Ten for Twenty-Ten

31. December, 2010 Theater 6 comments

Here we are pretty much back where we started on this blog, with my Top Ten list of my favorite shows for the year. It was awfully hard to whittle the 126 shows I saw this year in the Bay Area down to ten, which is probably a good sign: that’s a far better problem to have than not being able to think of ten good ones. I limited myself to shows that actually opened in 2010, which disqualifies shows like Ann Randolph’s hilarious monologue Loveland that otherwise would be high on my list. Most links are to my original reviews earlier in the year, and the shows are more or less in order of preference.

It was a year with some awfully big events, including a first-ever collaboration between Marin Theatre Company, Magic Theatre and American Conservatory Theater on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brother/Sister Plays, the British import The Great Game: Afghanistan at Berkeley Rep, and ACT’s long-anticipated Tosca Project. None of that’s on the list, though.  What on earth is, then?  Well, I’ll tell you.

Romi Dias and Joshua Torrez. Photo by Jennifer Reiley

1. Oedipus El Rey, Magic Theatre

Luis Alfaro’s gangland update of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex was an absolute knockout, both in its stark theatricality and in its powerful portrayal of both the arrogant Oedipus and his melancholy mother/wife Jocasta. 

Daveed Diggs and Margo Hall in Mirrors in Every Corner. Photo by Pak Han

2. Mirrors in Every Corner, Intersection/Campo Santo

Chinaka Hodge’s debut play about an African-American family in West Oakland whose youngest daughter is born a blonde-haired white girl was eloquent, funny, inventive, and beautifully executed by the cast, and I loved it so much that I wound up publishing it in the January issue of Theatre Bay Area, out on the stands any day now.


Dave Maier in In the Wound. Photo by Benjamin Privitt

3. The Salt Plays, Part 1: In the Wound, Shotgun Players.

Even if I wasn’t as crazy about his Odyssey followup this December, Jon Tracy’s take on The Iliad was a dazzling and dizzying reinvention full of fierce goddesses in disguise, biological warfare, mysterious briefcases, Iphigenia in Limbo, and percussive battles with drums for shields and drumsticks for swords. A modern classic.


Natacha Roi as Aphra Behn in Or,. Photo by Jennifer Reiley

4. Or,, Magic Theatre

Liz Duffy Adams’s whip-smart comedy about Restoration spy-turned-playwright Aphra Behn managed to be both a literary delight full of clever wordplay and a quick-change sex farce that continually upturned expectations to hilarious effect. It’s also the second play helmed by Magic artistic director Loretta Greco in my Top 10 this year, which is not too shabby.

Josh Kornbluth in Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? Photo by Stan Barouh

5. Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?, The Jewish Theatre

Monologuist Josh Kornbluth took what could have been a slight subject, a Warhol portrait series of famous 20th-century Jews, and turned it into a hilarious and deeply affecting examination of where his own ever-so-secular Jewishness fits into his communist, atheist New York upbringing.





David Westley Skillman, Erika A. McCrary, Aldo Billingslea and Sarah Mitchell in …And Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi.

6. …And Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi, the Cutting Ball Theater

Marcus Gardley’s poetic tale of a lynched black man resurrected as a wandering woman in search of her daughter amid the Civil War was a marvelous melange of mixed mythologies and lush and impish storytelling, leavened with some heavenly spirituals.

Rachel Rajput and Anthony Nemirovsky in 1001. Photo by Jay Yamada

7. 1001, Just Theater

Jason Grote’s play inspired by The Thousand Nights and One Night deftly captured the spirit of the original in the way stories are layered within stories like Russian nesting dolls, but it also proved to be a sometimes hilarious contemporary take that mixed in dollops of Vertigo and “Thriller” and a contemporary story of a young Jewish and Palestinian-American couple. In what other adaptation would you have Sinbad the Sailor exclaim, “You’re freaking me out, Jorge Luis Borges!”?


Jason Hite and Ryder Bach in Girlfriend. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

8. Girlfriend, Berkeley Repertory Theatre

There were much bigger and seemingly more important shows at Berkeley Rep this year–a massive historical cycle about Afghanistan, a new Athol Fugard play, even an Anne Frank-themed piece with Mandy Patinkin and puppets–but the only one to crack my list is Todd Almond’s intimate two-man musical, a charming gay teen romance using the songs of the beloved Matthew Sweet album.

Margo Hall with Rhonnie Washington, Elizabeth Carter and Jon Joseph Gentry in Trouble in Mind. Photo by David Allen

9. Trouble in Mind, Aurora Theatre Company

This revival felt like the best production possible of Alice Childress’s deeply resonant 1955 play, beautifully staged by Robin Stanton with a stunning lead performance by Margo Hall as a tactful, charismatic actress struggling with her broadly stereotyped role in a well-meaning anti-lynching play. Tim Kniffin was also infuriatingly good as the condescending and self-congratulatory white director.

The cast of Juliet. Photo by Claire Rice

10. Juliet, San Francisco State University

Writer-director Mark Jackson’s richly choreographed collaboration with SFSU students beautifully deconstructed Romeo and Juliet, with six women and one man in matching dresses all playing Juliet and taking on other characters either individually or, more often, collectively. As chopped-up and abstracted as the text was, somehow it had more vitality and a stronger sense of giddy young love than most versions of Shakespeare’s play that I’ve seen.

But, truth to tell, I saw a whole lot of great theater this year. Honorable mentions go to Bill Cain’s Shakespearean conspiracy comedy Equivocation at Marin Theatre Company; Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brother/Sister Plays installments The Brothers Size at the Magic and Marcus, or The Secret of Sweet at ACT; and Mugwumpin’s ode to hoarders and collectors, This Is All I Need. I also thoroughly enjoyed Enrique Urueta’s outrageous pop-starlet comedy Learn to Be Latina at Impact Theatre; Center REPertory Company’s superbly performed production of Caryl Churchill’s father-son-and-clones drama A Number, Eric Wilcox’s riveting portrait of a serial killer Don’t Feel: The Death of Dahmer, and Jason Harding and Thunderbird Theatre Company’s rollicking Conan spoof Agnes the Barbarian.

I’m going to borrow a page from Hurwitt the Elder (whose year-end wrap-up I’ll read after I’ve posted this, because I try not to read other people’s writeups until I’ve finished my own) and list my most valuable player of the year, just because there’s no question in my mind this time around:

Margo Hall. Photo by Joan Osato

MVP: Margo Hall

Always a terrific actress, Hall knocked it out of the park this year with standout and marvelously varied roles in Mirrors in Every Corner and Marcus; or The Secret of Sweet as well as her masterful turn in Trouble in Mind, often proving to be the difference between an awfully good production and a great one. The fact that she’s also profiled in the new issue of Theatre Bay Area is the merest coincidence, albeit a happy one.

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  1. Deb Fink

    1 / 1 / 2011 1:50 pm

    Great list! Margo is a true bay area treasure!


    • Sam Hurwitt

      1 / 2 / 2011 9:08 pm

      Thanks, Deb! And I couldn’t agree more.


  2. Margo Hall

    1 / 2 / 2011 8:47 pm

    Thank you! I am truly grateful! I love the BAY!!


    • Sam Hurwitt

      1 / 2 / 2011 9:11 pm

      Thank YOU for all the viewing pleasure this year!


      • 1 / 3 / 2011 11:56 pm

        Margo, thank you for all you are and all you do!

        Sam, thank you for your support and for your smile through this all. I appreciate your work, and not just because you have nice things to say about mine.


    • 1 / 3 / 2011 9:58 am

      And the BAY loves you!! So great to see you getting the love Margo. You make everyone around you better.





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