Some theater seasons are noteworthy for performances; some for direction. For me, 2016 was the year of the designer, especially scenic.

What made the accomplishments, particularly in set design, so notable had little to do with decoration and spectacle and much more with serving the inner life of the play, the emotional landscape of the characters, metaphysical expressions of theme and condition.

From the grim, gray painstaking detail — including a working clock that ticked away the play's action in real time — of Brian Prather's police waiting room in "American Son" to the intellectual, expressionist realm of Kris Stone's design for "The Merchant of Venice" (of a piece with Tyler Kinney's costumes, Daniel Levy's original score and Matthew Miller's lighting) and Allen Edwards' at-once cosmic and intimate set and lighting for "Constellations" (together with Scott Killian's evocative original music), stage design spoke to audiences in ways that were as liberating and revealing as the productions they served.

In addition to the aforementioned, the most noteworthy accomplishments, in order of being seen were:

- Lighting — Shawn E. Boyle, "The Stone Witch" (Berkshire Theatre Group); Lilly Fossner, "The Bakelite Masterpiece" (WAM/Berkshire Theatre Group); and Derek Van Heel, "Peter and the Starcatcher" (Hubbard Hall)

- Scenic — Alexis Distler, "Having Our Say" (Hartford Stage); Derek McLane, "Presto Change-O" (Barrington Stage Company); Reid Thompson, "Little Shop of Horrors" (BTG); Cristina Tedesco, "Oh God" (Chester Theatre Company); Yael Pardess, "The Stone Witch" (BTG); Derek McLane, "An American Daughter" (Williamstown Theatre Festival); Julia von Haubach, "The Bakelite Masterpiece" (WAM/BTG); and Philip S. Rosenberg, "Relativity" (TheaterWorks)

- Costumes — Karen Perry, "Having Our Say" (Hartford Stage); David Murin, "Little Shop of Horrors" (BTG); Govane Lohbauer, "Or," (Shakespeare & Company); and Amanda Charlebois, "Peter and the Starcatcher" (Hubbard Hall)

- Sound — Amy Altadonna, "The Taming" (Shakespeare & Company)

- Special mention— Yael Pardess and Rasdean Davonte Johnson for their work on the projections — Pardess, art content design; Johnson, design — for BTG's "The Stone Witch."


A lot of truly substantive work this year. The two-thumbs-up standout for me was Wendell Pierce's Eddie in "Cost of Living" at Williamstown Theatre Festival, a performance brimming with the ache of love, loneliness, helplessness, hope in a man trying his best to do the right thing, live the right kind of life in the face of formidable obstacles. Nothing flashy; just a solid, soul-felt and shaped portrait that broke your heart.

- Honorable mentions (in order of being seen): Jonathan Epstein, Shylock, "The Merchant of Venice" (Shakespeare & Company); Stephen Wolfert, "Cry, 'Havoc'!" (Shakespeare & Company); Alex Gibson, "Pirates of Penzance" (Barrington Stage Company); David Joseph, Charlie Chaplin, "The Consul, the Tramp and America's Sweetheart" (Oldcastle Theatre Company); Graham Rowatt, Roland, "Constellations" (Berkshire Theatre Group); David Adkins, Han van Meegeren, "The Bakelite Masterpiece" (WAM Theatre/BTG); and Richard Dreyfuss, "Relativity" (TheaterWorks)

