Sherry Cohen's Picks for The Best of 2012
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by Sherry Shameer Cohen
It's always hard for me to come up with the best of anything in entertainment. With my backstage theatre background, I'm obsessed with detail, and I can't simply sit back and enjoy any show. As a writer, I'm obsessed with the words, the sentence, the grammar, etc., and I can never read strictly for pleasure. In the pressure cooker of coming up with the best picks for 2012, I have a mixed pot.
Best New Play: Harbor by Chad Beguelin. When I interviewed Beguelin about his play, I thought he was extremely well-bred. He is polite, pleasant and modest. His play is about a gay couple who have to decide whether or not to have a child. One partner's trashy sister turns the screws on the issue when she arrives unexpectedly with one illegitimate daughter and another on the way. She has already chosen the child's parents - guess who? The play has the surprise ending, with no one, except possibly the older daughter, satisfied. But, relationships are often complicated, and the cast of this premiere at the Westport Country Playhouse captured all the subtleties of the characters with credibility.
Best Performance: Maureen Anderman in The Year of Magical Thinking. This was a hard play to see, especially for this hospital-, doctor- and disease-phobe. (I was serious when I asked my obstetrician to let me have a drive-through C-section. I would rest better in a Percocet haze at home.) As everyone knows, Joan Didion went through the unthinkable tragedy of losing both her husband and daughter in about one year's time. Didion is waif-like. Anderman is lionesque in appearance and in her performance, dominating the sizeable stage at the Westport Country Playhouse. But that kind of strength is a prerequisite to surviving the grueling process of dealing with doctors who cannot understand, let alone treat, her daughter's mysterious and ultimately fatal disease, and then having the strength to write a compelling book and play about it.
Best Children's Musical: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. Curtain Call produced this show before, but this year's exceptional cast and direction and musical staging by Debra Lee Failla made it definitive for a community theatre group. I saw Failla's production before at Curtain Call and thought it was great fun, but this year all the elements were in the right places, down to the more manageable number of children at the foot of the stage. Standout performances were by Michael Okulski as Joseph, Matt Victory as Pharaoh, George Alberts as Jacob and Potiphar, and Laura Blackwell and Claire Kenny alternating as the Narrator. Oh, and my very energetic five-year-old son, who usually can't sit still through a snack, was thoroughly engaged in the show.
Noble Attempt to Adapt a Play: The Killing of Sister George. OK, so no one liked it, even though they were excited that Kathleen Turner would star and direct the play. Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Frank Marcus's controversial 1964 play should have had some serious updating. A radio soap opera when people are glued to Downton Abbey on PBS? And where are the emotional depths that Turner promised? News of a popular performer's sexual orientation does not a career destroy. Long before JoAnna Johnson revealed that, like her character on The Bold and The Beautiful, she is gay, Anne Heche went public with her relationship with Ellen Degeneres, and Cynthia Nixon announced that she is bisexual and in a relationship with Christine Marinoni. Johnson will return to The Bold and the Beautiful in January after concentrating on a successful career as a TV and movie writer and producer. Heche and Nixon are still employable. Maybe Johnson, Nixon and Heche can take a crack at Sister George? It's a play worth revisiting.
Most Interesting Shakespeare in A Park: The Merchant of Venice. Interesting means that it's different. Curtain Call's Shakespeare on the Green is arguably has of the best settings possible. The vast compound that includes a golf course and two restaurants is home each summer to an Elizabethan style-stage that resembles part of The Globe. Usually, the performers wear period clothing, but for The Merchant of Venice, they wore modern attire and carried smartphones. This might have worked more effectively with a different play, but it was the constant references to Shylock "the Jew" that seemed anachronistic. Yes, people talked that way back then, but these days we're supposed to be politically correct.
Best Movie Based On a Play or Show: Les Miserables. Usually I find myself disappointed after seeing a movie if I liked the play. (Proof comes to mind, even with a formidable cast.) I knew the movie would be even more powerful than the staged production. After all, it's hard to replicate on stage Jean Valjean's carrying Marius through the sewers of Paris. It could be suggested with a film running in the background as if it were a newsreel, but neither of the productions I saw had anything like that. And creating the barricade in the film was more effective as citizens of Paris threw furniture out the windows. Although film critics took a few swipes at the movie, especially at Russell Crowe's singing, I thought the movie was stirring and relevant, because of the seemingly unending Great Recession and the failure of the Occupy Anywhere movement. I was blown away by Hugh Jackson as Jean and Aaron Tveit as Enjolras. No surprise there. Jackman has more than proven himself as a Broadway performer and Tveit was fabulous in Catch Me If You Can and Next to Normal. Jackson subtly and credibly portrayed the tormented but decent hero and Tveit's charisma overshadowed Eddie Redmayne. (What were Cosette and Eponine thinking?)
I know what I'm thinking. There are people who never saw live theatre and they waited all these years to see Les Miz. Maybe this movie will inspire them to make more of an effort to travel, if they must, to see a touring show, or better still, make it to New York or London, or even Connecticut.