The Class Menagerie


Cherry Jones The Syringa Tree
An inspired masterpiece. To watch Pamela Gein become those 25 or so characters, in this piece she also wrote, is a profound experience. It’s so clear and powerful, I think I’ll remember every moment of the play. I hope she doesn’t ever get tired of doing it.

Anne Bogart Mnemonic

I loved it because of the way it handled the presence of the audience and created an alternate kind of dramaturgical storytelling.

Joan MacIntosh Lackawanna Blues

Written and performed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, it was my favorite play. I was profoundly moved by both the story he told, and by his exquisite artistry and breathtaking virtuosity in the telling of it.

Barry Edelstein The Designated Mourner

It was a highlight—smart, articulate, and devastating. Its uncanny, acid view of the ugliness of a Dubya-type, frat-boy culture run amok was brilliantly expressed by Wallace Shawn’s own tour de force performance. And André Gregory’s production in some seedy, abandoned Wall Street clubhouse hit every moment right on the nose.

Mary Testa Twelfth Night or What You Will

I love those guys at Moonwork—Gregory Wolfe and Mason Pettit. They’re fresh and young and have great new ideas. I really enjoyed their take on Twelfth Night, set in a 1940s swing club.

David Auburn Urinetown

The music is fantastic, and halfway through the second act there’s a joke so funny that the audience collectively doubles over weeping. You don’t get this kind of pure pleasure in the theater very often.

Heather Burns Hamlet

Peter Brook’s production was by far one of the best reinventions of Shakespeare that I have seen—nothing new for Peter Brook, but very exciting for the rest of us trying to tell stories in the theater. Adrian Lester gave a deeply vulnerable and riveting performance. It was also nice to see Naseeruddin Shah on the American stage.

W. David Hancock Hamlet

The Amazing Micro-Theatre performed it at a street festival in Brooklyn. I liked the play because it was performed inside a cardboard box model of the Globe Theatre, using only HO-scale railroad figures and scenery. The “acting” was provided by an ancient RSC audio recording of the play. It was a one-day event and I’m sorry more people didn’t get to see it.

Bill Irwin Mnemonic.

A striking and memorable piece. It may have remained unfinished as a play, but the performances and the staging ideas were compelling enough to make it my favorite piece.

Michael John Garcés Middle Finger

Really striking. A lovely production, well directed by Loy Arcenas, really great writing by Han Ong, and a wonderful ensemble cast. A lovely exploration of adolescent male sexuality.

Kristine Nielsen The Butterfly Collection

Theresa Rebeck’s play was so eloquent and angry and very important about the family. It rivaled, for me, the beginnings of something like an O’Neill family play, how damaging the family is in art.

Rinde Eckert Mnemonic

The boldness of the enterprise, of the attempt to reconcile a number of big ideas, I really appreciated that. And that extraordinary chair! The ensemble worked on this for two years, so it’s an example of what we could be doing in the theater if we weren’t the country we are.

Adam Guettel Lobby Hero

I ended up crying afterwards. It was so powerful by the use of such simple, unpretentious tools. Kenneth Lonergan addressed issues of ethical importance that are rarely addressed with that kind of humanity.

Neil Pepe Lobby Hero

I’ve always admired Kenny Lonergan’s writing; it’s been amazing watching him develop as a playwright over the last six years. An extraordinarily beautiful piece, well acted and well directed.

Kathleen Chalfant And God Created Great Whales.
Rinde Eckert’s piece seemed to me to combine all of the best features of the theater and the opera and to be filled with beauty and humor and surprise and art.

Bill Camp Now That Communism Is Dead, My Life Feels Empty.
I loved the violence of it and its humor. That image of the dog in the box, it really stayed with me, oddly. Richard Foreman’s plays are so challenging, I really appreciate that. I think it’s crucial that the audience should be forced to think, forced to try, forced to interpret for themselves.

A.R. Gurney Mnemonic

It had a broad global dimension on one hand, and a deep historical dimension on the other, so those two coordinates gave it a breadth and depth I admired and envied.

