Theater Beat looks at the best of 2011
The Times’ Theater Beat reviewers – Philip Brandes, F. Kathleen Foley, Margaret Gray, David C. Nichols and Charlotte Stoudt – spend the year prowling Los Angeles area theaters, especially the smaller ones, and providing their opinions of what they see there every week on Culture Monster and in the Friday Calendar section.
Here are some of their favorites (and a few less favored) of 2011 theatrical offerings.
Best New Play:
Charlotte Stoudt: Tie between “Pursued by Happiness,” by Keith Huff, staged at the Lankershim Arts Center by Road Theatre Company and “Extraordinary Chambers” at the Geffen
Kathy Foley: A tie between Nick Salamone's “The Sonneteer” at the Gay and Lesbian Center's Davidson/Valentini Theatre, and Tom Jacobson's “House of the Rising Son,” Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles' production at the Atwater Village Theatre.
David C. Nichols: “House of the Rising Son” by Tom Jacobson
Philip Brandes: Penned in the early 1900's, the pair of one-acts from “Peter Pan” creator J.M. Barrie in “Barrie: Back to Back” weren't technically new, but leave it to Pacific Resident Theatre to re-discover long-neglected chestnuts with tremendous heart.
Margaret Gray: “Girls Talk” by Roger Kumble
Best performance by an actor or actress I’d never seen on stage before:
Stoudt: Joshua Bolden in “Twist” and Esperanza America Ibarra in “Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy”
Nichols: Tadghe Murphy in”The Cripple of Inishmaan”
Brandes: Paul Gunning's completely realized creation (down to his self-designed costume) as a philosophical sentient lizard in Edward Albee's “Seascape” at Theatre West.
Gray: Daytime star Judith Chapman as Vivien Leigh in “Vivien” at Rogue Machine
Best Performance by an actor or actress who did excellent work again in 2011:
Stoudt: Patrick J. Adams as a damaged army grunt in “Nine Circles” at the Bootleg and the amazing Jacqueline Wright as JonBenet Ramsay in “House of Gold” at Atwater Village Theatre.
Foley: Gigi Bermingham's matter-of-factly heart-breaking turn in “Hermetically Sealed.”
Nichols: Gigi Bermingham
Brandes: Anthony Haney found moving dignity in an apartheid-era servant in Rubicon Theatre Company's “Master Harold…and the Boys”.
Best set design:
Foley: Jeff McLaughlin's hilariously detailed bargain basement set for “Bakersfield Mist.” We could truly believe that this tschotsche-strewn Bakersfield trailer was furnished straight out of dumpsters. McLaughlin's lighting design for the show was also terrific.
Stoudt: Jason Adams' sandy set for “Nine Circles” at the Bootleg
Nichols: McLaughlin for “Bakersfield Mist”
Brandes: The environmental staging of “I Love Lucy Live on Stage” owed its authentic look to Aaron Henderson's recreation of the Ricardo apartment on the set of Desilu Studios and Shon LeBlanc's 1950's wardrobe.
Gray: Efren Delgadillo Jr.'s use of sandbags to transform a shabby downtown loft into a military no-man's-land for “Brewsie and Willie” at Los Angeles Street Loft (or anything at Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum)
Director as star:
Foley: Gates McFadden for “House of Gold,” at Ensemble Studio Los Angeles at the Atwater Village Theatre. This amazingly dense, funny, grim play about the JonBenet Ramsey murder was the best thing I saw this year.
Nichols: Bart De Lorenzo for “Margo Veil”
Longest two hours with intermission:
Foley: Circle X's world premiere production of “The Chinese Massacre” at the Atwater Village Theatre. Jacobson, who turned in one of the best plays of the season, was also responsible for its most disappointing misfire.
Nichols: “ “You Make Me Physically Ill” and “So Damned Heavenly Bound,” so appalling that the venue's artistic director made sure I knew it was a rental.
Brandes: It was only 90 minutes with no intermission, but a session with the “Beverly Hills Psychiatrist” at the Lounge Theatre felt like a three-hour tour. (A three-hour tour...)
Gray: “The Temperamentals” at the Blank Theatre Company (Longest three hours would be “El Camino Real” at Boston Court)
Each reviewer contributed an additional category and winner:
Brandes: Most unexpected performance by an actor/actress: Angela Goethals took on the easily stereotyped role of Annelle in the endlessly-revived “Steel Magnolias” and delivered a unique and engaging performance for Rubicon Theatre Company.
Foley: Most underrated production: the American premiere of Tom Wells' delightful, poignant “Me, as a Penguin,” at the Lost Studio.
Gray: Best nonhuman performer: Juju the lamb in “Curse of the Starving Class” at Open Fist
Nichols: Best double act: Jenny O'Hara and Nick Ulett of “Bakersfield Mist” (Runners-up: Johnny Clark and Michelle Clunie of “The Mercy Seat,” Juliet Landau and Matthew J. Williamson of “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea”)
Stoudt: Boldest programming: Tie between “House of Gold" at EST-LA and “Way to Heaven” at Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Photos: Top, Julia Prud'homme, Gigi Bermingham and Nicholas Podiay in "Hermetically Sealed," by the Katselas Theater Company. Lower, Alex Davis and Jacquline Wright in "House of Gold" at the Ensemble Studio Theatre.