- Also noteworthy (in order of being seen): David Snider, "The Crucible" (Oldcastle); Lenny Wolpe, "Presto Change-O" (BSC); Chris Thorn, "Kimberly Akimbo" (BSC); Adam Langdon, "Kimberly Akimbo" (BSC); Michael Hayden, "An American Son" (BSC); Andre Ware, "An American Son" (BSC); Christopher Abbott, "The Rose Tattoo" (Williamstown Theatre Festival); Stanley Bahorek, "Little Shop of Horrors" (BTG); James Ludwig, "Little Shop of Horrors" (BTG); Anthony Ingargiola, "Big River" (Oldcastle); Reji Woods, "Big River" (Oldacstle); Richard Howe, "Big River" (Oldcastle); Peter Langstaff, "Big River" (Oldcastle); Will Lyman, "Oh God" (Chester Theatre Company); Carson Elrod, "The Chinese Room" (Williamstown Theatre Festival); David Garrison, "Pirates of Penzance" (BSC); Alex Gibson, "Pirates of Penzance" (BSC); Allyn Burrows, "Or," (Shakespeare & Company); Richard Poe, "An American Daughter" (WTF); Mark H. Dold, "Love Letters" (BSC); and Jason Asprey, "Season by Season" (Mixed Company)


Three indelible performances that set a high bar — Kate Baldwin as Marianne in "Constellations" at BTG, a technically and emotionally challenging role shaped by invention, subtext, consummate ingenuity and revelation, and the biggest challenge facing us all — mortality; Katy Sullivan, an actress born without either of her lower legs in a fierce, bold performance, as Ani, a woman whose lower legs have been amputated after an automobile accident who is doing the best to survive and assert her independence while, at the same time. wrestling with her need for help from her estranged husband; and Tamara Tunie in a heartbreaking, brilliantly measured performance in "American Son" as a well-educated black woman who, with her marriage to a white man inexplicably dissolving, faces her worst nightmare as a mother — the disappearance of her 18-year-old son and her inability to get answers from the police.

- Honorable mentions (in order of being seen): Rebecca Brooksher, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (BTG); Scarlett Stratten, "Pirates of Penzance" (BSC); and Corinna May, "The Bakelite Masterpiece" (WAM/BTG)

- Other noteworthy performances (in order of being seen): Erin Ouellette, "The Crucible" and "Peter and the Starcatcher" (Hubbard Hall); Jenni Barber, "Presto Change-O" (BSC); Natalie Wilder, "The Thirty-Nine Steps" (Oldcastle); Tangela Large, "The Taming" (Shakespeare & Company); Debra Jo Rupp, "Kimberly Akimbo" and "Love Letters" (BSC); Jenn Harris, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (BTG); Linda Gehringer, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" BTG); Lindsay Nicole Chambers, "Little Shop of Horrors" (BTG); Tamara Hickey, "The Merchant of Venice" (Shakespeare & Company); Tod Randolph, "Or," (Shakespeare & Company); Nehassaiu deGennes, "Or," (Shakespeare & Company); Eli Pauley, "Tribes" (BSC); and Hannah Heller, "The Ride Down Mt. Morgan" (Oldcastle)


For me, the most accomplished direction in 2016 was Julianne Boyd's work on "American Son," the most focused, insightful and penetrating work I've seen from her.

There also was strong directorial work (in order of being seen) by Rob Ruggiero ("Relativity" at TheaterWorks and "Kimberly Akimbo" at Barrington Stage; Jo Bonney, "Cost of Living" at Williamstown; Ethan Heard, "Little Shop of Horrors" (BTG); Tim Howard, "Big River" (Oldcastle); Tina Packer, "The Merchant of Venice" (Shakespeare & Company); Eric Tucker, "Cry Havoc!'" (Shakespeare & Company); Gregg Edelman, "Constellations" (BTG); and Kristen van Ginhoven, "The Bakelite Masterpiece" (WAM/BTG)

- In the area of musical direction, John Foley's work on " Big River" at Oldcastle was exceptional. Also noteworthy, Rick Bertone, "Little Shop of Horrors" (BTG) and Matthew Russell for "Forever Plaid" at The Theater Barn.

- Among choreographers, the most accomplished was Joshua Bergasse's sublime, deliciously inspired work for "Pirates of Penzance." Honorable mentions — Parker Esse, "Little Shop of Horrors" (BTG) and Tim Howard for "Big River" at Oldcastle.

Jeffrey Borak is The Eagle's theater critic.