Robert Faires' Top 10 (+1) Theatre Riches of 2017

From monsters to mountains, wolves to wild horses, the year came alive with figures boldly created onstage

<i>Let the Right One In</i>
Let the Right One In (Photo by Lawrence Peart)

1) LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (National Theatre of Scotland/Texas Performing Arts)/THR3E ZISTERS (Salvage Vanguard Theater) In a year of monstrosities, monsters ruled the stage. Our regular Scots visitors (The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, Black Watch) blew into town with a distinctly Scandinavian chill: that of the 2008 Swedish film about young love and vampirism. From the brooding birch forest onstage to the eerie otherness of Lucy Mangan's Eli to the brutal climax at an indoor pool (strikingly represented by a huge water-filled glass tank), this One kept my blood pressure high even as it made my veins run cold. SVT revived the dead sisters of its 2015 deconstruction of Chekhov and let them bite the patriarchy intent on manipulating them. Zisters was as exhilarating as before, and given the political climate, what better time to have ghouls gone wild?

2) FUN HOME (National tour/Long Cen­ter) Dell Hall couldn't match this Tony-winning musical's Broadway house for intimacy, but the touring version still made every room in this Home a chamber of the heart. A stellar cast conveyed all the ache and humor in the Bechdel family members' searches for self and for connections to one another.

3) PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (Mary Moody Northen Theatre) Jane Austen with class – the polished style and the stratified social system integral to her novels. Everyone working on this MMNT show was on the same page regarding money and status, and the result was a romance with stakes, sumptuous clothes by Jennifer Davis, and a glorious comic turn by Mary Cox as Mrs. Bennet.

4) THE BROTHERS SIZE (Capital T Theatre) We never saw a bayou, but we felt the heat of Louisiana, as well as the force of Yoruba spirits and the taut bonds among three men, all thanks to the rich lyricism of Tarell Alvin McCraney's script and potent performances, most notably a powerhouse turn by John Christopher.

5) NOT EVERY MOUNTAIN (Rude Mechs) Kirk Lynn's extended prayerlike poem offered an elegant soundtrack to Thomas Graves and crew's erecting and dismantling a miniature mountain range made of cardboard on the Off Center floor – the most original and mesmerizing act of theatrical creation all year.

6) WILD HORSES (Vortex Repertory Company) A boisterous bareback ride back into the wilds of being 13 in the Seventies, courtesy of Allison Gregory's brilliantly evocative script and Jennifer Coy Jennings' vibrant solo performance. A ride I'd take again.

7) THE WOLVES (Hyde Park Theatre) Family bias notwithstanding (my daughter assistant directed), Ken Webster's production brought out the inner lives of girls on a high school soccer team with a rare honesty and compassion. In this ensemble, every player scored.

8) CATALINA DE ERAUSO (Paper Chairs) Oh, Dustin Wills, how we've missed your bracingly inventive direction, and how well it served Elizabeth Doss' exploration of history through the dramatized life of a 17th century nun turned conquistador. Also among the year's best ensemble and design work.

9) HENRY IV (Hidden Room Theatre) Another of director Beth Burns' jaunts into Shakespearean history, this time with all the young dudes decked out in Seventies glam. The show was fired by Judd Farris' volcanic Hotspur and cooled by Robert Matney's deliciously louche, leisure suit-wearing Falstaff.

10) HIDEOUT IMPROV MARATHON, HOURS 46-48 (Hideout Theatre) The Hideout's annual endurance test made it down to the wire with no signs of fatigue, just marvelously entertaining forays into the worlds of Peter Pan and Shakespeare, plus a handful of surprisingly heartfelt improvised duet scenes.

11) LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR & GRILL (Zach Theatre) Jazz legend Billie Holiday in the flesh – or so it felt in a breathtaking turn by Chanel, who gave herself over to the singer's sorrow and suffering, and let it bleed out in song, sounding eerily like Lady Day.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

A SHOE STORY/ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (Summer Stock Austin)

UNDERGROUND (Vortex Repertory)

TWENTYEIGHT (Gale Theatre Company)

SCHEHERAZADE (GenEnCo)

IN THE HEIGHTS (Zach Theatre)

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Top 10s, National Theatre of Scotland, Texas Performing Arts, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Mary Moody Northen Theatre, Jennifer Davis, Mary Cox, Capital T Theatre, John Christopher, Rude Mechs, Kirk Lynn, Thomas Graves, Vortex Repertory Company, Allison Gregory, Jennifer Coy Jennings, Hyde Park Theatre, Ken Webster, Paper Chairs, Dustin Wills, Elizabeth Doss

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