Robert Faires' Top 10 (+1) Theatre Riches of 2016
Works that struck a nerve with the political state of our city and our nation stood out in this year's outstanding theatre productions
1) ZELL MILLER III In a year when extraordinary tensions made America's political landscape a battleground, no local theatre artist took to the front lines as often or urgently as Zell Miller III. In show after show, this writer/performer/director gave searing critiques of social injustice in blazing language and a hip-hop beat that matched his impassioned heart's. Whether he spoke (Tapestry's One Step at a Time) or let others be his voice (Ballot Eats the Bullet), this indispensable artist, activist, and mentor was our conscience and our call to action.
2) FRANCHELLE STEWART DORN AS MEDEA (Austin Shakespeare)/HOLLAND TAYLOR AS ANN (Zach Theatre) Two towering figures of immense charisma and complexity, and two magnificent actors who didn't portray them, they embodied them. Taylor's Texas governor and Dorn's Greek queen both understood power and wielded theirs with full hearts, fierce intelligence, and withering wit.
3) CLYBOURNE PARK (Penfold Theatre) The nuances of Bruce Norris' time-jumping conversation about race in America might've been blunted without this cast's sensitive acting and sterling ensemble work, directed by Nathan Jerkins. But every line and look brought home the wrenching difficulty of dealing with black-white relations, then and now.
4) LUNGS (Hyde Park Theatre) The tiny venue on 43rd has rarely felt more intimate than while eavesdropping on the couple in Duncan Macmillan's two-hander. With actors Michael Joplin and Liz Beckham literally in our midst (thanks, director Lily Wolff) and both being so emotionally open and vulnerable, we felt close to them in every way.
5) THE DROWNING GIRLS (Theatre en Bloc) Three women, three bathtubs, and one utterly absorbing tale of serial seduction and murder in WWI England. Director Jenny Lavery built on the play's theatricality and choral style, drawing haunting work from Christin Sawyer Davis, Sarah Danko, and Bridget Farr.
6) SHE LOVES ME (Mary Moody Northen Theatre) Director Nick Mayo understood all the charms of this modest Bock & Harnick musical, and he lovingly drew them out with the aid of a splendid production team and a vivacious cast that made the mundane joys and sorrows of shop clerks in Budapest the stuff of irrepressible, irresistible romance.
7) REQUIEM FOR TESLA (Rude Mechs) The Rudes' 2001 toast to the brilliant, badly abused Nikola Tesla still strikes sparks. Matthew Frazier made for a moody, intense inventor, circled by a deliciously crazed crew of friends, devious rivals, and vile tycoons.
8) THE HOTEL VANYA, OR A METAPHYSICAL- PARADIGM AT THE END OF EVERYTHING- NESS (Natalie George Productions) In Timothy Braun's meta riff, Chekhov's yearning, weary Russians fit in a modern Austin beset by aggressive growth almost too well; their sense of an era ending synced with ours. But the show's bracing theatricality cut through the existential gloom.
9) SILENT SKY (Austin Playhouse) Talk of stellar classification shone with the passion of poetry in Lauren Gunderson's tribute to Harvard's first female astronomers. Led by a vibrant Molly Karrasch, five actors formed a lovely constellation in a luminous production.
10) SONG ABOUT HIMSELF (Capital T Theatre) The reunion of writer Mickle Maher with Katherine Catmull, Jason Phelps, and Ken Webster made this Twilight Zone-like tale of a search for connection and identity in the wastes of the Web sing like a Whitman ode.
11) ALICE IN WONDERLAND/CHARLOTTE'S WEB (Zach Theatre)/THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER (Summer Stock Austin) All I really need to know about friendship, sacrifice, and death I learned from these great shows. More proof that in Austin, theatre for the young can be just as theatrically inventive, intelligent, and moving as theatre for adults. And a major force for that is Allen Robertson.
MARIE ANTOINETTE (Capital T Theatre)
THE TOTALITARIANS (Theatre en Bloc)
NOTES ON THE CLASSIFICATION OF SPECTRAL LINES, ... (Catastrophe Theory Arts)