The 10 Best Plays I Saw in Metro Phoenix in 2012
As I write this, the year isn't over. But I can say that, once again in 2012, I didn't see a whole lot more than 10 plays I enjoyed so super-much I had to debate internally about putting them on this list. On the other hand, the ones that were good were really outstanding (so that it was nearly impossible to assign an order to them), two of them were from the Phoenix Fringe Festival, which I'm ecstatic about, and all this happened in a year when there were a lot of plays honoring Arizona's centennial, which I'm just going to say didn't help.
If you feel like killing some time reading out-of-date theater criticism, each entry's heading contains a link to the original Curtains review. Happy Holidays, friends! 10. Actors Theatre's Hunter Gatherers If Ron May had more free time, I'd consider hiring him to direct my life. That's how confident you should be about going to a show he's helmed. The convincingly weird couples at the epic, dysfunctional yet oddly jubilant dinner party in this play were beautifully acted, and the action was violent, sexy, and compelling.
9. Orange Theatre Group's hair & fingernails at phx:FRINGE Having a genuinely experimental theater headquartered in town makes me so glad I could plotz. This performance, in the upstairs jazz studio at Phoenix Center for the Arts, used video cameras, microphones, and computer manipulation and projection of the resulting stimuli to enhance a troubling and bizarre solo performance.
8. iTheatre Collaborative's Gruesome Playground Injuries Some of playwright Rajiv Joseph's conventions for this story of two friends -- who simultaneously attract and repel like magnets of crazy -- work wonders, and some don't. But a top-notch cast and thoughtful staging and direction made it a haunting and thought-provoking evening.
7. Arizona Theatre Company's Daddy Long Legs It's awesome enough when great literature you're familiar with becomes an entertaining stage adaptation, but when a delightful play shines a spotlight on a neglected work of fiction, it's even more fun. This musical has captivated fans of musicals without ever having a big, spectacular Broadway run, and the composer's Jane Austen's Emma is something to look forward to in coming weeks from ATC.
6. Dark Porch Theatre's TUTOR: enter the exclave, also at phx:FRINGE This San Francisco company stole one of Phoenix's favorite young actors, Brandon M. Wiley, and cast him alongside some of the strongest performers I've ever encountered anywhere at any ticket price. That and the fucking weird story made it a show to remember.
5. Theatre Artists Studio's The Unexpected Man Not only was it an intellectual treat to see a less-frequently produced, earlier work by playwright-of-the-moment Yasmina Reza, this low-key, two-character charmer was polished up with a fabulous set and dynamite performances. 4. Stray Cat Theatre's Heddatron Oh, hell, they had me at "a pregnant Michigan housewife is kidnapped by robots and made to perform Hedda Gabler with them in a South American jungle." But this production went far beyond its capsule description, wonderful and sufficient as that may seem. It's about the singularity, but it's about human yearning, too. And it's funny, to the extent that Ian Christensen as August Strindberg almost made me pee, and the show is nearly impossible to mount in the first place, but Ron May (again) and his merry band made it happen.
3. Nearly Naked Theatre and Phoenix Theatre's co-production of Spring Awakening If this is what we get from co-production, let's have some more, please. Combining the iconoclasm of a smaller, younger company, whose audience is more hungry for mature themes and contemporary production elements, with the physical and marketing resources of a more established cultural institution (and everything else the very talented teams brought to the table) resulted in a well-crafted and popular run of the moving, Tony-winning musical. Mark 4man's band tied it all together with a gorgeous, tight rendition of Duncan Sheik's score. 2. Teatro Bravo!'s Lorca in a Green Dress This was one of the clearest, most accessible treatments of Surrealism I've ever seen. The play's a symbolically defined meta-bio of a writer of similarly non-representative work, and Raymond King Shurtz directed a tireless, sassy cast in a visually and poetically rich production. 1. Actors Theatre's Dead Man's Cell Phone Superb writing, acting, and design made this hard-to-pin-down comedy with serious themes a delight from beginning to end.
Honorable mentions: It took almost as long to painfully choose not to include Australia (Space 55), Rent (Desert Stages), and The 39 Steps (Arizona Theatre Company) in this list as it did to write the whole blog post.
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