The Ugly One, Marius von Mayenburg, Ensemble Studio Theatre LA
An utterly hilarious, pitch-black comedy that is perfect for Southern California audiences, as it deals with the perception of physical beauty and the willingness to go to surgical extremes to achieve that state. Gates McFadden's free-ranging direction perfectly captures the clever anarchy of von Mayenburg's wild world.
Stupid Fu**ing Bird, Aaron Posner, The Theatre at Boston Court
This co-production with Circle X Theatre Company set house records and Posner's deconstruction of The Seagull never fails to please, using occasional direct address in a way that truly impacts the audience. Like the best of Chekhov, the characters are equal parts offbeat and self-destructive, and director Michael Michetti is in fine form, with this special, West Coast premiere.
RX, Kate Fodor, The Lost Studio
Fodor goes far beyond the conventions of budding romance by interlacing discussions about the psychology of love, mixed with psychopharmacology and a society that sometimes masks strong sentiments with prescription drugs. John Pleshette directs an excellent cast with a light, deft touch, creating a definite, theatrical high.
The Country House, Donald Margulies, Geffen Playhouse
2014's other homage to Anton Chekhov, while quite different from Stupid Fu**ing Bird, is just as entertaining. Margulies, one of our finest playwrights, puts together a group of unbalanced, neurotic but eminently loveable theatre folk in a country house near Williamstown, MA. Blythe Danner and David Rasche lead a tremendous cast, guided expertly by Daniel Sullivan.
The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, Scott Carter, Noho Arts Center /The Geffen Playhouse
Scott Carter's triumvirate of historical figures in an afterlife limbo smoothly integrates humor with their personal histories and some scathing, smart philosophical banter. Matt August's direction keeps things lively in a confined space and Larry Cedar, David Melville and Armin Shimmerman all acquit themselves with aplomb.
Race, David Mamet, Kirk Douglas Theatre
A compact, wicked and amusing renunciation of politically correct assumptions about not only race but socio-economic position. Scott Zigler directs Chris Bauer, Dominic Hoffman, Jonno Roberts and DeWanda Wise at a furious pace and by the time the black-white issues of a law firm defending a white, wealthy murder suspect reach their conclusion, we are panting and stimulated.
The Trip to Bountiful, Horton Foote, Ahmanson Theatre/Center Theatre Group
Horton Foote's deceptively simple story of a black matriarch yearning to return to her country roots is headed by a magnificent performance from Cicely Tyson, effortlessly funny and tragic. Director Michael Wilson also has Vanessa Williams, Blair Underwood and a large but spot-on cast ably remind us of the power of great family stories.
In a Room on Broad Street, JacobJonas The Company, Highways
An astonishing dance troupe, headed by Jonas, melds the theme of competitiveness with gymnastic and sometimes frighteningly dangerous moves. A blend of breakdancing, contemporary ballet and circus acts, this local troupe deserves great recognition for its bravery.
The Curse of Oedipus, Kenneth Cavander, The Antaeus Company
Playwright Cavander's adaptation of the Oedipus cycle has a great director in Casey Stangl, who wrangles a large cast, shifting timelines and ritual movement with a grace and ease that are most impressive. Easily the hardest play of this list to produce, making it all the more worthy of acclaim.
Always... Patsy Cline, Ted Swindley, El Portal Theatre
Swindley's play with music is based on the life of Louise Seger (a bigger-than-life Sally Struthers) who befriended singer Patsy Cline (Carter Calvert) during a gig in Texas. Calvert's strong singing and the charm of Swindley's sweet and honest dialogue win the day here.
Brief Encounter, Noel Coward, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
The Gamester, Freyda Thomas, Theatre Forty
Happy Days, Samuel Beckett, Boston Court Theatre,
The Last Confession, Roger Crane, Ahmanson