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


Zell Miller III and Siobhan Cook in One Step at a Time

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.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

MARIE ANTOINETTE (Capital T Theatre)

THE TOTALITARIANS (Theatre en Bloc)

NOTES ON THE CLASSIFICATION OF SPECTRAL LINES, ... (Catastrophe Theory Arts)

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Top 10s
Robert Faires' Top 10 Works That Spoke to Me About 2020
Robert Faires' Top 10 Works That Spoke to Me About 2020
Throughout 2020, performances and books seemed to contain messages about the year – its trials, its traumas, and its echoes in history

Robert Faires, Dec. 18, 2020

Top Books of 2020 That Struck a Literary or Musical Chord
Top Books of 2020 That Struck a Literary or Musical Chord
A writer's fictional joyride, a rock & roll memoir, and jazz fairy tales are books that sang this year

Jay Trachtenberg, Dec. 18, 2020

More by Robert Faires
Ventana Ballet Opens Season Three With a Flock of <i>Night Birds</i>
Ventana Ballet Opens Season Three With a Flock of Night Birds
The company's avian-themed program includes five dancers, three cellists, and art from the atxGALS collective inside the Cathedral

July 30, 2021

After 43 Years, Women & Their Work Lands a Permanent Address
After 43 Years, Women & Their Work Lands a Permanent Address
The Austin arts organization had to search for two years, but it finally founded a home of its own

July 23, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Top 10s, Zell Miller III, Ballot Eats the Bullet, Hunger, One Step at a Time, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Holland Taylor, Penfold Theatre, Nathan Jerkins, Hyde Park Theatre, Liz Beckham, Michael Joplin, Lily Wolff, Theatre en Bloc, Jenny Lavery, Christin Sawyer Davis, Bridget Farr, Sarah Danko, Mary Moody Northen Theatre, Nick Mayo

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle