nytheatre mike’s Favorites of 2007

December 30, 2007

My turn to weigh in on my favorite shows of 2007. I saw a lot of them – more so than I ever have in one year, I think – and the good news is that most of them were good. (I frequently tell people that I’ve finally learned what the dirty little secret of New York theater is: most of it is really good.)

This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive or representitive list, however – there were a good many shows I missed (like, say, Frost/Nixon, August: Osage County, Young Frankenstein, and Men of Steel, just to name the first four that popped into my head). No, this list is purely subjective and is meant to highlight the shows that I, personally, got the most out of – the ones I responded to most viscerally and that stayed with me the longest after the proverbial curtain came down.

Also, I saw so many good shows this year that I’ve decided to cite my favorite 15 instead of the more traditional 10. There was no way I could do fewer than 15. It just wouldn’t be right. (Incidentally: shows with highlighted titles link back to my original nytheatre.com reviews – if I reviewed them, that is.)

Okay, enough talking – on to the main event! Without any further ado, my favorite 15 shows of 2007 (in alphabetical order):

  • 110 in the Shade (Roundabout Theatre Company): This glorious Broadway revival of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s musical adaptation of The Rainmaker featured stellar direction by Lonny Price and a knockout star performance by Audra McDonald. This was tug-at-the-heartstrings type stuff that Broadway does better than anyone else.
  • All the Wrong Reasons (New York Theatre Workshop): Former “prompter monkey” John Fugelsang cast off the chains of his television persona and reinvented himself as a solo performer to be reckoned with in this riotous and inspirational show about coming to terms with his unusual Catholic upbringing.
  • Blackbird (Manhattan Theatre Club): By far, the most haunting and spellbinding theatrical experience I had all year. Jeff Daniels and Allison Pill delivered tour-de-force performances as former lovers trying to face the fallout of their forbidden romance in David Harrower’s intense and disturbing love story.
  • Every Play Ever Written (The Brick Theater’s Pretentious Festival): Actor-writer-director Robert Honeywell continued to prove what an ingenious triple threat he is with this deliriously daffy and razor sharp meta-comedy about a theater history lecture gone terribly, horribly wrong. Featuring hilarious, top-notch performances from Brick regulars Moira Stone, Audrey Crabtree, Lynn Berg, and Honeywell himself.
  • Invincible Summer (The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival): The solo show of the year, hands down. Author and performer Mike Daisey brought together such seemingly disparate threads as 9/11, his own life, and the history of the MTA in a dazzling display that beat the late Spalding Gray at his own game.
  • Macbeth: A Walking Shadow (Manhattan Theatre Source): Andrew Frank and Doug Silver’s smart but audacious adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy fractured the narrative in a cogent way that made this familiar tale new again. Featuring a pair of outstanding lead performances by Ato Essandoh and Celia Schaefer as the title character and his scheming wife, respectively.
  • Macbeth Without Words (Piper McKenzie Productions at The Brick Theater’s Pretentious Festival): Director Jeff Lewonczyk ingeniously re-imagined the Scottish play as a silent movie and came up with one of the best and most memorable Shakespearean productions I’ve ever seen – all with nary a word spoken. The fabulous ensemble cast was led by Brick regulars Fred Backus, Hope Cartelli, Bryan Enk, and the fierce Stacia French.
  • Nihils (The Brick Theater’s Pretentious Festival): Trav S.D., the man who was seemingly everywhere this year, gave audiences the funniest show of the year – a one-man demolition of beat poetry, performance art, avant-garde elitism, and all things pretentious. Featuring a brilliantly funny performance by the author himself as the title character.
  • Oresteia (Blue Coyote Theater Group): David Johnston’s fantastic adaptation of Aeschylus’ classic (and bloody) tale brought Greek tragedy into the modern age with a deft mix of both old and new language. Director Stephen Speights and the rest of the Blue Coyotes gave Johnston’s script the royal treatment on every front.
  • The Chronological Secrets of Tim (Impetuous Theater Group): The quarterlife crisis got the Kevin Smith treatment in Janet Zarecor’s brash, coarse, and completely riotous comedy about a slacker who decides to end it all on his 30th birthday. Full of surprising depth and warmth, and some of the rudest, crudest laughs in all of New York this year.
  • The Death of Griffin Hunter (Inverse Theater): Inverse’s revival of Kirk Wood Bromley’s epic 1998 political thriller secured the author’s position as one of indie theater’s biggest thinkers and most nimble linguists. True to form, Inverse regulars Al Benditt, Timothy McCown Reynolds, Bob Laine, and Catherine McNelis all delivered outstanding performances.
  • The Seafarer (Booth Theatre): Redemption and the supernatural collided in Conor McPherson’s campfire-like tale of four Irish drunks visited by the Devil on Christmas Eve. David Morse and Ciaran Hinds led one of the best ensembles Broadway saw all year long.
  • Till the Break of Dawn (Culture Project at the Henry Street Settlement): One of the year’s most overtly political works also had one of the biggest hearts. Danny Hoch’s ambitious and entertaining play about a grassroots group of hip-hop activists who get a rude awakening during a visit to Cuba made politics and social relevancy cool again.
  • Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen (Women’s Project): The year’s biggest and best surprise came in the form of Kathryn Walat’s exuberant comedy about a popular high school bombshell’s quest for respect and validation among the school mathletes. A crowd-pleaser forged from the same underdog pedigree as Rocky and Hoosiers.
  • Wickets (HERE Arts Center’s Culturemart): Clove Galilee and Jenny Rogers re-set Fefu and Her Friends aboard a jet airliner and made it fly. Armed with a built-to-scale plane cabin set and one of the hardest working ensembles of 2007, this 4-performance-only workshop was one of the year’s most unique and enjoyable experiences.

The list wouldn’t be complete without a few honorable mentions. Here are 16 more that rocked my world in one way or another:

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave you with that. My thanks to all the wonderful artists on both of these lists – and all the other ones I saw this year – for making 2007 one of my favorite and most memorable years of theatergoing in recent memory. Happy New Year, everyone – I can’t wait to see what you’ve all got in store for 2008!


Jayson Stark Explains it All for You

December 28, 2007

In case you hadn’t heard I’m a big sports fan, which means I worship at the altar of ESPN.com on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis. Baseball, football, basketball – I love all three. So you can probably imagine how ridiculously happy I was, earlier in the week, to stumble upon the following column by baseball writer/columnist Jayson Stark: Strange But True Feats of the Year.

Yes, people, that’s right: it’s sort of like the Ripley’s Believe it or Not of 2007 baseball statistics and occurrences, in which Stark tells us all about…

  • How Baltimore Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora got thrown out of a June 28 Yankees-Orioles game during a rain delay.
  • How Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips stole two bases on one pitch during an August 1 game versus the Washington Nationals.
  • How the Chicago White Sox managed to lose a May 31 game in which the opposing team – the Toronto Blue Jays – had no baserunners. (?!?!?!)
  • How the Texas Rangers, in an August 3 game against the Toronto Blue Jays, unknowingly used two pitchers who both shared the exact same birthday: December 24, 1974 (happy belated birthday to those guys, by the way).

You can read all about those items, and many many more, here. Enjoy the trivia, people.

Zack Calhoon Gives Props to the Blood Brothers

December 28, 2007

Actor, playwright, and fellow blogger Zack Calhoon surprised the hell out of me this morning (in the good way, of course) with his newest post about his Top Theatrical Experiences of 2007: right there, alongside a bunch of Broadway shows, was a show I was in – The Blood Brothers Present: Pulp! You can read his entire list here.

This is very exciting to me. Now, granted, I didn’t produce the show nor did I play a lead role in it or anything, but it’s still very gratifying to have been part of a show that someone – especially as discriminating and savvy a theatergoer as Zack – thinks so highly of that they rank it right up there with a Tony-nominated Best Play, an acknowledged classic of world drama, and a play that’s probably going to win the Pulitzer Prize in April. Wow.

The producers of The Blood Brothers, Nosedive Productions – and two of their members, in particular, co-artistic director Pete Boisvert and artistic associate Patrick Shearer – worked their asses off on this show, and it showed in the finished product. The whole show was a labor of love for all of us, but especially for Pete and Patrick (they both produced, directed, and acted in the show). My thanks to Zack for showing us all some love like this at the end of the year. A great way to bring 2007 to a close. (I remember the night he came to the show: he and his fiancee, Susan, sat in the front row and got splattered with blood. Later that night, they emailed everyone in the cast and crew and told us how much they loved getting blood on them. That’s the spirit, people!)

