The year began with a worthy South African festival courtesy of American Repertory Theatre and ended with enough Christmas Carols to fill a songbook. ART unveiled its Zero Arrow Theatre and New Repertory Theatre moved into its new home at the Arsenal Center for the Arts. The Huntington Theatre Company and other troupes continued to make good use of the two attractive theaters in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts; these added to the BCA Plaza theaters make for almost as many performance venues as restaurants in a South End as different from its one-time self as Scrooge is after his night with the spirits. On a sadder note, we lost playwriting giants Arthur Miller and August Wilson. And Broadway in Boston announced it will not renew its lease on the landmark Wilbur Theatre, whose boards this year had their paint peeled off by the vitriol Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin splashed at each other in the worthy Broadway-bound revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Nothing, it would seem, is sacred, but there were 2005 turns worth bowing to.
1 ART FOR ART’S SAKE
The American Repertory Theatre lived up to its mission this year, presenting indelible new work and reinventing the classics. Former company member Pamela Gien brought her bravura yet delicate tour de force The Syringa Tree, a one-woman multi-character reminiscence of life in South Africa under apartheid, to town. The ART hosted Canadian visionary Robert Lepage’s the far side of the moon, a magisterially ingenious multimedia contemplation of the space race as metaphor for exploration and isolation, rivalry and reconciliation. Hungarian director János Szász transformed Eugene O’Neill’s incestuous 1924 melodrama Desire Under the Elms into a primal dust-up intensely played out in an arena of rubble. And artistic director Robert Woodruff helmed a harrowing production of Edward Bond’s spare yet brutally powerful social drama Olly’s Prison, in which Bill Camp, complaint and incomprehension wrenched from him along with guttural sound, spit, and tears, gave the performance of the year.
2 SMART MOUTHS
The Publick Theatre came of age with an intelligent, articulate staging of Tom Stoppard’s dazzling comedy Arcadia, which is set on an English country estate in 1809 and the 1990s. In artistic director Diego Arciniegas’s apt outdoor staging, the landscape being transformed in the earlier period from the classic style of the Enlightenment to the wild tangle of the Romantic period intruded on the drawing room, and that added to Stoppard’s garden of ideas.
3 BETTER THAN BROADWAY
The Huntington Theatre Company and the Lyric Stage Company of Boston served up, in Daniel Goldstein’s stylish HTC staging of William Finn’s dawn-of-AIDS songfest Falsettos and Lyric honcho Spiro Veloudos’s grubby chamber rendition of Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann’s Brechtian potty satire Urinetown, revivals of these provocative musicals that trumped the Broadway originals.
4 SCOTTISH BUFFALO
Brendan Hughes helmed Celtic-centric Súgán Theatre Company’s crack introduction of Gregory Burke’s lyrically profane mix of Karl Marx and David Mamet set in the northeast of Scotland, Gagarin Way. The play won First of the Firsts at the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe Festival; Súgán made it a winner here, too.
5 FIRE AND WATER
Steven Maler helmed a splashy poolside Hamlet — well spoken, accessible, and exciting — as Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s tenth annual offering of free Shakespeare on Boston Common. At the center of this agitated journey of boy to man was Jeffrey Donovan’s Dane, no melancholy baby but a fiery schoolboy whose mind raced in counterpart to his famed foundering resolve.
6 HERALDING HAROLD
Merrimack Repertory Theatre paid early tribute to 2005 Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter with last spring’s pitch- and pause-perfect revival of the playwright’s arch 1965 domestic conundrum The Homecoming. Charles Towers’s controlled and creepy period production captured the play’s jarring mix of repulsion and come-on, linguistic precision and moral ambiguity, tea-cozy naturalism and Freudian rite.
7 SWEET CHARLOTTE
Broadway in Boston brought to the Wilbur Theatre Doug Wright’s brilliantly wrought "one-woman show performed by a man," I Am My Own Wife, which was inspired by German transvestite and collector Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who survived both the Third Reich and the East German Communists while wearing a dress. Jefferson Mays reprised his Tony-winning turn as Charlotte, prim and precise in her little black nun’s frock and pearls, as well as 34 other personae.
8 EVERY INCH A KING
Actors’ Shakespeare Project opened its second season with a heroic trek up the monumental mountain that is King Lear. Patrick Swanson helmed the staging, which was not only long but long on ideas. And 80-year-old ART veteran Alvin Epstein led the climb, offering a cocky, muscular Lear full of scathing fury that turned tyrannical, teary, and finally quite dotty, as the battered old king wandered the fields near Dover in a baggy diaper.
9 WINNING TEAM
SpeakEasy Stage Company and Boston Theatre Works paired to present an impressive Boston premiere of Richard Greenberg’s Tony-winning Take Me Out, which is based on the author’s dizzying midlife romance with baseball — and the question of what would happen if a sports superstar batted himself out of the closet. Paul Daigneault directed a convincing ensemble capable of acting while naked and wet (under functioning showers) while Neil A. Casey captured the euphoria of the goofily blossoming gay accountant who sees the game as "a perfect metaphor for hope in a democratic society."
10 TOPDOG UNLEASHED
Trinity Repertory Company and New Repertory Theatre collaborated with Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre on a crack, caged-in staging of Suzan-Lori Parks’s Pulitzer-winning Topdog/Underdog, an explosive meditation on African-American male siblings trapped by history. Kent Gash directed the production, in which Kes Khemnu and Joe Wilson Jr. altered the dynamic by alternating in the roles of brothers with the charged monikers of Lincoln and Booth.
Issue Date: December 23 - 29, 2005
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