Real Estate and Perfect Mates
The Year in Austin Culture
Top 10 Theatrical Wonders of 20001. Curb Appeal (Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre) The gifted, funny, and wise Steven Tomlinson again proved how enriching it can be when a playwright writes about this city today. Taking on Austin's blazing real estate market, Tomlinson made shrewd observations on neighborhood character and used his expert understanding of economics to illuminate our town in these boom times. And somehow he wove into it the tale of his tender journey to fill the void left by the death of his partner. This remarkable piece, keenly staged by Christina J. Moore, captured not just Austin's heartbeat but the heart of us all. The most personal, deeply humane, and profoundly insightful stage story of the year.
2. The America Play (Zachary Scott Theatre Center) The dense and enigmatic poetry of Suzan-Lori Parks' script promised a show that was cool and distant, but Dave Steakley's staging burned with deeply personal fires. Under Jason Amato's blazing lamps and atop Michael Raiford's amazing mound of earth studded with thousands of pennies, actors Forrest McClendon, Janis Stinson, and Stacey Robinson churned up myth, history, and race and struggled with loss, denial, and dreams deferred with a passion and urgency that has echoed in my head ever since. A wonder of imagination and immediacy.
3. Ragtime (UT Performing Arts Center) Like a great liner surging across the waters or mighty locomotive steaming down the track, this national touring production of the Broadway hit musical moved monumentally and with purpose. The uniformly powerful cast conveyed all the vigor of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's anthemic score, as well as the turbulence of a people in transit. It was a compelling portrait of America on the move, and it was moving.
4. Candide (Austin Lyric Opera) A spirited odyssey around the globe and out of innocence that revealed anew ALO's great facility with modern works, American music, and comedy. Christopher Mattaliano's cast found the laughs in the script and the glory in Bernstein's music, Cheryl Parrish's Cunegonde sparkled radiantly, John McVeigh's Candide shone as true as the North Star, and they all illuminated our way from a marvelously sardonic view of the world to a majestic glimpse of heaven.
5. SLABBER (Lisa D'Amour/Katie Pearl) The most haunting work of the year, a quiet -- and occasionally disquieting -- audience with an amnesiac woman researching her own lost past. More proof that writer-performer D'Amour and director Pearl are both enormously adventurous, inventive, and hospitable theatre artists and archaeologists of the human hearts, tenderly opening its chambers and inviting us, ever so graciously, to step into its mystery.
6. The Music Man (Austin Musical Theatre) A triumph with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for pure pleasure. Scott Thompson and Richard Byron and a huge company transformed musty Palmer Auditorium into a warm, wonderful home for Meredith Willson's grand celebration of Americana, proving their hearts to be as big as the show was.
7. Terminal Hip (Salvage Vanguard Theater) Making true sense of Mac Wellman's nonsense script may be impossible, but director Jason Neulander and actor Dan Dietz infused it with an astonishing clarity and emotional texture, and the furious conviction with which Dietz railed about X and Y and winterizing the octagon almost had me believing I understood him.
8. Evita (Zachary Scott Theatre Center) Call it a stunt, but Dave Steakley's carnival staging of Webber & Rice's political parable was a spectacular stunt, the kind that makes circus crowds gasp in wonder. The bold designs, vibrant with color, and the added pageantry lent a welcome liveliness that pleased the eye while still serving the story.
9. A Macbeth (State Theater Company) Director Guy Roberts took the Bard's oft-told tragedy, cut it to the bone, and filled the edges with dark rituals. Performed on a mythic set by Christopher McCollum, the result was a black mass which made the Scottish lord's ascension to the throne seem creepier and more unholy than ever.
10. Tru (Actors Repertory of Texas/Zachary Scott Theatre Center) Portrait of the artist as an aging outcast. In this solo show, actor Jaston Williams took writer Jay Presson Allen's striking outline of Truman Capote and masterfully shaded and colored it in, his exquisitely timed lines, subtle gestures, and conviction conveying Capote's devastating wit and profound loneliness.
Honorable Mentions:WAR (Rude Mechanicals)
A Chorus Line (Austin Musical Theatre)
Daniel Alexander Jones as Lena Horne in Cab and Lena (Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre)
The ensemble of The Beauty Queen of Leenane (State Theater Company)
Pam Christian in The Madwoman of Chaillot (UT Department of Theatre & Dance)
The Lover (ONE Theatre Company/Footesteps)