Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Best of Theater - 08

January 02, 2009

Members of Elevator Repair Service in The Sound and The Fury

What would the holiday season be without lists—so here’s my top choices for theatrical events, sans Western art music, for 2008. (For those of you who missed the 2008 music top ten, look here.)

1. The Sound and The Fury (April Seventh, 1928) performed by Elevator Repair Service at REDCAT, Los Angeles, 10/08. Not a new production, but new to me and new to LA. The New York-based troupe gave a fully-staged, energetic, and sometimes spooky reading of the first hundred or so pages of Faulkner’s masterpiece. Quirky and over the top, which was the perfect approach for this most gothic of Southern novels. Well worth multiple viewings and another benchmark presentation for the little-theater-that-can downtown.

Silvia Rieger in the Volksbühne cast of Ivanov
Photo: Thomas Aurin 2008

2. Ivanov by Anton Chekhov performed by the Volksbühne-am-Rosa-Luxemberg-Platz at the Freud Theater, Los Angeles, 12/08. I love Chekhov, and this was a banner year for his work. This return visit from Berlin’s legendary players was welcomed and featured this visually spectacular, funny, and biting approach. Sure it was pretentious, but that is exactly what made it so much fun.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Peter Sarsgaard
Photo: Joan Marcus 2008

3. Chekhov's The Seagull at The Walter Kerr Theater, New York 11/08. What was I saying about Chekhov? It sure is easy to love his plays when they are done this well. Another fantastic British import with a superb ensemble cast. Funny and poignant, but never taking itself too seriously. A direct shot to the heart.

4. Laurents and Styne's Gypsy at the St. James Theater, New York, 3/08. It’s is no small feat to stack two performances as good as Boyd Gaines' and Laura Benanti’s against a megawatt superstar like Patti LuPone, but it all comes off here effortlessly. Amazingly good even where you think it shouldn’t be. Too bad it’s closing early this winter, so if you haven’t seen it, you’d best hurry before your chance is gone.

Jenna Russell as Dot and Daniel Evans as George
Photo : Joan Marcus 2008

5. Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine at Studio 54, New York, 3/08. I know this opened in 2007 but it was new to me this Spring. A beautiful and very well-sung production to remind us all that it doesn’t require John Doyle to make excellent revivals of Sondheim works.

6. The Little Dog Laughed at the Kirk Douglas Theater, Culver City, 11/08. Douglas Carter Beane’s tart Hollywood farce arrived in Los Angeles largely intact from Broadway, including the hysterical Julie White in a performance so brilliant it’s almost too easy to dismiss it in this very funny play.

Benjamin Walker as Andrew Jackson and cast
Photo: Craig Schwartz/CTG 2008

7. Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman at the Kirk Douglas Theater, Culver City, 1/08. A wildly ambitious if flawed musical about the image and life of Andrew Jackson. What it lacked in consistency it nearly compensated for in sheer inventiveness and design smarts.

8. Assasins by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman from the West Coast Ensemble at the El Centro Theater, Los Angeles, 8/08. Less is more in this very successful musical revival over the summer in Hollywood. See number 5.

9. Speech and Debate at The Blank Theater, Hollywood, 9/08. Stephen Karam’s very funny take on teen angst fared very well at the Blank due to a number of factors including Mae Whitman's wonderful performance.

Kate Fleetwood and Patrick Stewart debate their stain removal options
Photo : Richard Termine 2008

10. Shakespeare's Macbeth at the Lyceum Theater, Broadway, 5/08. Another great British import with a sharp look and a bloody, great performance from Kate Fleetwood and Patrick Stewart.

Honorable mention: John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves at the newly renovated Mark Taper Forum, The Wooster Group’s production of Hamlet at REDCAT, Jason Grote's 1001 at the Boston Court Theater, Alan Ayckbourn’s Taking Steps at South Coast Repertory, Donald Margulies’ Sight Unseen at The Old Globe Theater in San Diego, Marc Camoletti's Boeing-Boeing on Broadway, and the National Theater of Scotland’s production of Euripides' The Bacchae at the Lincoln Center Festival.

Biggest regret: I twice failed to see the Old Globe’s production of All’s Well That Ends Well due to unforeseen complications. Some things are just not meant to be.


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