studio deal with their boredom and anxiety by bickering, philosophizing, and telling stories. Beckett may have thought this hurry-up-and-wait limbo was a surrealist fable, but every musician who’s attended a recording session since 1927 knows this is journalistic realism. The Center Stage production captured most of what made Wilson’s history-play cycle so spellbinding: the storytelling that’s alternately hilarious and horrifying, the integration of music and drama, the trauma of the displaced Southerner in the North, and the flash of violence that changes everything. (GH)

6 Journey’s End (Fells Point Corner Theatre)

R.C. Sherriff drew on his own experience during World War I to write this compelling play in which a British Army company does its best to stay together as most of its members fall apart due to the horrors of war and life in the trenches. Andrew Macomber II gave a moving, multilevel performance as Stanhope, a leader praised for his bravery in battle and demonized for the copious alcohol consumption that makes it possible, and Greg Guyton was sublime as Osbourne, a man as gentle as Stanhope is fierce. Director Richard Dean Stover’s clear vision and Kathi Pano’s dark and grimy set came together with the strong cast to create an eye-opening account of trench warfare. (AD)

7 Antarctica (Glass Mind Theatre Company)

In this winningly absurd play, two teenage girls explore Antarctica with just warmish jackets and Ring Dings. Along the way, one of them does it with a magical bear and both girls learn the meaning of friendship. Antarctica could easily have felt like a Bizarro World after-school special, but in the hands of writer Carolyn Raship, director Andrew Peters, and actresses Elizabeth Galuardi and Britt Olsen-Ecker, it was as charming as it was quirky. And it was plenty quirky. (AD)

8 Side Show (Teatro101)

Less than two years into its existence, Teatro101 staged a production that nicely straddled the line between traditional musical and slightly bent drama. Bill Russell and Henry Krieger’s Side Show tells the story of the Hilton sisters, Daisy (Shelly Work) and Violet (Amanda Rife), conjoined twins who appeared in Tod Browning’s Freaks. In many ways, it’s a typical showbiz saga of song-and-dance actresses rising from rags to riches—except, you know, they are two individual women whose lives are irrevocably united. Teatro101 took a gamble on this funny, witty, sad, and odd musical and turned out a movingly human portrait. (BM)

9 Apartment 213 (Iron Crow Theatre)

If you’re into morbid stuff, or awkward stuff, or highly controversial stuff—essentially, human stuff—writer/actor Joseph Ritsch’s Apartment 213, a two-man quasi-biopic on the life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, provided a satisfying theater experience. The play used little beyond a tiny stage, creatively simple props, and some multimedia incorporation to portray the deeply disquieting private life of a profoundly lonely man terrified of his own sexuality. A real upper on a Friday night, but certainly worth a view, especially considering its bravery: Ritsch’s co-actor Will Manning got slippery, sloppy, naked, and dead as one of Dahmer’s many young partying victims. (Laura Dattaro)

10 Playing Dead (Single Carrot Theatre)

This collaboration between SCT and Baltimore’s Center for International Theatre Development delivered the deepest, darkest, pitch-black comedy to hit a local stage this year. And only some Russians—excuse me, Siberians (Oleg and Vladimir Presnyakov, translated by Towson University’s Juanita Rockwell)—could dream up this bleakly comic whirlpool: For work, university dropout Valia (Nathan Fulton) plays the corpse in police murder-scene re-enactments. This “occupation” set up a rich space for SCT to explore the parallels between doing nothing and only pretending to do something, between the engaged life and metaphorical death—and which the Presnyakovs suggest might not be all that different in the first place. (BM)

  • The Year In News It was the year of the “enthusiasm gap,” and not just as applied to the long-over honeymoon between President Obama and all but his most ardent admirers. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Film Though only one cracked into City Paper’s Top 10 list, 2010’s cinematic cup runneth over with top-notch documentaries—and not just the Michael Moore, Errol Morris, An Inconvenient Truth sort of zeitgeist-baiting nonfiction. Instead, smaller, more intima | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in DVDs Max Ophuls’ 1955 Lola Montes endured many of the same heartbreaks and indignities as its title character: misunderstood, manipulated, abused, and abandoned. | 12/14/2010
  • The Year in Television I watch the Hawaii Five-O remake on CBS. There, I said it. Now, don’t get me wrong—it’s awful. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Music In years past, City Paper has looked to its freelance contributors to vote in its annual Top 10 records poll. This year, we looked to Baltimore instead. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Local Music The record label Thrill Jockey is not based in Baltimore. Nor is City Paper on the Thrill Jockey payroll. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Books In years past we’ve polled City Paper’s book reviewers for their 10 favorite books of the year and threaded a list together from their input. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Art Unlike last year’s Laure Drogoul: Follies, Predicaments and Other Conundrums at the Maryland Institute College of Art or 2008’s Franz West, To Build a House You Start With the Roof: Work 1972-2008 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, there wasn’t one exhibitio | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Stage The year in local stage is bookended by a pair of DIY transitions. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Food When we try to count our blessings in precarious years, we invariably include good health in our shortened list. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year In... City Paper's writers go beyond the categories and pick even more top tens | 12/8/2010
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