Best Washington, DC Theater of 2013: Superlatives Edition
Our favorite shows of the year.
At this point in December you’re almost certainly sick of year-end lists, and that’s OK: We are, too. They’re arbitrary, entirely subjective (like all criticism is), and biased toward art that was produced in the second half of the year and is still easy to remember.
So with the above as a disclaimer, we’re trying something a little different this year. All of the below are shows that Washingtonian’s critics loved in 2013, and because we’d rather not rank them since they were all superb in so many ways, we’ve given them random and nonsensical (and imaginary) awards instead. Congratulations, Washington theaters, on producing so much great work this year. We can’t wait for 2012, I mean 2014.
Best Production of a Shakespeare Play: The Winter’s Tale at Shakespeare Theatre
Rebecca Taichman’s production of one of the trickier Shakespeare plays (love! tragedy! bears!) was memorable for its “starkly elegant” modern design and its immensely powerful performances from Mark Harelik, Hannah Yelland, and many more.
Best Touring Musical: Anything Goes at the Kennedy Center
Doubtless everyone will say this should go to The Book of Mormon, and maybe it should, but like we said, subjective. Roundabout Theatre Company’s Tony-winning production of the Cole Porter classic was de-lightful, de-licious, de-lovely, and just on the right side of de-luded.
Best Dysfunctional Family Drama: Other Desert Cities at Arena Stage
If there’s one thing we learned about families, it’s that “long-buried family secrets, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, barbed endearments, and bourbon” are no combination for a happy holiday. Jon Robin Baitz’s spectacular play made for “gut-punching theater” nonetheless.
Best Riff on Chekhov With Profanities in the Title: Stupid F**cking Bird at Woolly Mammoth
Aaron Posner’s spin on The Seagull might have led to an overuse of asterisks among area publications, but its magical, moody commentary about love and art made up for it.
Best Riff on Chekhov Without Profanities in the Title: Man in a Case at Shakespeare Theatre
Mikhail Baryshnikov is magnetic in this brief but gorgeous adaptation of two short stories about love (currently playing at the Lansburgh Theatre). And yes, he dances, although not in the way you might expect.
Most Entertaining Use of Profanities: Glengarry Glen Ross at Round House Theatre
David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning play might be a cynical and downright bleak look at humanity, but his four hungry salesmen were impeccably portrayed in this Round House revival.
Best Performance of a British Royal: Henry V at Folger Theatre
Zach Appelman’s portrayal of the former Prince Hal made the hero “so eloquent, so engaging that it’s hard not to leave the theater thinking of him as one of the greatest male characters Shakespeare ever wrote.”
Best Swordplay: The Three Musketeers at Synetic Theater
We’ve come to expect dazzling choreography from the Arlington physical theater troupe, but in this adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel, the swordplay stole the show.
Most Charming Revue: Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life at Arena Stage
Maurice Hines is a charmer. That’s all. And this 90-minute look at his life and career on the stage is so endearing it could make even Grumpy Cat smile, not to mention his magnificent, all-female backup band, or the tap talents of the Manzari and Heimozitz brothers.
Best Play You’d Never Want to See With Your Parents: Mies Julie at Shakespeare Theatre
This sexual chemistry between the two leads in this tragic, frantic South African adaptation of Strindberg might be sufficient to light up the Verizon Center’s exterior for a week. So, not really something you’d want to watch sitting next to an elderly relative, or a boss, or even a stranger.
Most Adorable Puppets: Baby Universe at Studio Theatre
Who knew infant universes were so cute they could have their own BuzzFeed vertical? Baby Universe, portrayed adorably by Wakka Wakka Productions in this dystopian puppet show, charmed, as did the show’s fusion of fantasy, video, music, and sci-fi.
Best Play the Government Shutdown Stopped People From Seeing: The Laramie Project at Ford’s Theatre
Press night for The Laramie Project was moved from Ford’s Theatre to a Woolly Mammoth rehearsal hall after the government shutdown booted performers and audiences from the space where Lincoln was shot. Even with the new location, this show’s outstanding ensemble gave “heartfelt, fierce, committed performances” exploring the circumstances of Matthew Shepard’s death.
Best Musical About a Perplexed Bachelor: Company at Signature Theatre
Some say Bobby’s gay, some say he’s just greedy. Whatever your take, Signature’s production of Sondheim’s 1970 musical about a confirmed bachelor facing all his paired-off friends was a triumph.
Best Portrayal of a Dead President: Mary T and Lizzy K at Arena Stage
All of the performances were spectacular in Arena Stage’s world premiere of Tazewell Thompson’s play about Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker. But in a year in which Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for playing Lincoln, Thomas Adrian-Simpson’s portrayal stood up to the competition admirably.
Best Encapsulation of Our Post-Recession Era: Detroit at Woolly Mammoth
Lisa D’Amour’s play, a “morality tale of philosophic ambition and massive symbolism about the destruction of the American middle class,” incorporated comedy, tragedy, despair, and “the closest thing to 3D thrills” our reviewer’s seen in a theater.
Most Engaging Neurotic: Torch Song Trilogy at Studio Theatre
Shakespeare Theatre’s Michael Kahn moved across town to Studio Theatre to direct Harvey Fierstein’s masterpiece and Brandon Uranowitz came from New York to play Arnold, a fussy, needy, funny, tough, and entirely lovable drag performer.
Best Heroine to Root For: Good People at Arena Stage
Johanna Day’s portrayal of Bostonian Margie in David Lindsay-Abaire’s play was “nearly flawless, communicating years of strength and struggle, pride and vulnerability cloaked in every snarky remark or blunt admission.”