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The Bes(s)t Theatre of 2012

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It's that time again to reflect on the year that has come to pass. For me, it means that I start thinking about my favorite theatrical experiences of 2012. There were a lot of really excellent shows, and trying to pick a few is very difficult, but I'm going to choose the plays that not only gave me a fantastic experience, but also made themselves at home in my mind. Like that fantastic ad campaign for BAM, these are the shows that still pop up and "hit me."

I'll start with the first show of the year that blew my mind: Young Jean Lee's UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW. This piece was/is a triple threat, with a smart concept, excellent performers, and fantastic staging. It was also one of the first shows I saw in 2012, if not the first, but it seems like yesterday. On the other side of the calendar, I just recently saw the Lincoln Center production of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy, and I have thought about it countless times since then. This production is in many ways the polar opposite of Young Jean Lee's piece, but both productions had similarly powerful effects on me.

The effective commitment to melodrama in Golden Boy actually makes me think of the excellent staging of Irish Repertory Theatre's production of Brian Friel's The Freedom of the City. This play is complicated to stage in the way that it switches points of view and jumps around in time, but Irish Rep staged the play in such a way that these structural challenges worked together to give the audience an in depth view of Bloody Sunday.

This actually leads me to Mark Ravenhill's haunting piece pool (no water), which, though not based on a true story, also has a fascinating narrative device. The production done by One Year Lease Theater Company was staged with a minimal set and simply choreography that highlighted the storytelling ability of the cast. The story itself was complex and haunting, and one that I have often thought about since.

Whereas pool (no water) was beautiful in its simplicity, New York Shakespeare Exchange's The Island; Or To Be or Not To Be was thrilling in its layered complexities. I laughed and smiled my way through the brilliant allusions and innovations in the piece, and I am still impressed at how much of both of these things playwright Kevin Brewer was able to put into the play. The script demanded an excellent production, and that is exactly what New York Shakespeare Exchange was able to deliver.

Another exciting and creative play was the New Georges production of Peggy Stafford's Motel Cherry. This creative, quirky, and well-staged piece was an innovative collection of characters and story lines gathered around the Motel Cherry. Each story was compelling and the surreal trips into the characters' internal lives were wonderfully imaginative. It also included one of my favorite lines of the year: "Can I hold your gerbil again?"

That piece had a wonderful vitality to it, but when I talk about productions with great energy, there are two groups that immediately come to mind: the New York Neo-Futurists and The Bats. The Flea Theater's resident acting company, known as "The Bats," is a group of young multi-talented actors who allow for ensemble pieces like the current extravaganza Restoration Comedy. The Flea is one of my all-time favorite places to go to see theater that thinks outside of the box. Any production that features The Bats is sure to involve a good time.

As for the other group that I've mentioned, the NY Neos are always a solid bet for a good time. Whether it's one of their full-length productions, like On the Future or You Are in an Open Field or their ever-changing weekend show Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, this company has some of the freshest, smartest, and creative work that I've seen. They are both a theatrical palate-cleanser, when my theatrical taste buds are bored by too many lukewarm productions, and desert, when I've seen good productions and want to keep the trend going.

And, last but not least, when it comes to talking about old favorites, I have to mention Sarah Ruhl's Melancholy Play (a new chamber piece), the last production of 13P. This piece was already a favorite of mine before being scored with delicate music by appropriately named composer Todd Almond. As I talk about two groups that are going strong, I am sorry to see 13P come to an end, though their work will live on in our memories.

This is just a sample of what 2012 had to offer, please feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section, as I'm always interested in what has made an impression on people. Here's to some more great work in 2013!