Theater is a series of transitions leading to arresting moments. In the best shows, those moments encapsulate everything that is right about the production. Of the hundred or so shows I saw in 2014, 10 stayed with me long after the curtain had come down.
1. Francis Henshell emerges victorious in ‘One Man Two Guvnors’
Rivertown’s rip-roaring presentation of Richard Bean’s commedia inspired play had it all: laughs, romance and a skiffle band. But most importantly, it featured the best performance of the year from Chris Marroy as valet-on-the-make Francis Henshell. I could’ve picked at least a dozen sidesplitting instances from director Ricky Graham’s crackerjack lunacy to sum up the event, but watching Marroy sustain an extended brawl with himself as his only opponent made a sometimes frustrating theatrical year completely worthwhile.
2. Below the decks and into the imagination of ‘Peter and The Starcatcher’
A little girl descends into the belly of a ship that is her passage for a long voyage and soars into a world of theatrical magic. Using only spotlights and a small ensemble, director Beau Bratcher guided Ashley Ricord Santos as Molly, the future mother of Wendy, John and Michael, through a maze of scurvy sailors, lost boys and ill-mannered mates. Along with a number of inspired staff hires, this show gave one hope that Le Petit was finally on the right track.
3. Feste says goodbye in ‘Twelfth Night’
A perfect grace note in a deliriously festive evening. Popping open an umbrella and ascending the staircase of NOMA’s Great Hall, Jake Bartush’s clown Feste charmed by singing the final moment of The NOLA Project’s sparkling, rousing, and heartfelt version of perhaps The Bard’s greatest comedy. Directed with gusto by A.J. Allegra, the show was a resounding statement from the company, in its 10th year, of their commitment to Shakespeare.
4. Penelope Easter unbound in ‘The Totalitarians’
It appeared Southern Rep was simply presenting a run-of-the-mill political comedy … until actress Judith Hawking entered. As wingnut candidate Penelope Easter, Hawking’s performance is best described as the Tourette-afflicted love child of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman, and provided audiences with the best entrance of the year. Rounded out by sharply realized work from Jessica Podewell, Leon Contavesprie and Ben Carbo, director Kenneth Prestininzi’s production of playwright’s Peter Nachtrieb’s latest work was one of the few laugh-out-loud events also ringing with dark truth.
5. The blink of an eye in ‘Numb’
Todd D’Amour as a troubled dentist leans back into a chair to experiment with anesthesia, and a split second later, he thinks he has failed. Only then does he discover he’s been out for a while, having had a tooth extracted. Even with all of director Chris Kaminstein’s brilliant technical acumen, it was that simple moment in Goat in the Road’s history of anesthesiology that reminded the viewer the best theater needs only a suggestive pause.
6. Three jerks on a jaunt through ‘Adventures in Wonderland’
There wasn’t enough time or eyes to enjoy everything Andrew Larimer unleashed into The New Orleans Museum of Art’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden for Peter McElligott’s faithfully irreverent adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. But watching actors Alex Wallace, Keith Claverie and Becca Chapman try to slow walk their way out of danger during The Mad Tea Party brought tears of laughter to all who spied it.
7. He was my boyfriend! In ‘Young Frankenstein’
Milking (or is it “Ovaltining”?) a comic number for all it was worth, Tracy Collins, as the frustrated former lover of Dr. Frankenstein, was practically spitting splinters by the end of her solo in what was Gary Rucker’s grand Rivertown production of a so-so script. Frau Blucher!
8. Hector steps out to make peace ‘An Ilia’
Denis O’Hare’s thunderclap of a one-man show about The Trojan War staggered all who saw its limited run. Part of The CAC’s daring performance lineup, it shattered its narrative with O’Hare, as the poet Homer, breaking the action in mid-battle to imagine a world where draped coffins could be the exception and not the norm. You could feel the devastation.
9. A cooing exit from ‘An Outopia for Pigeons’
As the world’s sole remaining carrier pigeon Martha Washington, actress Rebecca Elizabeth Hollingsworth brought playwright Justin Maxwell’s flutter of words into flight at The Shadowbox Theater. With director Bonnie Gabel guiding her through the final pass, Hollingsworth managed to make her seemingly nonsensical language wistful, sad and ultimately uplifting.
10. The French Maid makes a killing in ‘Clue: A Mystery Burlesque’
Many burlesque acts are funny, more are sexy. Few are both. Producer Gogo McGregor’s role as the maid Frenchy from Paris, Texas, and her host Dr. Sick’s board-game-inspired-variety-show never failed to steal the evening at The Allways. Combining comic ditz with slyly risqué movements, she brought the audience to laughter and then rapt silence.
Jim Fitzmorris writes about theater. He can be reached at email@example.com.