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Top 10 Theatrical Wonders of 2011

Remembering a theatrical year with superheroes, 'The Tempest,' and a mash-up of the two

By Robert Faires, Fri., Jan. 6, 2012

<i>Black Watch</i>
Black Watch
Photo courtesy of Karen Sachar

1) 'BLACK WATCH' (Texas Performing Arts) The National Theatre of Scotland used every weapon in theatre's arsenal – language, movement, light, sound, costume, theatricality – to put us in the boots of Scottish soldiers in Iraq, and the unforgettable images and sublime stagecraft brought home all the pride, anger, pain, and loyalty of those brave men.

2) 'SPIRITS TO ENFORCE' (Capital T Theatre) With a true sensitivity to language, serious comic chops, and seamless ensemble work, Gary Jaffe and his superteam of actors transformed The Tempest into something "rich and strange."

3) CONFIDENCE MEN: IMPROVISED DAVID MAMET (Out of Bounds Comedy Festival) Holy Bard of fuckin' Avon, Batman! The C Men's testosterone-fueled spin on Super Friends had more laughs, surprises, and dramatic cohesion than many scripted plays, proving these all-stars possess powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal improvisers.

4) 'RED HOT PATRIOT: THE KICK-ASS WIT OF MOLLY IVINS' (Zach Theatre) If Chronicle readers voted her Austin's best actor, who am I to deny my wife a Top 10 spot – especially when she ripped up the stage embodying our best-beloved social-conscience/ass-kicker? A perfect match of actor to role, with Barbara Chisholm's own vitality, charisma, wit, and political conviction fusing seamlessly with Ivins'.

5) ZACH THEATRE My wife notwithstanding, Zach kept the lushly designed, tightly acted hits coming all year. Its toe-tapping teens in crisis (Hairspray, Spring Awakening) and fraught families burnin' down the house (God of Carnage, August: Osage County, The Book of Grace) marked this theatre's strongest overall year in a decade.

6) 'THE TEMPEST' (Actors From the London Stage) Prospero's island never seemed so close or his charms so potent as in this five-actor performance on a bare stage, with attention to language and physicality that made magic.

7) 'RAPPAHANNOCK COUNTY' (Texas Performing Arts) This new musical theatre work rendered the Civil War, our nation's epic tragedy, in miniature: two dozen art songs that gleamed like diamonds in sunlight – and cut like them, too.

8) LAUREN LANE When are we lucky enough to see one of our finest actors onstage four times in a year? In A Writer's Vision(s), The Cherry Orchard, God of Carnage, and August: Osage County, Lane gave master classes in versatility, comic finesse, and effortlessly sounding a character's depths.

9) IA ENSTARÄ'S SETS In Flying, Uncle Vanya, and Ghosts, this designer's spaces were characters in their own right, gorgeous and alive, whispering insights about the people in them through a huge frame, a tree, and weblike strings.

10) CHAMBER MUSICALS More troupes explored the growing repertoire of small-cast contemporary musicals with thoroughly engaging results, from the wry and sexy (Penfold Theatre Company's I Love You Because, TexARTS' [title of show]) to the utterly charming (Summer Stock Austin's A Year With Frog and Toad, Soubrette Productions' The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) to the darkly original (the Vestige Group's Di[verge]).

HONORABLE MENTIONS

'GHOSTS' (Penfold Theatre Company)

'HEDDATRON' (Salvage Vanguard Theater)

'AND THEN CAME TANGO' (UT Department of Theatre & Dance Cohen New Works Festival)

'ANN: AN AFFECTIONATE PORTRAIT OF ANN RICHARDS' (Paramount Theatre)

'SURPRISE ANNIE' (Rubber Repertory)

'HILLCOUNTRY UNDERBELLY' (Paper Chairs)

'THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER' (Mary Moody Northen Theatre)

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