- Notes from the Field – Anna Deveare Smith’s latest triumph in channeling the zeitgeist focuses on education, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the killings by police of black men, zeroing in on exactly what we need to be thinking and talking about. Smith (above) gives voice to an astonishing array of characters (including Congressman John Lewis) with precision and extreme down-to-earth humanity in a way that arrives at hope and inspiration. I wish this show were broadcast on TV for everyone to see every week for the next year.
- Kings of War – Flemish director Ivo van Hove, one of the great theater artists of our time, brought his virtuosic Toneelgroep Amsterdam to BAM to perform this wildly ambitious 4 ½ hour mashup of six Shakespeare histories (from Henry IV to Richard III) in Dutch with English surtitles. The breathtaking inventiveness of Jan Versweyveld’s multimedia design made these political dramas excruciatingly immediate. A countertenor, four brass players, and a DJ provided strange and beautiful underscoring, and Hans Kesting gave an unforgettable performance as Richard III as a demonic wounded monarch cocooned in the mirrored chamber of his power-madness.
- A Life – Adam Bock never fails to impress me with his gift for character, language, humor, soulful reflection of contemporary life, and most of all the extraordinary freedom he takes to shape his narratives in theatrically surprising ways. He outdid himself with this show at Playwrights Horizons, which occasioned a low-key yet astonishing performance by David Hyde Pierce (above), with a uniformly excellent supporting cast well-directed by Anne Kauffman on an ingenious Laura Jellinek set.
- The Encounter – Simon McBurney conceived, directed, and performed this fascinating experiment in theater-via-headphones (on Broadway!) depicting an American photographer’s adventures with South American shamanism, similar to the terrific Colombian film Embrace of the Serpent.
- YOUARENOWHERE – former Wooster Group associate Andrew Schneider (above) and a cutting-edge tech-savvy design team created this dazzling mindfuck of a performance piece at 3-Legged Dog.
- A 24-Decade History of Popular Music – Generosity of spirit, woke politics, musical chops, and playful theatrical nerve made queer genius Taylor Mac’s epic vision a delight-filled call to arms, with peerless costume-design-as-gesamtkunstwerk by Machine Dazzle and music direction by Matt Ray.
- Steve – Mark Gerrard’s script captured the intersection of sex, relationships, and social media in gay life today to a T. Cynthia Nixon directed a fine cast for the New Group, but Matt McGrath’s performance dove several layers deeper than almost any I saw this year.
- The Crucible – I didn’t think I needed to see another production of Arthur Miller’s classic again but damned if Ivo van Hove didn’t find a dozen ways to make it a stark and terrifying reflection of today’s chilling political climate, with another mind-boggling design by Jan Versweyveld and a cast mixing terrific Brits (Ben Whishaw, Sophie Okonedo, Saoirse Ronan) with great downtown actors not usually seen on Broadway (Bill Camp, Jason Butler Harner, Thomas Jay Ryan, Brenda Wehle, Teagle Bougere).
- portrait of myself as my father – Nora Chipaumire’s exploration of black African masculinity is set in a boxing ring. But the costumes, the gestures, the masks, the soundscore, and the movement pile onto the boxing metaphor numerous other frameworks: hiphop concert, voodoo ritual, club performance, shamanic trance ceremony, and Wooster Group-style mediated theater. The three performers (Shamar Watt, NC, and Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye, above) push themselves to extremes of physical ability, gender identification, and cultural cross-reference.
- Dear Evan Hansen – Steven Levenson’s morally complicated book, Pasek & Paul’s tuneful score, Michael Greif’s staging, and the lead performances by Ben Platt and Laura Dreyfuss made this the most substantial original musical of the year.
Some Other Goodies: the Encores production of Sunday in the Park with George, especially Annaleigh Ashford and Phylicia Rashad; Benjamin Walker’s central performance and Duncan Sheik’s ‘80s-techno score for American Psycho; the Canadian dance company Holy Body Tattoo’s revival of Monumental with poetic texts by Jenny Holzer and a brooding/squalling score performed live by Godspeed You! Black Emperor; Charlayne Woodard in Branden Jacobs-Jenkin’s War at LCT3; Kiki and Herb at Joe’s Pub (below).
Some Great Music: Ego Death by The Internet, Bowie’s Blackstar, Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, Black Noise by Pantha du Prince, multiple Mixcloud playlists compiled by Nick Francis (Quiet Music), lowlightmixes, and Halftribe.