Stage: The Best of 2008

Ten phenomenal, memorable shows kept D.C. stages alight in 2008, while five minor irritants continued to annoy

by Tom Avila
Published on January 1, 2009, 12:00am | Comments

I wasn't sure that I'd be able to come up with a list for best shows of 2008. I'm not going to get all dramatic and say that I thought it would be like picking favorite children or anything. Technically, none of these are actually my kids. It's more like I'm hanging out at a PTA meeting selecting my favorites of other people's children. Which is, frankly, a really creepy image.

The Best

    Hard-to-shake memories: Moran
    Hard-to-shake memories: Moran
  1. The Tricky Part, Signature Theatre -- Martin Moran's one-man show has already won an Obie so he certainly wasn't waiting around to see if it would make our Top 10 stage list. But it really can't be helped. While there were certainly shows that played bigger and louder and longer, Moran's carefully crafted monologue showed how very powerful theater can be with nothing more than a chair, a stage and a beautifully realized piece of work.
  2. No Child..., Woolly Mammoth Theatre -- Some have recently suggested that President-elect Obama should re-launch the Federal Writers Program as part of a job creation strategy. With No Child... performer Nilaja Sun's thoughtful one-woman show brought more insight and clarity to bear on the state of our schools than a dozen, statistic-loaded reports.
  3. Jerry Springer: The Opera, Studio Theatre -- Was it the tap dancing Klansmen- Was it the shock of having streams of profanity sung with the polished clarity of a cathedral choir- Was it Bobby Smith as the devil- Hard to say exactly, but Studio's production of Jerry Springer: The Opera was as guilty a pleasure as the show that inspired it.
  4. all wear bowlers, Studio Theatre -- Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle's ''rainpan 43'' performance group arrived with a story about two silent film actors, some of the tightest choreography this side of a Beyonce video and a potentially groan-inducing love of lowercase letters. They left behind an audience scratching its head and asking, ''How did they do that-''
  5. Twelfth Night, Shakespeare Theatre Company -- Not only is Twelfth Night one of Shakespeare's funniest and most enjoyable shows, the folks at the Shakespeare Theatre Company seized the opportunity to make it one of the most visually stunning plays of 2008. And did we mention Veanne Cox's pratfall- It deserves a place on a Top 10 theater list all its own.
  6. Macbeth, Folger Theatre -- Superstition be damned, when word got out that director Aaron Posner and magician Teller were collaborating on the Scottish play the name Macbeth was on everyone's lips. What they created was an incredibly restrained vision where gorgeous illusions helped to tell the story without hijacking it altogether.
  7. Kissing to be clever: Benesch and Long
    Kissing to be clever: Benesch and Long
  8. Major Barbara, Shakespeare Theatre Company -- With its intricately rendered sets, immaculately pressed costumes and class-based comedy, George Bernard Shaw's classic could have quickly become a yawn even the stiffest of upper lips couldn't contain. Instead, director Ethan McSweeny kept the mood light, the pacing brisk and made the story remarkably contemporary.
  9. Kiss of the Spider Woman, Signature Theatre -- In Washington, 2008 was the year of the festival. Signature Theatre made a great run with their Kander & Ebb Celebration with the highlight being Kiss of the Spider Woman. No, Chita Rivera wasn't in the production but lead Natascia Diaz gave us all a reason to use the word ''luminous'' and mean it.
  10. Measure for Pleasure, Woolly Mammoth Theatre -- A list of the Top 10 productions of 2008 would be incomplete without mention of the lengthy dirty joke that was Measure for Pleasure. Woolly Mammoth pulled out all the stops and ignored all the safe words for a Restoration-styled comedy that sailed well past bawdy in the first 20 minutes.
  11. Alice, Round House Theatre -- This adaptation of Alice's Wonderland adventures was one of those rare productions that really did have something for everyone. Clever set pieces, gorgeous costuming and a terrific cast of actors that brought to life a script that was smart enough for the adults and enchanting enough for the kids.

Five for Fearing (Or, what I'd like not to see in 2009 -- even though I will.)

  1. Stop laughing. It's not funny.
  2. We're all thrilled that your friend got cast and we're also all sure that he/she is going to do great. But you don't need to laugh at everything he does -- especially because what he did isn't supposed to be funny. That look on his face is anguish. Like the look on mine.

  3. It was an edgy set when Madonna used it in 1989.
  4. Oh darkened industrial set. You and your chiaroscuro lighting are mistakenly believed to be the little black dress of the theater world. You're not. You're the shoulder pads.

  5. Yes. We see that. It's your crotch.
  6. Shakespeare is funny. All on its own it's funny. Except for when you start pantomiming what the words mean and grabbing your crotch to make sure the laugh line gets a laugh. Then it's a tragedy.

  7. One more for the audience.
  8. Unless you're going to sway back and forth holding it over your head, turn it off. Yes, technically you've turned the sound on your phone off but the purpose is defeated if you then sit and do your e-mail. Just turn it off.

  9. Is it a mike or an accessory-
  10. I really need to know. Are all these mikes really necessary or do you just want us to know that you have them- Because, even stuck up there in the hairline like some James Bond spy device -- I can still see it. And yes, it's kind of annoying.