A political year in the theater.
The plays that left an impression on me in 2017 all spoke, in one way or another, to our turbulent political times. Some were overtly political (Building the Wall), while others illuminated crumbling institutions (the family: Head of Passes) or society itself (Mr. Burns, a post-electric play). Against the backdrop of chants of ‘fake news,’ theater audiences had little patience for hollow spectacle or dishonest performances. Here’s my short list for theater that made a difference in 2017.
– Anthony Byrnes, host of Opening the Curtain.
Playwright Robert Schenkkan wasted no time letting us know what he thought of the Trump administration. Barely three months after inauguration, he already had a protest play on the boards at the Fountain Theatre, Building the Wall. A simple, two person interrogation room play, it was built around Bo Foxworth’s brave and frightening performance of a functionary who embraced with bureaucratic efficiency the most extreme xenophobic rhetoric.
Imagine there’s been a national crisis: society is breaking down, the electrical grid is toast and the only thing keeping things together is our collective memory of The Simpsons. That’s roughly the setup for Anne Washburn’s epic play Mr. Burns, a post-electric play. There’s part of me that wanted the third act to be more profound and the style more refined but there’s no arguing with Sacred Fools commitment to the play.
Murray Mednick’s worlds are always falling apart. What’s amazing is the poetic gusto with which he captures that entropy and his doggedness chasing after an idea. Open Fist Theater committed to all six of Mr. Mednick’s Gary Plays. It was a remarkable journey through a playwright’s obsessions and our city’s underbelly.
There’s nothing better in the theater than a surprise (even when it’s a little scary and hidden behind a bird mask). A company new to LA, Barker Room Rep, haunted me with their production of Erin Courtney’s A Map of Virtue. Here’s hoping for more work like this.
What does it say that I had to travel all the way to New York to see a large theater produce Los Angeles playwright Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey?
On the opening night of Zoot Suit, I heard a Latino man say to a friend, “The last time I was in this theater it was 40 years ago. I was eight.” 40 years later the production still had something to say and about Los Angeles.
Phylicia Rashad arguing with god after she lost her family in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Head of Passes, was the cry from the darkness that we all needed in 2017.
Simon McBurney taught an audience to hear theater with a new set of ears in The Encounter at the Wallis.
A naked woman, bloody teeth in the belly of a fish, the voices of refugees and video screens that suddenly rose up against us: Christiane Jatahy’s The Walking Forest reminded us that we are being watched as we do the watching.