Red (Center Theatre Group at Mark Taper Forum)
It's rare to be dazzled by a two-hander, but Josh Logan's rich writing made this tale of artist Mark Rothko (a career turn for Alfred Molina) and his newly hired, oft-abused assistant (Jonathan Groff) nothing less than entrancing. Logan's depiction of the irascible Rothko's self-destructing behavior after taking a commission in contrast to his aesthetics was seamlessly guided by Michael Grandage.
Ute Lemper (UCLA Live at Royce Hall)
World class and world-hopping chanteuse Ute Lemper shared her Berlin Nights/Paris Days: The Art of Chanson, supported by the Vogler Quartet and Stefan Malzew. From Piaf to Piazolla, she is a marvelous performer who acts the emotions of the work brilliantly. When you hear an audience member gasp during Weill's "Surabaya Johnny," you are reminded you are witnessing greatness.
It Is Done (22Q Ent. and Go AlleyCat Prods. at The Pig 'N Whistle)
Alex Goldberg's site-specific, spooky metaphysical thriller was as lyrical as it was scary. The Pig 'N Whistle's small private bar was dressed as a wayward bar/diner where Ruby (the wonderfully diverse Catia Ojeda) played a dark spirit haunting a man guily of an accidental killing. Michael Michetti directed this chiller, cleverly conceived.
Richard Parker (Fringe Management/Darkman Prods. at Theatre of Note)
A very talented group of Welshmen visited during the Fringe Festival, beginning with playwright Owen Thomas, who put two very different men (Alastair Sill and actor-director Gareth Bale) on a boat destined for shipwreck, with one of them a little too certain about what will befall them next.
Krapp's Last Tape (Center Theatre Group/Gate Theatre Dublin at Kirk Douglas Theatre)
John Hurt is the ideal casting for Samuel Beckett's classic work. The Gate Theatre in Dublin brought this production, directed by their Michael Colgan. Hurt's subtlety and tiny, delightful touches of humor made this melancholy look at memory as exciting and fresh as when it was first done.
Ivanov (Evidence Room at Odyssey Theatre)
Evidence Room founder-director Bart DeLorenzo brought many of his brilliant ensemble, including Dorie Barton, Tom Fitzpatrick, Christian Lefler and Lauren Campedelli to this work by Anton Chekhov. Addressing familiar themes of shame and unrequited love, Ivanov is a charmer and DeLorenzo created many lovely stage pictures at the Lebedev estate.
Mutually Assured Destruction (Theatre Planners at Odyssey Theatre)
Peter Lefcourt's hilarious and wonderfully calibrated play about three couples, lying to hide their guilt and to avoid confrontations, had a crackerjack production from director Terri Hanauer and a top notch cast, led by Kip Gilman, Michael Caldwell, Bobby Costanzo, Gina Hecht, Stuart Pankin and Brynn Thayer.
The Fall to Earth (Odyssey Theatre)
Joel Drake Johnson, whose Four Places so impressed last year at Rogue Machine, has done it again with The Fall to Earth, as a mother and daughter go to a small town to recover the body of their son and brother, who has died under questionable circumstances. Robin Larsen's direction was sensitive and made the bizarre quite acceptable as a female police officer gets inappropriately involved in a less-than-healthy family dynamic. JoBeth Williams, Deborah Puette and Ann Noble all shine.
Blue/Orange (Player King Prods at Dance Conservatory of Pasadena)
Joe Penhall won the Olivier and London Evening Standard Awards for Best New Play for his hard-hitting examination of mental imbalance in Blue/Orange. Staged in the round, with mirrors surrounding the audience at the Dance Consevatory of Pasadena, Ty Mayberry's production peeled away the power plays between a ranking and a junior mental health specialist and their patient, who is claiming he is the illegitimate child of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and is being pursued. Frederick Frazier, Matt Freitas and Jonathan Salisbury all nail their respective roles in this most unique evening of theater in a ground-breaking setting.
Follow Brad Schreiber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bradschreiber