NoDef Theatre Critic Jim Fitzmorris looks back at a handful of awe-inspiring theatrical moments from 2011
They are the moments for which we pay our money, give our time, and plan our weekends. You are drawn into the action. You lean forward in anticipation and growing wonder. Finally, your hopes for payoff are confirmed with a deep chortle at the bit, a shout of delight at the execution, a shriek of terror at the fright, or a simple stirring for a virtuosic turn. At the core of the best theatrical works are instances of inspiration that leap from even the most seamless efforts: frisson kicks that turn the engine over or throw the show into another gear. You know these moments, because you often shake your head in jealous admiration of the creators. You feel the deep desire to go backstage, don a costume and join the celebration on the boards. Or, you go home and start planning your response to show that you are equally talented. I saw more than 70 shows this year, and these five are the moments that have stayed with me. It should come as no surprise that they are also my top shows of 2011.
1. The Only Logical Candidate: The Mailroom Clowns turn to the Tennis Racket in Our Man. In a slow turn worthy of Buster Keaton, Will Bowling and Chris Kaminstein, under the direction of Andrew Vaught, put aside their differences to unite behind the one galvanizing figure who could lead them out of their mailroom wilderness: a tennis racket carrying the resonance of Ronald Reagan. Got all of that? Elliptical, circular, and uproariously funny, Our Man combined popular entertainment with intellectual rigor to create a piece that can be best described in one word: theatre. Fitzmorris reviews Our Man
2. “I Become Invisible!”: Oberon is one with the sculpture garden in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As the lunacy of love, faeries, and Emilie Whelan’s inspired jackass swirled around him, Jason Kirkpatrick’s magical king, with a strong assist from director Andrew Larimer, simply declared himself unseen with a flourish before stepping into Elisabeth Frink’s Riace Warriors sculpture. He disappeared before our very eyes. If you had seen it, you would have said, “they didn’t just do that,” and then instantly realized, as I did, that it was a perfectly logical, joyful choice in the midst of that romantic gush of a show. Kirkpatrick had simply become a mirror reflection of the audience: an unseen participant in the love all around him. Fitzmorris reviews A Midsummer Night's Dream
3. He’s Tan, Rested, and Ready to Go: Yvette Hargis as Edwin Edwards in Renew Revue. It was the concluding moment of the most polished production of the year, and one of the high points of a great twelve months for Ricky Graham. Lecherous, avaricious, and confidently preening, Edwards was unleashed. Hargis, director Graham and his Renew Revue creators presented The Silver Zipper as the political id incarnate, the once-and-future governor as a slimy, appealing talk show host. Belting out a climatic “My Way” send-up complete with faux-Cajun accent, Hargis made us instantly desire a full pardon for Edwards while at the same time wishing the old bastard would have rotted in his cell. Fitzmorris Reviews Renew Revue
4. A Darling of a Desperate Performance: Mike Harkins pleads for his life in Cat’s Paw. Guided by director Mark Routhier, InsideOut’s strong production of William Mastrosimone’s tense political thriller contained a dazzler of a reactive turn by one of the city’s most underappreciated actors. It was a great performance in the midst of very good ones. As a frayed hostage in the clutches of a sociopathic environmental terrorist, Harkins schemed, pleaded and weaseled from beginning to end, and he created a portrait of an EPA hack to be pitied and loathed in a single breath.
5. A Plunge Into Darkness: The lights go out in Skin Horse’s Sarah. It felt like they planned it all year. Skin Horse Theatre Company’s site-specific hybrid of Albee, Polanski, and the Paranormal Activity franchise did something rarely seen in these parts: it scared an audience. Not a feeling of dread, not an ominous foreboding, but jump-out-of-your-chair-jolt scary. The story of a strained couple shrouded by stillborn evil was obviously headed someplace terrible from the moment twitchy, antsy Veronica Hunsinger-Loe made her way down the home’s spiral staircase. Whether you saw the ending coming our not, the suspense in the dark waiting for the light of three cell phones to illuminate something dreadful stayed with you for a long time after. Helen Jaksch reviews SARAH
These were not entirely easy calls. Kyra Miller’s Dulcinea in Man of La Mancha was one stunner of a moment after another; AJ Allegra and Richard Alexander Pomes execution of Alex Martinez Wallace’s sword fight in Romeo and Juliet was an entire play onto itself; Michael Martin’s defeated entrance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was a great introductory paragraph for his essay of a performance; the ensemble songs in On the Air had an internal glow; and Sean Glazebrook’s smile at the end of Tennessee Williams’ The Pretty Trap was both a haunting and charming summation of a road not taken.
Finally, I must extend apologies to Chicago, Red, and Reflections: A Man and His Time. All accounts had them as exceptional shows, but various scheduling difficulties coupled with their tremendous business made them impossible to see. However, should any of them return, they will be first on my list of attendance.
I would love to hear your thoughts.