The Drama Guy’s Top 10 of ’14

The cast of "Sweet Maladies" at Brava Theater Center makes the list of the top 10 plays of 2014. (Edris-Cooper Anifowoshe photo)
The cast of “Sweet Maladies” at Brava Theater Center makes the list of the top 10 plays of 2014. (Edris-Cooper Anifowoshe photo)

This has been another solid year of play going for yours truly. It’s always great to get out to different areas of the Bay and be a part of an art form that generates so much passion with so many giving of themselves on and behind the stage.

This year certainly had some sadness as well. Theatre is still an expensive proposition anywhere, especially in our region, and we lost two companies this year. San Jose Repertory Theatre’s closure has left a huge void in the downtown San Jose theatre scene. And with one show to go, the edgy and bold Renegade Theatre Experiment will close its curtains, with the hope of re-opening after an extended absence.

There were certainly some shows I did not make it to, shows that garnered raves through critic land. I am certainly bummed to have not made it out to see “Party People” at Berkeley Rep or “Breakfast with Mugabe” at Aurora Theatre Company. Yet, I did see plenty of great stuff, and was able to narrow what I saw down to my annual list of 10 shows (Sorry “If/Then.” I love you Idina, but just didn’t love your show).

So in order of when I saw the show, here is my list, which includes a description and a link to the original review.

  1. “Clybourne Park”
    Center REPertory Theatre, Walnut Creek (February)

    Written by Bruce Norris
    Directed by Michael Butler

    It certainly helps that I am a huge sucker for “Raisin in the Sun,” and this witty supplement to Lorraine Hansberry’s opus, a tour-de-force with a solid cast and a timely discussion on race in America was engrossing from start to finish. I’ve often found Norris’ work quirky and relevant, but this piece was certainly well done in Walnut Creek. Oh, and there was ice cream for intermission. Oh yeah. Review of “Clybourne Park”

  1. “Raisin in the Sun”
    Broadway, New York City (April)

    Written by Lorraine Hansberry
    Directed by Kenny Leon

    Denzel Washington, Sophie Okonedo, Anika Noni Rose and Latanya Richardson Jackson interpreting Hansberry’s work was pure bliss, her words delivered with freshness and a reverence that still makes this work so relevant and thought provoking. One of the most amazing voices to listen was Hansberry’s herself in an interview with Studs Terkel, a wonderful choice by director Kenny Leon. Washington was fiery and passionate as Walter Lee, who led a star-studded cast. Review of “Raisin in the Sun” 

  1. “Kinky Boots”
    Broadway, New York City (April) 

    Written by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein
    Directed and Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell

    The show may have a few moments of imbalance, especially in act two, but it is clear that the cast is having a blast. And why shouldn’t they? Led by the great Billy Porter as Lola, a lovable drag queen who leads the fierce “Angels,” the show is non-stop intensity, slowing down for some deliciously tender moments, making for a big night on Broadway. The touring company that just closed in San Francisco was on par with those on the Great White Way, a great show in either city. Review of “Kinky Boots”

    "The Big Meal" was the final play in the illustrious history of San Jose Repertory Theatre (Photo by Kevin Berne)
    “The Big Meal” was the final play in the illustrious history of San Jose Repertory Theatre (Photo by Kevin Berne)
  2. “The Big Meal”
    San Jose Repertory Theatre (May)
    Written by Dan LeFranc
    Directed by Kirsten Brandt

    Even though we didn’t know at the time, LeFranc’s play was foreshadowing the end of San Jose Rep, a company that provided lots of great theatre in a truly beautiful venue. Each family member ate their final meal in silence, slowly walked out the door of the restaurant, never to be heard from again. A solid cast, led by Carrie Paff, examined the circle of life and all the memories we create, both good and bad, as we sit around a table to share a meal. A truly wonderful show to signify the final act of a great company. Review of “The Big Meal” 

  1. “The Language Archive”
    City Lights Theater Company, San Jose (May)
    Written by Julia Cho
    Directed by Virginia Drake

    Director Virginia Drake shaped a great cast and a beautiful story, with an even more beautiful soundscape that rested nicely in the rustic City Lights performance space. The play was a great view on how we communicate, and what words and feelings really mean in the grand scheme of our humanity. Review of “The Language Archive”

  1. “Buyer and Cellar”
    SHNSF (August)
    Written by Jonathan Tolins
    Directed by Stephen Brackett

    The deliberately cheeky Michael Urie was wonderfully adorable as Alex More, a young struggling actor who works in the cellar of Barbra Streisand’s house, which was a fully functioning shopping mall. The anecdotes in Tolins’ script were hilarious and heart-breaking, as Urie played a multitude of characters, notably Babs herself and his deliciously cynical boyfriend Barry. Review of “Buyer and Cellar”

  1. “Sweet Maladies”
    Brava Theater Center (August)
    Written by Zakiyyah Alexander
    Directed by Edris-Cooper Anifowoshe

    I’ve seen many shows in the past year, but none stayed with me more than this production, a flat-out phenomenal play with acting that was nothing short of brilliant. The story of three black sisters who are plotting the destruction of their mistress Margaret, a woman who attempts to keep the girls under her thumb after emancipation. The hallmark of the production was its fluidity within the various styles, and a cast led tightly by director Edris-Cooper Anifowoshe. A special piece of theatre, and nothing I saw all year was as important as this piece. Review of “Sweet Maladies”

  2. “An Audience with Meow Meow”
    Berkeley Repertory Theatre (September)

    Adapted and directed by Emma Rice

    I ran into critic colleague Richard Connema after the show, and he looked a bit stunned. He told me, “I’m still trying to wrap my mind around what I just saw.” The show had that kind of effect on the audience, and I had a moment in the show that I never had before in a theatre. It went something like this: “Oh fu**, she’s coming right at me!” Aside from the shock of bold performer Melissa Madden Gray, the show was full of belly laughs and soul-shaking tears, just a wonderful, wonderful night of theatre that Berkeley Rep does so well. Review of “An Audience with Meow Meow”

  1. “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” 
    TheatreWorks, Mountain View (October)
    Written by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler
    Directed by Robert Kelley

    A wonderful production done with the right amount of macabre gusto. Sung beautifully by the cast, with great performances by David Studwell as the demon barber of Fleet Street, and the darling pie entrepreneur Mrs. Lovett, played by Tory Ross. An ensemble cast unified the production magnificently, featuring just the right amount of spectacle that TheatreWorks has become known for. Review of “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
  1. “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso”
    San Jose Stage Company (November)
    Written and performed by Herbert Siguenza

    Siguenza had an amazing handle on the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the 20th century master of art Pablo Picasso. He not only played the role, but embodied it, showcasing an uncanny ability to paint with surreal skill and reckless abandon. A magnificent turn from someone I have considered one of my favorite members of the renowned Mexican theatre trio “Culture Clash.” Review of “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso”

As another year comes to a close, thank you to all of you who took the time to stop and look at the site, and for taking the time to email, tweet or Facebook me, I am eternally grateful for your readership.

May all of you have a healthy and blessed 2015, and I look forward to even more wonderful theatre experiences in the coming year!

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