Best Shows of 2011 Razzed Mormons, Spies, Nerds: Jeremy Gerard
New York theater in 2011 was dominated by scary headlines for “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” and awards for “The Book of Mormon,” both well- deserved. And there were many notable revivals, the best among them “The Normal Heart” and “Follies,” not to mention a folio’s worth of Bill Shakespeare. As many memorable shows were presented off-Broadway as on. The best of the year, in alphabetical order:
“Blood and Gifts”
Peripatetic author J.T. Rogers offered the rare play as absorbed with politics (in this case, U.S. covert operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980s) as with personal relationships. The line between them is effectively -- and unforgettably -- blurred in this tale of spooks, warlords and weaponry. (Mitzi E. Newhouse)
David Henry Hwang’s comedy finds a U.S. businessman learning, mostly through trial and hilarious error, how to do business in booming China. (Longacre)
Like Tom Stoppard (and Shaw, for that matter), playwright Itamar Moses can get tangled up in his own cleverness. “Completeness” was a smart comedy about nerdy grad students grappling with identity, computer science, molecular biology and sex. Rarely in that order. (Closed)
Jez Butterworth’s joyride of a play featured Mark Rylance’s unforgettable performance as “Rooster” Byron, former daredevil and current substance-abusing civic gadfly with a soft spot for wayward teens. (Closed)
“Other Desert Cities”
Jon Robin Baitz’s funny, intense look at a Southern California family torn apart by the suicide of an elder son moved from off-Broadway to the Booth, in the process supplying a smashing Broadway debut for Rachel Griffiths. (Booth)
Broadway newcomer Lydia R. Diamond’s family drama neatly counterbalanced the Baitz play with a look at a black upper- class family whose secrets unfurl during a long, rollicking weekend at the matriarchal manse on Martha’s Vineyard. (Cort)
“Sweet and Sad”
Few playwrights have dealt with 9/11 and its aftermath as subtly and movingly as Richard Nelson. Set on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, “Sweet and Sad” presented a family gathering in New York’s Hudson Valley -- removed, but not really, from the events downriver a decade before. (Closed)
“The Blue Flower”
I called this enthralling show the best new American musical since “Spring Awakening.” It told the story of Max, based on the German artist Max Beckmann, and three other interconnected people, beginning in pre-WWI Berlin and ending on Central Park West in the 1950s. Jim Bauer’s eclectic score was lush and memorable, as was Will Pomerantz’s ingenious production at Second Stage. (Closed)
“The Book of Mormon”
Tuneful, brash and blithely blasphemous, this musical from the creators of “South Park” and the composer of “Avenue Q” puts Mormonism and “The Lion King” through the meat grinder. Book now for 2015. (Eugene O’Neill)
“Venus in Fur”
The prolific David Ives finds comedy in the oddest places; in this case, a grim rehearsal studio where a young actress has come to audition for the role of a head-tripping, aristocratic dominatrix. Roles reverse enough times to keep your head spinning -- except that you won’t be able to take your eyes off Nina Arianda, delivering the bravura performance of the season. (Friedman thru Dec. 18; Lyceum beginning Feb. 7.)
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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