Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Best of the Decade: Plays and Play Revivals, Part II

Yesterday, 20 - 11, today, the top 10!

10.  Blithe Spirit:  The all-star cast made it a must see.  Angela Lansbury's Tony winning performance made it a small legend, but for me the biggest surprise was how truly funny the play still is.  In the right hands, this is still a riot.  Heck, when the "straight wife" role, played superbly by Jayne Atkinson, was as funny as everyone else, you know this is a Blithe Spirit for the books!

9.  Proof:  Intellectual dramas can be a dicey thing for me.  Generally, I find them to boring exercises in celebrating the playwright's perceived intelligence (Copenhagen?).  But Proof proved me wrong!  A veritable character study of all intellectuals pitted against a sincere family drama, this one also has THE plot twist of the decade.  I'll never forget the audience's gasp that day.  Never.

8.  Boeing-Boeing:  I love a farce, especially one that hits every note exactly right.  Add a layer of naught sex appeal and Christine Baranski and you have one of my two Broadway fantasies!  From top to bottom this cast was superb, the timing superb, and the laughs plentiful, heartfelt and gut-busting.  Even the curtain call was a scream... which brings me to...

7.  Noises Off:  Re-read the above, substituting Patti LuPone for Baranski, and add Katie Finneran... which brings me to...

6.  Lend Me a Tenor:  Switch out Baranski/LuPone with Jan Maxwell, then add the triumphant trio of Justin Bartha, Anthony LaPaglia and Tony Shalhoub.  And this show is also probably the most underrated play currently playing the Great White Way.  It is hilarious and only around until August 15.  You can't get tickets to Fences and Red will have closed, so why not!?

5.  All My Sons:  Lost in the shuffle of PR over Katie Holmes; Broadway debut/Tom Cruise sightings and a late season crush of all-star plays, this revival was truly superb.  John Lithgow, Patrick Wilson, Diane Wiest and even Ms. Holmes were giving Tony-caliber performances.  And the staging, effects and projections were so thrillingly theatrical I left the theatre on a buzz so great I felt I was walking on air.  Not bad for a tragic family drama.  But I am a sucker for plays that are re-imagined with a completely theatrical eye.  This is exactly the reason I prefer live shows over movies.

4.  The Little Dog Laughed: And so did everyone else!  What a smart, witty and ultimately poignant story.  Sure Julie White's performance was legendary, and Johnny Galecki proved he has the goods (take that both ways I could mean it and be right), but it takes something to make a Hollywood story so -in the words of every character on stage - fucking Broadway!  Like number 5 above, I thrilled to the sheer theatricality of this inherently cinematic play.

3.  Take Me Out:  I'm not going to lie... the shower scene was pretty hot.  And Daniel Sunjata has the goods in both ways, too.  But you can't go wrong with the unlikely mix of a culture clash, dumb jocks, and a scathing commentary on sports in this country.  Yes, there was the sexy factor, but Richard Greenberg really went deep with this zinger of a play that went down like a cold beer out in left field, and still left you satisfied long after the game was over.

2.  DoubtCherry Jones in a play by John Patrick Shanley should be enough to put a play in the top 10 list of any decade.  But Ms. Jones really gave the performance of the decade in this taught gripping drama.  Another brilliant exercise in measured and building tension, this merciless work grabs you from the first words to the searing, "I HAVE DOUBT!" ending.  I was shaking by the end, and sat bewildered for several moments before I could even exit the theatre.  I was transported and changed by this play.  There is a great lesson to be learned here.

1.  The History Boys:  Where do I start?  Perhaps the best "school drama" since To Sir, with Love, this marvelous play had it all: it was funny, quirky, smart, witty, dramatic, as current as the day's headlines and yet as timeless as going to high school.  It also had a cast that was perfectly cast, chock full of eccentricity, stereotypes (in the very best way) and ultimately a British sensibility that made NOT casting an American cast so the play could run longer an excellent decision.  There was something for everyone here.  And if you left unmoved by the ending, I feel sorry for you.  What a rush!  And the best news is that with little tinkering and the entire original cast, the film version is just as excellent.

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