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Friday, December 28, 2007


ModFabulous: The Best Theater of 2007

If, taken en toto, 2007 wasn't a magnificent year for theatre, it certainly had enough flares of brilliance to make a list like this one possible. The 2007 Modfabulous Theater Jury came up with a list of fifty notable productions; among us, however, barely 20% of them were nominated by more than one juror. Is that a sign of weakness...or of the strength in the field? I'm choosing to believe the latter.
2007 Modfabulous Theater Jury
Aaron, That Sounds Cool/Show Showdown | David, Show Showdown
Ludlow, Off-Off Blogway | Patrick, Just Shows To Go You/Show Showdown
Steve, Steve On Broadway | Me, Your Humble Servant


1. Journey's End (Belasco Theatre)
[Director] David Grindley didn't conform to Broadway norms when he revived R. C. Sherrif's Journey's End: he kept the play shrouded in the dank darkness that befits a trench, he belabored the silent tension of preparing for war, he blocked scenes without having any actors on stage, and he kept the emotional stakes high, even through the curtain call, refusing to release us from the drama. I hope more people remember that rules are meant to be broken, because his force of vision, chained to the masterful performances of his ensemble cast, made this production one of the high points of the theater, all the more so for not ever being overt or pushy, and for escaping the melodrama one expects of an old-fashioned war play. (Aaron Riccio)

2. August: Osage County (Imperial Theatre)
In a league by itself, Tracy Letts' dysfunctional dive is not only the hands-down best production of 2007, but also the best production of this decade. A masterpiece for the ages. (Steve Loucks) One evening spent with the Westons of Oklahoma, and you'll realize why I am foaming at the mouth with joy. Rarely has one play packed so much into its running time; its richly-drawn characters and surprising storylines are so densely satisfying and so rapturously written, it feels like you're eating a sumptuous 12-course meal. Brutally funny even as its rakes its fingernails across the family generations, August: Osage County explores decades of repressed secrets that come out, first in small droplets, then in torrential downpours. (ModFab)

3. Gypsy (City Center Encores)
The star of this production was director Arthur Laurents who at 88 years old gifted us with a blazing definitive version of this mouth-foamer. When the full (onstage!) orchestra at City Center started playing the best. overture. ever., there was no other place in the world I would have rather been. (David Bell)

4. The Misanthrope (New York Theatre Workshop)
Hands down the most engaging interpretation of Moliere I've ever seen, Ivo Van Hove's physical direction lent an air of discomfort that helped to translate how Alceste views (and smells) the world, and while he's not the first person to use the media to modernize a play, his revealing use of mixed media broke down the walls between actors and characters, the boundaries of the stage, and the usage of space. The play managed to demolish the set and the characters without harming the script itself, and from Bill Camp's lead performance to the vanities of his co-stars, the show was perfect theater. (Aaron Riccio)

5. Iphigenia 2.0 (Signature Theatre Company)
Charles Mee's contemporary retelling of the Iphigenia myth is a gloriously vivid, mashed-up theatrical collage that uses the ancient story's themes to make pointed, immediately relevant cultural and political observations. Both highly visceral and intellectually stimulating, it's yet another feather in the cap of the Signature Theatre, one of the city's most vital off-Broadway companies. (Patrick Lee)

6. Xanadu (Helen Hayes Theatre)
The fabulousness of Xanadu is that no one makes fun of it more than it makes fun of itself. The questionable industry of turning movies into musicals got a surprise validation with this catty, joyful romp. (David Bell)

7. The Brothers Size (Public Theater)
The whipsmart script, by young newcomer Tarell Alvin McCraney, concocts a broth of Yoruba legends which it ladles over a very American story of brothers (a mechanic and an ex-con) struggling to overcome. The direction by Tia Alagic kept the rituals prominent in the tale, which veered and swerved across these desolate lives like an out-of-control steamroller. For a tale of human struggle and suffering, there wasn't a better evening anywhere. (ModFab)

8. Dying City (Lincoln Center Theatre)
Getting at big ideas and themes while dramatizing small, intimate events, Christopher Shinn's tight, tense drama is the kind of timebomb that keeps on ticking months after you've seen it. I'm still feeling its after-effects. (Patrick Lee)

9. 1000 Saints You Should Know (Playwrights Horizons)
A potent mix of talent from a legend (Lois Smith) and fresh face (Zoe Kazan). (Steve Loucks)

10. Eurydice (Second Stage Theatre)
The delicate fragility of love is a difficult thing to pull off in the theatre, where the bright lights and need for volume often overpower subtlety and nuance. But director Les Waters brought a staggeringly light beauty to Sarah Ruhl's hit play, which explored myth, loss, and aging with something akin to theatrical grace. (ModFab)

The Next Five: Coram Boy, The Wooster Group's Hamlet, The Receptionist, Passing Strange, No Dice

AND NOW...ModFab's own MODFABULOUS OF 2007

HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Brothers Size (Public Theater) and Radio Golf (Cort Theatre)

10. My Trip To Al Qaeda (The Culture Project)
Decidedly anti-theatre, this monologue-with-slides written and performed by screenwriter Lawrence Wright (The Siege) cut through the sluggish half-truths of mainstream media and the outright lies of the Bush Administration...telling truth to power in an understated, quiet, well-researched and disturbingly powerful voice.

