Season's Treatings

New York Theater Folks Gaze Back at the Off-Broadway Year

 Carl Hancock Rux, playwright-performer

"Topdog/Underdog was an incredibly personal and profound experience for me. I'm obsessed with notions of bloodlines and mythology. Because I grew up in foster care and wasn't adopted until I was 15, there was always a sense of myth about who my father was, who my mother was. Suzan-Lori Parks's play looks at our relationship to the country we live in and our blood relationships at the same time. She creates her own polyglot vernacular in such a brilliant way. And that language has to be handled very carefully, has to be nurtured by the performer. That's what Jeffrey Wright did. He was not only bringing us a character, he was a musician performing a composition of language.

"Lipstick Traces was phenomenal. The book [by Greil Marcus, on which the play is based] is so far-reaching, making this direct line from Dadaists to punk rock, and it fails and succeeds in attempting to resolve this thesis. I think the play did the same, and that's the point. A theater of ideas can't have a real resolution—it has to be imperfect, as imperfect as what we have left of Socrates, of Jesus. It's incredibly imperfect, fallible, but it's ripe with deliciousness, it's ripe with danger, it's sexy. That's what the play was, so perfectly flawed, so beautifully done. "

Wurst (Take It and Eat It!) (I Mean . . . Take It and Keep It): Siegfried goes to heaven.
photo: Hiroyuki Ito
Wurst (Take It and Eat It!) (I Mean . . . Take It and Keep It): Siegfried goes to heaven.

Jonathan Kalb, theater scholar and critic

"The first act of Homebody/Kabul was a masterpiece. And what about Linda Emond? That was one of the most specific and interestingly invested performances I saw all year. She, as much as Tony Kushner, made that a marvelous experience. It was worth the rest of the four hours to see it. Kushner didn't solve the problem of his slash mark between the Homebody and the Kabul, what one had to do with the other, but the Homebody was a play in itself and a very substantial one. I loved it.

"I just detested First Love at New York Theater Workshop. But then I went to see Big Love and True Love and started gaining respect for what Charles Mee was doing. I loved the production, by Daniel Fish, of True Love. It was not the strongest Phaedra adaptation I'd seen, though it did have its own power. And Big Love, I really enjoyed the whole production, the fun that was brought to it. We have a terrible problem trying to figure out what tragedy has to do with us. A playwright who figures out a way it can touch us has my attention."

Amy Huggans, actor

"Maggie Hoffman is an amazing performer. I couldn't keep my eyes off her in anything she did last year: Zero Mark Zero, Wurst, Bender. I could watch that woman clean her toenails. Zero Mark Zero, which Joe Silovsky created and produced, was this wacky and crazy show. Joe made a submarine/boxing ring thing that was startling and fun and silly. I love it when artists are willing to make a big, bold mess—knowing that some things are going to work and some things are going to totally fall on their face.

"Rinne Groff in Highway to Tomorrow was amazing—with those plastic eyeballs over her eyes. She was playing Agave, and watching her slowly realize that this mountain lion she thought she'd devoured, which was represented by that big picnic cooler, watching her realize it was in fact her son—she was the best Agave ever. Truly tragic and hysterical at the same time."

Jessica Hagedorn, playwright

"I loved Christopher Donahue's performance in Monster. It was poignant and scary. He's one of those actors who finally got a role he deserved. Frankenstein's monster has been done by many people, but what Christopher did was really make us care about him. I believed his pain: It was tragic and human, not cartoonish but monstrous.

"I really enjoyed Talk, though it was too long. The actors were just marvelous, very intelligent. I think they handled complicated material very well, that dense verbiage. The media was beautiful, especially the video. And Carl Hancock Rux's emergence as a playwright is really exciting."

Bob McGrath, director

"Witch Mountain/Black Tarantula by Collapsable Giraffe—there's just a new voice there. There's something illegal about it. It's sloppy and sophisticated at the same time. It was a cool mess, it was great. It was about pirates and treasure maps and death. And I like how drunken the whole thing was.

"The Wooster Group, they're just in a league of their own. The way all of To You, the Birdie! works together, the visuals with the sound. The sound was maybe the strongest element of it—I want to go again and just close my eyes. I liked how well it told the Phaedra story and how scatological it was at the same time. I saw the same [Paul Schmidt] translation at ART, a much more traditional production, but I felt the Wooster Group with all their bells and whistles actually told the Racine story more clearly. It was great seeing these older women lust after these young beautiful boys, too."

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