Best of 2010? Who knows? Theaters in Chicago and ‘burbs produce upwards of 800 shows a year and no one person can begin to see even half of them, and still have time to do the laundry. So, based on the relatively narrow window of perhaps-200 shows I saw, here are the five “best” dramas of the year.
1. “'Master Harold' . . . and the Boys,” TimeLine Theatre. Athol Fugard’s seemingly-simple three-character play illuminates nothing less than the soul of a nation—South Africa circa 1950—in a work that begins as comedy and then breaks your heart, and remains rich and warm and humane throughout. Under director Jonathan Wilson, the TimeLine production was a profound event, exquisitely acted by Alfred H. Wilson, Daniel Bryant and Nate Burger
2. “The Brother/Sister Plays,” Steppenwolf Theatre Company. My Dueling Critic colleague Kelly Kleiman was her usual short-sighted self last week to put this on her “worst” list. I guess she doesn’t know a good night in theater when she enjoys one. Theater began as communal storytelling through rituals of music, movement and language, and the sheer joy of this production was the connection it made between a contemporary story and the primitive and communal nature of theater itself. The wonderful cast was guided by playwright Terell Alvin McCraney and insightful director Tina Landau in a great partnership.
3. “Trust,” Lookingglass Theatre Company. OK, I’m not a great fan of bleeding-heart liberal plays, but I was won over by the integrity of the acting and directing, and the truth of the family relationships portrayed. Not a play about internet sex predators—as some made it out to be—”Trust” was about family relationships, especially that between father and daughter, who end in a state of hard-earned grace, although sadder and wiser. Co-authored and directed by David Schwimmer.
4. “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Writers’ Theatre. David Cromer’s claustrophobic and physically brutal staging allowed me to see this Tennessee Williams classic with fresh eyes. What higher praise can one give any production of a familiar work? I did not agree with all Cromer’s choices—visualizing things Williams left to the imagination—but they never were less than bold and lucid within the context of the script. And he certainly made the play a sweaty and sensual experience!
5. “Romeo and Juliet,” Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Perhaps the most handsome production of the year (scenic and costume) and also one that illuminated this old chestnut in new ways. Australian director Gale Edwards showed Chicago audiences that “R&J” can be driven forward by its text and NOT slowed down by treating the text as “poetry.” It successfully juxtaposed classic and modern visual devices, had slam-bang fight choreography and galloped along while cutting nary a word.