9. Iphigenia 2.0 (Signature Theatre Company)
Imperfect? Absolutely. But even the failed moments of Chuck Mee's myth-as-metaphor drama were exciting to witness, as was Tina Landau's occasionally batshit crazy direction. Go big or go home, right? They certainly did.

8. Gone Missing (The Civilians/Barrow Street Theatre)
A musical dedicated to lost things, Gone Missing has been the sleeper hit of 2007 downtown...and yes, I realize it's been around since 2003 in one form or another, but I only saw it this year, so I'm counting it!

7. Xanadu (Helen Hayes Theatre)
Here's probably all you need to know: the final number includes dancing boys in go-go shorts, on roller skates, waving flags, swirling fluorescent sticks, in a wind machine, with two dozen disco balls spinning in the air. If you're into that, it's for you...and you should come out of the closet immediately.

6. Donky Hot (Columbia University)
I don't know many who saw this -- it played only one weekend before continuing on its international tour -- but this freakishly imaginative adaptation of Don Quixote, by graduates of the Russian Theatre Academy under the direction of the genius Dmitri Krimov, was as visually charasmatic as anything I've ever seen.

5. Horizon (New York Theatre Workshop)
Rinde Eckert, one of America's greatest living theatrical treasures, found a quiet glory in portraying theologian Reinhart Poole. Inventive and daring in its own way, Horizon pulled off a trick I didn't think was possible in the theatre -- a piece that talks seriously about religion, without once being offensive to either evangelicals or secularists. Wow.

4. The Misanthrope (New York Theatre Workshop)
The dazzling Bill Camp gave a trio of amazing performances this year (Coram Boy and Beckett Shorts were the others), but none of them were like this: encrusted with ketchup and chocolate from head to toe. Moliere never felt so alive.

3. Eurydice (Second Stage Theatre)
See above. Stunning.

2. Coram Boy (Imperial Theatre)
The arrival of British wunderkind Melly Still, a young female director who has been acclaimed for her work abroad, was an event in itself. Her magical realism, imbued in this terrifying tale of children and heaven, gods and monsters, was drenched in Handel and the possibilities for wonder that only theatre can achieve.

1. August: Osage County (Imperial Theatre)
What more is to be said? It's simply the one unmissable theatrical event of 2007. And the greatest new play of our still-young millennium.

And a few more snarky awards:
  • I Don't Care If It's Depressing, You Should Have Seen It Anyway: The Year of Magical Thinking
  • Most Overrated Stage Mugging: Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
  • Worst New Play By A Big-Time Playwright: Terence McNally's Some Men
  • Best Reason To Not Invest In Musicals: The Pirate Queen
  • Best Performance No One Saw (But Me): David Oyelowo, Prometheus Bound
  • The Pink-Will-Eventually-Blind-You Award: Legally Blonde
  • Best Actress You've Never Heard Of: Jeanine Serralles, The Black-Eyed and The Misanthrope
  • Sorry, I've Eaten All The Scenery: Liev Schreiber, Talk Radio

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Blogger will g said...

Okay, now you've given me heartburn trying to figure out if you love Dying City, as you seem to here, or despise it, as you seemed to in your New York Times posting a few days back. All I can figure is a double-entendre in your use of the word "timebomb." But joking aside, I AM really confused. (Did you perhaps let your anger at a certain NYT scribe spill over onto poor Mr. Shinn?)

12/28/07, 3:17 AM  
Blogger paul @ www.thezapping.com said...

great list of theatre, i wish i had the means to travel to NYC more often. London is fine and of course there are some fantastic fringe productions here but i am such a theatre fan that i ache when i miss the good stuff in the states. Still i get to live vicariously through ModFab...

12/28/07, 4:36 AM  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

I loooove when you write about NYC theater. Even though I never get to see any of it.

12/28/07, 1:52 PM  
Blogger ModFab said...

To Will: You'll notice that DYING CITY scored high on the juried list, while it didn't place on my own personal list. One could surmise (accurately) that some of the jury liked the show a lot...and that I was not among their number. ;-)

12/28/07, 6:39 PM  
Blogger will g said...

I feel like an idiot, but I didn't catch on that the jury member whose name follows the entry is actually the one speaking, and not you. (Or am I still confused?)

12/28/07, 8:19 PM  
Blogger Esther said...

I have to agree somewhat on Frank Langella as Nixon. I liked his performance, but I really enjoyed Michael Sheen's Frost better. Of the two, it's the one that's stayed with me longer.

And I definitely agree with you on "August: Osage County." I'm so glad I was able to see it. Tracy Letts' writing is so witty and the cast is just amazing.

I'm sorry I missed "Coram Boy." I really wanted to hear the "Hallelujah Chorus."

12/28/07, 11:13 PM  

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