Kia Corthron On the Hills of Black America

It was seven short pieces, produced by the imna! theater company, that are twilight songs about the history of black America, in a way. The writing, by Keith Josef Adkins, is exquisite. It’s surreal and grounded; it’s hilarious but there are dark undertones.

Woodie King Jr. Night and Day

Jolie Garrett played Mageeba, an African leader educated in England, who took on the British establishment in Tom Stoppard’s play. His work was just stupendous, awesome. This performer leaped off the stage and grabbed me.

Polly Pen Stranger

It was a dual experience for me, both watching an extreme story and at the same time watching an author [Craig Lucas] explore and extend just how far his story could take him.

Karen Finley Mud in Your Eye

John Fleck’s show was very poignant and intimate in terms of his personal life. And as he was also one of the members of the NEA Four, I found it very moving. It was so satisfying. It made me feel alive.

Sarah East Johnson Circus Oz

They blew me away with their humor, subversiveness, creative variations on traditional circus acts, and stupendous performers. They did a Chinese pole act with a race-car driver theme and a “hair hang” where the performer was hanging by her hair, and hanging from her was a television with a video of her on it.

Martha Clarke Mnemonic

It seemed fresh, unpredictable, very well performed, and it made me think. The company was excellent—an exceptionally physically well-trained group of performers. It’s too bad a piece like this probably couldn’t be created in this country because of the funding situation.

Mia Katigbak Mnemonic

A theater experience about science through art, or art through science, and ultimately about the interconnectedness of history, spirit, archaeology, politics, and emotion. An experience in which the intellect and the senses are engaged, and in a very muscular way.

Mac Wellman Uttar-Priyadarshi

This dance-theater performance was an extraordinary piece of work, extremely elegant, wonderfully performed, and very moving. I am always delighted to encounter kinds of theater that really, really take me to a place at some imaginative remove from the here and now of These States, so often a grotesque, overtheatrical parody of itself.

Lee Breuer Tip-Top Tappers

What do you do when you’re a white woman in your seventies from Sugarland, Texas, and you don’t want to lose it? When you were Miss Universe around mid century, or you’ve had a hip replacement, or you used to sing for Jimmy Dorsey? You join the Tip-Top Tappers, choreograph some sexy geriatric routines, and do a one-night stand at St. Bart’s. The Tip-Top Tappers as theater are the realest of all realism. Life against death.

Jim Simpson Peking Acrobats

Even though the theatrical equivalent of Muzak, Cirque de Soleil, has crept a bit into their mise-en-scène, this troupe still delivers the most hallucinatory, surrealistic, beautiful display of virtuosity and derring-do. When I see their work I feel like I am in heaven.

David Greenspan Kit Marlowe

It was very intelligent and well written. The characters who were the most corrupt had in some ways the best speeches, but the play showed that the more enlightened character was ultimately the most interesting. I appreciated that.

Basil Twist 10

Kevin Augustine’s almost solo puppet show, about a puppeteer-artist-creator, was very simply and elegantly done. I loved the presence of the puppeteers in it.

Rinne Groff References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot.
The acting was fantastic, especially the domestic drama—it was riveting. The interplay of the spiritual world and the nitty-gritty reality was effortless. It was both magical and simple.

Maria Striar Spargel Time

Written and conceived by Sibyl Kempson, this piece was one of the strangest, most surprising things I’ve ever seen. It had this early Brecht feel of a cruddy town in Bavaria where unspeakable things happen. At one point 12 people—mostly men—came out in tutus and did a magical dance. It was weirdly moving.

Moisés Kaufman And God Created Great Whales.
It was terrific. It is rare to find a piece that so unites form and subject matter. A piece that dares to tackle the big questions. It was really stunning.

Hazelle Goodman Lackawanna Blues
I loved so much about it: its simplicity, its honesty, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s brilliant performance. It reminded me of a Zora Neale Hurston story, the rural setting and the real, gritty country life it so warmly depicted. It tells our story—our black American story.

Eric Dyer The Sea and Poison

Goat Island performs ecstatically. Maybe explode? Maybe dissolve? Images seared into memory: Matthew Goulish is still standing in the dark, lovingly nurturing the seedbed on his head.

Related article:

The full roster of Obie winners, for this year and the past.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 22, 2001

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