Thursday, December 29, 2016

THE NJ ARTS MAVEN SELECTS THE TOP 10 PRODUCTIONS OF 2016

Being laid up from February through April from knee replacement surgery, I did not get to review as much theater as I would have liked.

Nevertheless, I looked back at the productions I did review to come up with my list of the best dramatic productions of 2016. I have included excerpts from my reviews for each selection:

  1. My Name is Asher Lev, George Street Playhouse
    ”One of the joys of being a theater critic—or devoted theatergoer—is watching a star being ‘born,’ which is exactly what happens at the George Street Playhouse, where the young Miles G. Jackson plays the title role in My Name is Asher Lev. Onstage and speaking for the entire 100 minutes, Jackson effectively gives voice to the artist's passion and the creative impulse in such a masterful performance that it can only be called a tour de force.”
  2. Coriolanus, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
    ”Greg Deralian's portrayal of Coriolanus is delicately balanced: On one hand, he is a valiant, fearless comrade in arms, humble when singled out for military honors; on the other hand, once the patricians have selected him to be consul, a position for which he has to solicit the approval of the plebeians, he shows his true aristocratic colors as he denigrates them, condescendingly calling them curs and complaining about their stench, and citing his hatred of hypocrisy, refusing to ‘beg’ for their approbation. This war between humility and arrogance plays out on Deralian's expressive face as he struggles with his two natures. It is a masterful portrayal of a character difficult to like.”
  3. West Side Story, Paper Mill Playhouse
    ”In the two focus roles, Matt Doyle as Tony and Belinda Allyn as Maria are riveting, and the romantic chemistry between them is palpable. Their kisses are convincing, and the moment they spy each other (and are hit by Cupid's arrow) attests to the youthful ideal of ‘love at first sight.’ Too, Allyn and Cortez get the Puerto Rican accent just right without sounding like caricatures. Both lovers have magnificent singing voices: Tony's brims with optimism while Allyn's soaring soprano fills the auditorium. Tony’s earnest desire to distance himself from the Jets renders his involvement in the rumble even more touching. Allyn and Doyle are especially heartbreaking in ‘One Hand, One Heart’; several audience members could be seen wiping away tears.”
  4. Red Velvet, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
    Red Velvet, with its literate script, natural dialogue, taut conflicts and dynamic characters, is a fine piece of theater. But its political and social resonance cannot be overlooked, especially when, to Laporte's avowal that his dismissal is not political, Aldridge thunders, ‘Everything is political!’ Of course it is.”
  5. Daddy Long Legs, George Street Playhouse
    ”The bildungsroman, or coming of age story, is a time-honored literary genre, and Daddy Long Legs manages to make such a story both instructive and charming. A celebration of education—scholarly and interpersonal—this pocket musical is a delight for both eyes and ears, enchanting us with its heroine’s pluck and spirit and the gradual warming the heart of a curmudgeonly young man. Daddy Long Legs is just the ticket for a holiday production.”
  6. King of the Mountain, Luna Stage
    ”Clawson and Luna Stage give us another mesmerizing encounter, this time between two champions of the natural world, President Theodore Roosevelt and the conservationist John Muir …. With only two characters, and 98% of the play dialogue, you might wonder how the playwright creates the conflict so necessary to drama. Well, the clash of wills, egos and agendas drives the play from the very first day of their meeting …. [O]nce again, Luna and Ben Clawson have tackled a historic event, imbued with dramatic conflict, that has not only entertained us but has taught us something as well. In so doing, they have fulfilled one very important criterion of good theater. You won’t want to miss King of the Mountains.”
  7. Las Cruces, Premiere Stages
    Las Cruces shines a light on the "other" murder victims—the ones who are alive. It's a situation most of us would not want to experience for more than 90 minutes—the length of Vincent Delaney's thoughtful, at times darkly comedic, play.”
  8. Peter and the Starcatcher, Chester Theatre Group (Best Community Theater)
    ”The standout in the entire cast has to be Mike Patierno as pirate extraordinaire Black Stache. Yes, he does have a black mustache (as he reminds us often), but his prime personality trait is his mangling of the English language. He is a Mrs. Malaprop in pirate's clothing. He's loud, appropriately bombastic and foolish—although he doesn't think so …. This first New Jersey production of Peter and the Starcatcher is … an ambitious effort on the part of a community theater that is known for taking risks and producing edgy stuff.”
  9. The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Light Opera of New Jersey
    ”Originally developed by Joseph Papp's Public Theatre and performed in Central Park, The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a delight on many levels: the basic story for Dickens fans, lots of humor, musical numbers and audience participation. As for whodunnit, I can't tell you, because the ending changes at every performance”
  10. The Outgoing Tide, Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre
    ”Dreamcatcher Rep's New Jersey Premiere of Bruce Graham's The Outgoing Tide actually examines both points-of-view in a well-acted, very affecting production that is as uplifting as it is poignant …. Beautifully produced and acted, this sensitive, well-written drama is a welcome addition to the health care discussion, one that many theater-goers may find familiar.”