Thursday, January 04, 2007

Kevin Christopher Snipes on the Top 10 Plays of 2006

People like Top 10 Lists. I like telling people what to think. This list is my way of ensuring that everyone wins. However, to set it apart from the other Top 10 lists currently flooding the Year in Review periodicals, I’m limiting my Top 10 List only to new plays/musicals (on and off Broadway), since it’s the new works that will maintain the theater as a growing, vibrant and necessary medium. As a disclaimer I should admit that I missed many shows last year (Grey Gardens among them), so the list is undoubtedly incomplete. Also, I’ve excluded my own play A Bitter Taste, which premiered at Ensemble Studio Theatre last year and would obviously be on any Top 10 List for New York Theater. So in no particular order, here are my favorite new plays of 2006.

The Pain and the Itch
by Bruce Norris
A Thanksgiving Day party centered around possible child molestation is the backdrop of this devastating critique of liberal hypocrisy. Vicious, cutting dialog and alternately loveable/despicable characters flesh out a play that contains one of the cleverest dramatic structures of the year.

My Name is Rachel Corrie
by Katharine Viner, Alan Rickman, Rachel Corrie
Granted, the production left me a little cold, but there’s no denying the power, passion and persuasiveness of Corrie’s condemnation of Israeli’s American-backed occupation of Palestine. It’s a brave play that is more politics than drama, but I applaud Viner, Rickman and the Minetta Lane Theater for attempting to raise the collective New York consciousness about the conflict in Palestine.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore
by Martin McDonagh
Euripides meets Quentin Tarantino. A brilliant and bloody play.

Spring Awakening
by Duncan Sheik, Steven Sater, Frank Wedekind
With embarrassment I must confess that I didn’t care for this show when I first saw an early preview at the Atlantic, and I still have problems with some of the conventions, but I’ve always said that a show is great not despite it flaws but because of them. Broadway needs more shows like Spring Awakening that are willing to push the boundaries of form and content. Also, the nebbish Ernst’s (Gideon Glick) seduction by blond bad boy Hanschen (Jonathan B. Wright) is probably the sexiest scene in theater for 2006.

The Mistakes Madeline Made
by Elizabeth Meriwether
Fellow Youngblooder Elizabeth Meriwether’s dark comedy about surviving the daily grind and absurdities of life had me laughing and crying within minutes of each other. Favorite moment that punched me in the gut both times I saw the show: Edna's breakdown when she laments her insignificance in the world with, “I have this life. I have this little life.”

The History Boys
by Alan Bennett
Do I really need to defend this choice?

The House in Town
by Richard Greenberg
I’ve got a thing for fragile but quirky heroines struggling to keep it together, and Greenberg’s play provided Jessica Hecht with the chance to out-DuBois Blanche DuBois. Greenberg didn’t reinvent the wheel with this play, but he gave us a solid and entertaining period piece that examines how fragile our sense of self truly is.

Post Mortem
by A.R. Gurney
A small, simple and (intentionally) self-indulgent play, but Gurney’s wit has never been sharper, whether turning it against the Bush administration or himself. Missing his Indian Blood is one of my great regrets of 2006.

Stuff Happens

by David Hare
Hare turns the Bush administration’s decision to wage war on Iraq into a Shakespearean epic. Political theater at its best.

The Internationalist
by Anne Washburn
Cultural and language barriers create an atmosphere of menace and wonder in Washburn’s dreamlike play about an American struggling to understand his place in a foreign country. Few playwrights can earn an ambiguous ending that leaves so much unresolved, and while it frustrated me, I also respect her decision not to provide easy answers in a play that so strongly examines the impotence of communication.

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