Recap by Sharon Perlmutter.
I’m always pleased when I see a show that lives up to its hype. I’m even more pleased when I see a show that had no hype at all, but just knocks me off my feet. There were both in 2011.
I came late to Ebony Rep’s production of A Raisin in the Sun. (Hell, I came to it so late, it was actually 2012, in its transfer at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.) By the time I got to the show, it had been universally praised, and I wondered if the production could really be that good. It was. The cast was a well-oiled machine (which produced performances that were anything but mechanical) and the production reached inside a play that was clearly “of its time” to find a universal story of a man finding his manhood. The production was timely and touching … and deserved every accolade it received.
And then there was Blackbird. I had no expectations when I walked in – although Sam Anderson’s award-winning performance in The Bird and Mr. Banks from a couple years ago was still in my head. Anderson blew me away in Blackbird – and it was a performance I found more amazing because of its contrast with Mr. Banks. Where it seemed that every tic and quirk of Banks had been so precisely choreographed, Anderson’s characterization of the convicted child molestor in Blackbird was so bare, real, and human, it was downright painful. I’ve watched this actor for years on television, and had no idea what he was really capable of. Thank goodness for small plays in tiny theatres.
(In this case, the tiny theatre was Rogue Machine, which also gave us what I thought was one of the best original plays of 2011, Small Engine Repair. When I’m reviewing a show, I usually try to come up with the first line of my review as I’m walking back to my car after the show. With this one, I walked out of the theatre with my lawyer-self saying to my critic-self, “Holy crap! That play just made an act of forcible oral copulation hilarious. How are you gonna write about that?”)
I cannot, in good conscience, write about 2011 without talking about Theatre Banshee’s production of The Crucible. In an odd little way (go ahead, ask me), The Crucible will always have a special place in my heart, so it’s one of those plays that I’ll always see. And what made Banshee’s Crucible stand out among all the productions I’ve seen was Sean Branney’s direction. I’ve always thought of the play as John Proctor’s play; it’s his story. But in Banshee’s production, there were perhaps a half dozen characters who could have legitimately argued that The Crucible was really about them. It became a true ensemble piece, and I was genuinely delighted to have experienced the production.
Oops. I intended to write two paragraphs; I’ve gone way beyond and have barely scratched the surface of what I loved about Los Angeles theatre in 2011. So happy that Lisa O’Hare is continuing to grace our musical theatre stages; her Sally Bowles in Cabaret for Reprise! was a work of art. Pleased by Peace in Our Time at Antaeus. Completely taken in by House of the Rising Son at EST-LA. Felt the vibe of Hair at the Pantages.
And a shout-out to those who aimed a bit higher than they grasped (like Adding Machine: A Musical at the Odyssey and Monkey Adored at Rogue Machine), and even the completely misguided who at least gave it a shot (you know who you are). Honesty may have driven my negative reviews, but you all have my admiration for trying. If everyone remained in their comfort zones, the theatre would be a very dull place indeed.