In other news, here’s this week’s Random Friday Top 10, once again courtesy of Pandora:

  • “Real Men” – Joe Jackson
  • “In Your Eyes” – Peter Gabriel
  • “King of Pain” – The Police
  • “I Wanna Be Loved” – Elvis Costello
  • “Our Swords” – Band of Horses
  • “Leave the City” (Live) – Magnolia Electric Co.
  • “Taking People” – Cat Power
  • “As We Go Up, We Go Down” – Guided by Voices
  • “Hello, I Love You” – The Doors
  • “Addicted to Love” – Robert Palmer

Limited Engagements

December 27, 2007

Part of the reason I’ve been off the radar for a while is because I’ve been acting a lot. Needless to say, this is a good reason. In addition to my stint in The Blood Brothers Present: Pulp back in October, I’ve been staying busy with a few limited engagements that have kept me visible and artistically satisfied, and have given me the chance to work with some lovely, talented people.

First up was the Monarch Theater Company‘s One-Minute Play Festival, which ran December 1st and 2nd at The Brick Theater in Williamsburg. Director, gadfly, and man-about-town Dominic D’Andrea curated a program of nearly 70 new plays by 34 different writers, so it was a full evening. Mike Daisey, Clay McLeod Chapman, Migdalia Cruz, Trav S.D., Kyle Jarrow, Qui Nguyen, James Comtois, Ashlin Halfnight, Rajiv Joseph, Edith Freni, Mac Rogers, Emily Conbere, Gary Winter, and Lloyd Suh were just some of the many scribes represented. Eleven different directors took part, including Dominic, Jordan Young, and The Brick’s co-artistic director Michael Gardner. The several dozen actors who participated included by Blood Brothers castmate Anna Kull, fellow nytheatre.com contributor Fred Backus, Brick regulars Audrey Crabtree and Roger Nasser, and my new colleague Toby Knops. At $15 a pop, this was a good value you couldn’t beat. (Apparently, many others thought so, too: the festival drew two of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen at The Brick.)

I appeared in several fun and challenging pieces by playwrights Sibyl Kempson, Bathsheba Doran, Anna Ziegler, and Matthew Lopez, and a hilarious musical number by Adam Szymkowicz and Isaac Butler. My co-stars were Isaac (who also directed) and Jennifer Gordon Thomas (who co-starred in Mac Rogers’ Universal Robots back in the summer), and I had an absolutely terrific time working with both of them. Isaac is a smart and talented director who knows how to do good work really fast (we rehearsed twice the week of the performances and had a 10-minute tech rehearsal – that’s it). And Jennifer is a funny, intuitive actor I would work with again in a heartbeat.

I only caught a few of the other one-minute plays – the total cast size was so big we had to use the bar across the street as our green room/holding area – but from what I could see everyone else was red hot. The audience seemed to think so, too: they rocked The Brick with laughter.

The following weekend I made my P.S. 122 debut with a short performance at Sponsored By Nobody‘s end of the year fundraiser, which was a swingin’ affair. Catered food, donated beer and wine, silent auction items, the whole nine. Vallejo Gartner and the rest of the good folks at P.S. 122 were nice enough to give us free run of their huge upstairs theater (a space I always enjoy visiting as an audience member), which we decked out with artwork-for-sale and the requisite SBN promotional materials (i.e. still photos from past productions, actors’ headshots, and a big ol’ TV running video footage from their shows). Add to that the neverending stream of pumpin’ music emanating from artistic director Kevin Doyle’s iPod (he’s a bottomless font of knowledge and wisdom when it comes to music), and we were good to go.

