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Best of 2004: Theater

Editor at large and Washingtonian online theater critic Chuck Conconi remembers the year’s best on local stages.

1. The brilliant Ted van Griethuysen in the Shakespeare Theatre's Henry IV, Part 1. His Falstaff eschewed the role's usual jocularity and emphasized the character's darker, craven nature.

2. Costume designer Helen Huang's amazing, bizarre hats in Studio Theatre's production of Caryl Churchill's Far Away—45 minutes of violence and murder. Huang's seemingly endless varieties of absurd headwear emphasized the banality of the horror.

3. The Glass Menagerie, the best of the Kennedy Center's Tennessee Williams festival. Sally Field's sympathetic portrayal of the fading Southern belle Amanda Wingfield—less a smothering mother and more a woman frightened for her fragile daughter's future—showed the Oscar winner's impressive range.

4. The biggest surprise of the Tennessee Williams summer was Molly Smith's production of the seldom-seen Orpheus Descending at Arena Stage. The carefully orchestrated mixture of mythological symbolism and religious mysticism set in a xenophobic Southern locale created a maze of passion, cruelty, and death.

5. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company opened its 25th-anniversary season with a wonderfully wacky production of Ian Cohen's Lenny & Lou. Teetering at the edge of tastelessness, the play made audiences laugh about oral sex, murder, and Alzheimer's disease. Howard Shalwitz's Lenny, one of two loser brothers, should bring him a Helen Hayes Award nomination.

6. Washington National Opera fans were treated to the area debut of tenor Salvatore Licitra in Umberto Giordano's brilliantly theatrical Andrea Chénier. Licitra promises to be one of the great voices of the decade. He'll be back to sing Tosca in May.

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