Let's start with two imports that blended technology with stagecraft.
Back in March, Christiane Jatahy play "The Walking Forest" filled REDCAT with something that looked, at first, more like a hip gallery opening. The audience was welcomed onto the stage where they could grab a drink at a long bar on the upstage wall or watch one of the four projections screens that were filled with foreign voices talking about refugees from Syria and corruption in Brazil.
Then things start getting weird. You notice some of the audience is wearing headphones. A woman falls. A raw fish appears on the bar and another woman is asked to reach inside and pull out bloody teeth. Someone offers you bloody money. It's all surreal. Then an actress tells the story of a mad, power hungry king who could only be stopped by a walking forest, people rising up together to confront his power.
Those screens that filled the stage? Suddenly they rotate and are projecting video of the audience, we had been being watched as we did the watching. It was frightening, powerful, and sadly all too fitting for 2017.
In April, at the Wallis, Simon McBurney transported an audience with the head of a dummy.
To be fair, that head was actually a binaural microphone. The whole audience for Theatre Complicite's play "The Encounter" was wearing headphones connected to that mic. Mr. McBurney, as the sole performer began the evening by explaining how three-dimensional audio captured by that mic worked. Then for good measure, he blew in our collective ear. It was shockingly intimate and just the first step of him getting into our heads.
The journey he took us on carried us in search of the Mayoruna tribe in the Amazon. We passed through a drug induced trance, we went back to the beginning, we realized the devastation to our lands - and I, for one, will never listen to sound in a theater in quite the same way.
2017 wasn’t all about technology and theatre. The remarkable play “Head of Passes” had one of the most memorable acting performances of 2017. "Head of Passes", Tarrell Alvin McCraney's remarkable play relied on remarkable actors. A brilliant ensemble commanded the Mark Taper Forum for act one and set the stage for a hauntingly powerful performance by Phylicia Rashad as a woman who'd lost everything and needs to have a word two with god about it.
It was a performance that I won't soon forget.
It tells us something that the other show that captured audiences at the Taper last year was a 40th Anniversary remount of "Zoot Suit” The production had its flaws but you couldn't deny the enthusiasm at the box office. In a city as diverse as ours there should have been more than 10 plays by Latino playwright gracing the Mark Taper Forum in the past 50 years. It's also telling that I had to travel all the way to New York's Public Theater to see a brilliant mainstage production of Los Angeles' playwright Luis Alfaro's "Oedipus El Rey." I wonder when our larger theaters will learn the lessons of "Zoot Suit."
For the rest of my best of 2017, including the best of LA's intimate theater, subscribe to the weekly KCRW Theater Newsletter at kcrw.com/theater.
This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.