Top 10 Reasons I Stayed in Love With Theatre in 2013

Austin thespians played for keeps, with boundless commitment and imagination, in the year's most memorable theatre

<i>Slip River</i>
Slip River

1) 'SLIP RIVER' (UT Dept. of Theatre & Dance/Cohen New Works Festival) Spiriting its audience beneath the Payne Theatre, past clotheslines and through butcher-paper forests, feeding it cornbread muffins, and leaving it onstage in a festive dance party, this exhilaratingly theatrical mash-up of 19th century novels and modern pop – its orphan hero chases freedom along an "underground railroad" run by Beyoncé! – packed more imagination, adventure, and wit into half an hour than most plays do in three times that.

2) 'RICHARD III' (Texas State University Dept. of Theatre & Dance) The Bard's diabolical monarch as Third World despot, with Eugene Lee channeling Idi Amin in his brutal grasp for the crown. The entire cast seemed caught in Richard's fearsome grip, and chilling images of mayhem from director Chuck Ney kept us in dread throughout.

3) 'I AM THE MACHINE GUNNER' (Breaking String Theatre) Lives during wartime – a mob thug in modern Moscow and a soldier on the front lines of World War II – rendered in harrowing detail by playwright Yury Klavdiev and conjured with hallucinatory power by Joey Hood, fluidly sliding between past and present while maintaining a white-hot intensity.

4) 'THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS' (Capital T Theatre) Who knew that fusty old mystic William Blake could inspire such carnal passion, such hilarity, and such theatrical bliss? A rapturous union of script, director, and actors, teeming with intelligence and craft.

5) 'THE POISON SQUAD' (The Duplicates) This inquiry into the origins of food-safety testing proved, for epicures of performance, a feast – steeped in ingenuity and collaborative energy, and liberally seasoned with playfulness.

6) 'WATCH ME FALL' (Action Hero/Fusebox Festival) The British team's cheap-theatre replays of daredevil stunts (e.g., a bike jumping over bottles of fizzing Coke) were a hoot, but seeded within them were disturbing images that also dared us to confront our cultural lust for danger and mob mentality.

7) 'THE EDGE OF PEACE' (UT Dept. of Theatre & Dance) Suzan Zeder's valedictory effort at UT wove threads from her 30 years of playwriting into a deeply felt drama of community, growing up, and moving on. A fitting farewell to her Mother Hicks characters and the year's most artfully crafted script.

8) 'TRU'/'THIS WONDERFUL LIFE' (Zach Theatre) Two solo shows, both performed in the cozy Whisenhunt, both by actors of prodigious gifts giving themselves over completely to their subjects: Jaston Williams to Truman Capote, his portrait deepened by time and made even more poignant; Martin Burke to It's a Wonderful Life, embodying the film's characters with rare honesty and embracing its message with sincerity.

9) 'ADAM SULTAN' (Physical Plant) We all died at the hands of playwrights Steve Moore and Zeb West in this extraordinary meditation on mortality and community. It imagined one man's efforts to memorialize Austin's theatre artists as they pass over time and did so with humor and grace.

10) 'ORDINARY PEEPHOLE: THE SONGS OF DICK PRICE' (Rubber Repertory) A night around the old piano in the living room – literally, as an exuberant ensemble escorted us through a batch of this local songwriter's most personal tunes as we sat in a Hyde Park living room. Sheer delight.

Honorable Mentions:

'THE BOOK OF MORMON' (Broadway in Austin/Texas Performing Arts)

'QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT' (Vortex Repertory Company)

'HOLIER THAN THOU' (Poison Apple Initiative)

'REEFER MADNESS' (Doctuh Mistuh Productions)

'BUTT KAPINSKI: WE ARE THE DARK' (Deanna Fleysher/Institution Theater)

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Top 10, Austin theatre, UT Department of Theatre & Dance, Cohen New Works Festival, Texas State Department of Theatre and Dance, Eugene Lee, Breaking String Theatre, Joey Hood, The Duplicates, Capital T Theatre, Fusebox Festival, Action Hero, Suzan Zeder, Zach Theatre, Jaston Williams, Martin Burke, Physical Plant, Rubber Repertory, Steve Moore, Zeb West

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