I appeared in a scene from Kevin’s hilarious play, The Position, along with original cast members Scott Miller, Paul Newport, and Sean O’Hagan. We all started the scene wearing identical business suits, and ended it with most of us dropping our pants and flashing matching pairs of Christmas-themed boxer shorts (and, of course, acting as if there were nothing unusual about that). That’s how kooky Kevin’s work sometimes gets. Great fun. Later on, Scott and Paul joined Ishah Janssen-Faith and Macha Ross in reprising their roles from Kevin’s play, not from canada – their performance of the opening scene was just as funny as it had been at the show’s FringeNYC 2007 premiere.

I love working with the SBN crew. They are such talented and funny people. I first met and worked with them on their production of FOX(y) Friends/Compression of a Casualty at The Brick Theater’s Pretentious Festival back in the summer, and have since come to know them as both friends and colleagues. My respect and admiration for both Kevin and the SBN ethos is well-documented, and the company’s ever-increasing stable of actors are a joy to watch and play with.

I like these limited engagement gigs because they’re a good way to stay visible, stay sharp acting-wise, and work with cool people, all for a minimal time commitment. Both the One-Minute Play Festival and the SBN fundraiser were great gigs to end the year with because I wanted to keep my Blood Brothers momentum going after the run ended, but didn’t want to jump into another full production right before (or possibly during) Christmas. Considering both the timelines and all the talented people involved, accepting both offers was a no-brainer.

I went through a similar busy period in the fall, during Blood Brothers rehearsals, when I worked on two other short gigs: the 365 Plays, and a staged reading of Trav S.D.’s play, Family of Man, at Theater for the New City. Juggling all three projects was challenging as hell sometimes, but enriching beyond belief all the time. That’s the kind of busy I like to be.

‘Tis the Season

December 24, 2007

Wishing everyone out there a Happy Holiday season in whatever permutation you celebrate it. Be well and happy, and have fun celebrating or relaxing or doing whatever you end up doing. And I hope you all get cool presents, too!

Podcasting About the Year That Was

December 24, 2007

More on the podcast front today as Martin Denton posts nytheatre.com’s 2007 Year in Review podcast, a roundtable discussion featuring him, me, and Leonard Jacobs, national theater editor of Back Stage. Always a fun time hanging, talking, and podcasting with these two, as you’ll hear on the finished product. Take a listen to what I think is a very wide-ranging conversation about a lot of the good stuff New York theater had to offer at every level this year. (I think between the three of us we reviewed something like 500-700 shows this year – and that’s a conservative estimate – so we cover a lot of ground.)

Also, if you click onto the official nytheatrecast homepage, you’ll find a lovely picture of the three of us looking very dashing and professional. Just FYI.

FRIGID New York Festival Returns for a 2nd Go-Round

December 22, 2007

The good folks at Horse TRADE and San Francisco’s EXIT Theatre have just announced the line-up for their 2nd Annual FRIGID New York Festival. Lots of good stuff here. Some of the highlights include:

  • American Badass (or 12 Characters in Search of a National Identity) – a new solo performance by fellow nytheatre.com contributor Chris Harcum (Some Kind of Pink Breakfast, Anhedonia Road).
  • Antonin…Mon Artaud – Roi “Bubi” Escudero’s multimedia performance art exploration of the title character and the Theatre of Cruelty (advance word on this, based on reports from Bubi’s workshop production earlier this year, is excellent).
  • The Burning Bush Part Two (In the Bush!)Tracey Erin Smith‘s follow-up to her show about a stripping rabbi, which played last year’s festival (and which I favorably reviewed here).
  • Korean Badass – Stevie Lee Saxon’s solo show about his quest to become the first Asian Steve McQueen returns for a second go-round after debuting at the National Asian American Theatre Festival this past summer.
  • Preparation Hex – Bob Brader (Spitting in the Face of the Devil, Bite) debuts a new solo performance about fear, obsession, and hemorrhoids.
  • Sporknotes – a new show from Rising Sun Performance Company in which the cast improvise abridged versions of great literary works as chosen by the audience.
  • Whence Came Ye Scarlett O’Hara O’Hanrahan? – Melle Powers’ solo show from this past summer’s FringeNYC Festival gets a return engagement.

And there’s more where all of that came from. Check out FRIGID New York’s official website for more details and information. The festival runs from February 27th to March 9th, 2008 in all three of Horse TRADE’s downtown venues – The Kraine Theater, The Red Room, and UNDER St. Marks.