THEATER: Best productions and the worst


Forgive the cliché, but It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times on the region's stages in 2012.

The year was more eventful offstage than on. In Pittsfield, Nikki Wilson folded her NEW Stage theater company and performing space in the Beacon Cinema building. In Cohoes, N.Y., C-R Productions at Cohoes Music Hall came within a hair's breadth of folding, just as it was about to begin its 10th season. Oldcastle Theatre Company, unceremoniously booted out of its home at Bennington Center for the Arts 16 months ago, moved into a place of its own in downtown Bennington, Vt. where, beginning in March, a seven-month season of plays will anchor a variety of community events. In Hartford, Conn., funky TheaterWorks resolved its search for a replacement for founding artistic director Steve Campo by naming his associate, Rob Ruggiero, as producing artistic director.

I'll have more to say about theater in our region in a week or so. For now, my personal choices for the year's best -- and not so best -- productions.

Actors, directors, designers on Monday.

The year's best

1. "A Chorus Line" (Berkshire Theatre Group)

This choice is a no-brainer. A richly illuminating, robustly entertaining, utterly impeccable production; complete and full in every way. Let me put it this way. I saw it twice -- once to review, once on my own -- and had I the time I would have seen it yet again.

2. "Parasite Drag" (Shakespeare & Company)

A riveting, galvanic production of a play about family dysfunction performed to the hilt by a first-rate ensemble.

3. "Tryst" (TheaterWorks)

A compelling, haunting play about a ruthlessly amoral con man who separates lonely, vulnerable women from their savings, and a seamstress who changes the rules. This play plays by its own rules as well. Taut, tight, superbly acted and directed.

4. "Tomorrow in the Battle" (StageWorks/Hudson)

Betrayal also is at the heart of this slyly crafted play, built on interlocking monologues, about the tangled relationship among an unfaithful husband, his whistle-blower wife and his mistress. The wages of moral equivalence are high The rewards of theater were even higher.

5. "Far From Heaven" (Williamstown Theatre Festival)

A work-in-development headed for a world premiere in New York in the spring but a compelling show nonetheless. Tightly directed, insightfully acted, warts and all, this was one of the year's most compelling evenings in theater.

7. "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" (Hartford Stage)

Smart (is it ever), clever, stylishly mounted and acted musical drawn from the novel that also was the source for the deliciously wicked 1948 British film comedy, "Kind Hearts and Coronets."

7. "Cassandra Speaks" (Shakespeare & Company)

Tod Randolph showed, yet again, her uncommon intelligence and insight with her protrayal of Dorothy Thompson in this well-written new one-actress play.

8. "Edith" (Berkshire Theatre Group)

This new plays draws on history to deliver a wonderfully theatrical, intellectually stimulating evening of theater, particularly in this masterly production.

9. "Pride @ Prejudice" (Capital Repertory Theatre/ Chester Theatre Company)

From Chester Theatre Company's stellar 2011 season comes a tweaking of this inventive take on Jane Austen's classic set within a context of tweets, texts, emails and iPhones.

10. "Dr. Ruth, All the Way" (Barrington Stage Company) /"All My Sons" (Barrington Stage Company)

Debra Jo Rupp delivered as Dr. Ruth Westheimer in Mark St. Germain's entertaining new one-character play; and Arthur Miller's classic was treated with clarity in a skillfully mounted production.

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Honorable mentions (in order of being seen): "The Pirates of Penzance" (C-R Productions); "Zara Spook and Other Lures" (Mixed Company); "Tale of the Allergist's Wife" (Shakespeare & Company); "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" (Williamstown Theatre Festival); "A Class Act" (Berkshire Theatre Group); "The Great American Trailer Park Musical" (The Theater Barn); "In the Heights" (C-R Productions); "The Rivalry" (StageWorks/ Hudson).



Even in only a developmental stage, "Far From Heaven" (WTF). Book by Richard Greenberg. Music by Scott Frankel. Lyrics by Michael Korie.

The year's worst

1. "The 39 Steps" (The Theater Barn)

Way, way over the top; completely misguided.

2. "The Betrothed" (Chester Theater Company)

This exercise in imaginative realism was more muddle than either imagination or reality.

3. "Five Course Love" (The Theater Barn)

Not even fodder for Food Network's "Worst Cooks in America."

4. "Doubt" (Berkshire Actors Theatre)

Having struck gold in 2011 with John Patrick Shanley's "Four Dogs and a Bone," this new Berkshires theater company returned to the mother lode. This time they struck dross.

5. "The Swan" (Chester Theatre Company)

Resourceful acting -- at least in the beginning -- also wasn't enough to sustain this pretentious fable about love and territorial imperatives on the Nebraska plains.

6. "King Lear" (Shakespeare & Company)

Undone by a concept that made no sense and performances that never meshed with one another.

7. "A Month in the Country" (Williamstown Theatre Festival)

Richard Nelson's new translation and overconceived production drained the life out of Turgenev's classic. This felt more like a century in the country

8. "The Importance of Being Earnest" (Williamstown Theatre Festival)

David Hyde-Pierce's gangster-Yanks-in-England treatment of Oscar Wilde's perfect gem proved far more successful in the director's mind than on stage.

9. "You Can't Take It With You" (Hubbard Hall Theater Company)

They didn't.

10. "The Learned Ladies" (Shakespeare & Company)

Molière's style proved too elusive for this cast.

Dishonorable mentions (in order of being seen): "Bell, Book and Candle" (Hartford Stage); "Amadeus" (Hubbard Hall Theater Company); "Lungs" (Barrington Stage Company); "A Thousand Clowns" (Berkshire Theatre Group); "The North Pool" (Barrington Stage Company); "The Old Mezzo" (WAM Theatre)


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