Worst Theater of 2011

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Arts & Film, Theater.


This past year has seen some memorable moments on stage (Playwrights Horizons’ offerings; Nina Arianda on Broadway—twice!), but they all pale in comparison to the amount of wrongheaded dreck that theatergoers had inflicted upon them. As everyone gazes with holiday-glazed eyes at glasses half full, let’s look at the other half of that glass, containing these distressing trends.

Plays by People Other than Playwrights
Few things were as painful to sit through as We Live Here and The Wood, both Off-Broadway. The former was a well-upholstered melodrama by actress Zoe Kazan that required more than a little suspension of disbelief (as well as a conscious forgetting of the tropes of Gothic literature to remain surprised by a mad sister playing the piano during a lashing rainstorm); the latter was another play from documentary filmmaker Dan Klores, a clunky affair about real-life journalist Mike McAlary that conveyed neither the excitement of a newsroom nor McAlary’s particular investigate reporting gifts.

Musicals at The York
The best thing about this year’s Road to Qatar and Tomorrow Morning was that they were both short. The worst thing was…just about everything else. Qatar aimed for dumb fun but only succeeded at being dumb, while Tomorrow Morning tried in vain for an elegiac tone that Once is currently nailing effortlessly. Neither show had anything fresh to say, and what was said wasn’t worth hearing. Not a great sign for the future of original musicals not based on movies.

Adam Rapp
The infuriating thing about Adam Rapp is that audiences know he can be capable of thrilling theater (Red Light Winter, The Metal Children). This year didn’t feature works that approached either of those, though it wasn’t for lack of trying: including The Hallway Trilogy, Manhattan saw five Adam Rapp plays in 2011, most of which featured the array of sordid frat boys and gleeful exhibitions of psychical and psychic suffering that has made his name. The final offering, Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling, was at least set in an upscale home, albeit one with a lion in the basement and a rain of geese. Is it any wonder Charles Isherwood wrote a heartfelt plea, begging to recuse himself from reviewing Rapp? Go away, Adam Rapp, so we can miss you for a while.

Period Musicals
How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Baby It’s You! The People in the Picture. Play It Cool. The Blue Flower. Bonnie & Clyde. On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. At some point during these musicals, the design teams and/or the writers and directors bashed audiences over the head with the time period, whether with silhouetted breadlines (Bonnie & Clyde), poorly written, hard-boiled dialogue (Play It Cool) or eye-gouging colors (On a Clear Day). In the case of the latter, who realized that the ’70s were quite so ugly?

The Public’s Shakespeare
A quick Beyoncé dance number in Love’s Labor’s Lost. A Lear so doddering so early on that we sympathize with Goneril and Regan. Dildo-sporting demons cavorting throughout Measure for Measure. An All’s Well That Ends Well that takes its title so literally there’s no room for doubt. All presented with a resolutely contemporary take on the dialogue that often twists it into pretzels to sound impromptu. Is The Public winning any fans with its strenuous, trying-too-hard-to-be-hip approaches to Shakespeare? As a not-for-profit company, it’s hard to forgive them for using their resources on a total of five Shakespearean plays this year, when so many other companies continue to present the same canon.

As for that whole half-full thing…you can put me on the record as saying I have rarely been more moved, tantalized or entertained than I was by Playwrights Horizons’ Kin, Go Back to Where You Are and Completeness, the Second Stage production of Lynn Nottage’s By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, Keen Company’s Lemon Sky revival and the smart-about-being-dumb Lysistrata Jones. Memories of those shows (and a few others) will no doubt help get me through 2012.

Betty Gilpin, Jessica Collins and Jeremy Shamos in We Live Here.
PHOTO BY joan marcus

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