Let's not fight. You might like only Shakespeare and restoration comedies, and I might take pride in seeing Cats 99 times. As it happens, I'm a theater omnivore, ready to happily consume any drama, comedy, or musical worth making. Of course, that last bit is the tricky part.
Nevertheless, that doesn't make a backward glance at theater around here in 2012 difficult. There's too much money involved for most shaky Broadway-bound shows to not be strangled in their out-of-town tryout cribs, so we never see them. And smaller theaters around here are pretty good about weeding out the less widely seen stinkers. Even the "worth making" criteria can be iffy. Why beat to death a harmless confection like Motherhood: The Musical, a touring show that came to Trinity Rep, as a commercial vehicle with too many lame songs?
So with limited space here, let's stick to the year's theater worth lauding rather than lambasting.
Trinity Repertory Company came through impressively a number of times, perhaps most notably with stunning productions of two Shakespeare plays. In THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, Stephen Berenson kept Shylock simmering with anger but with his motives understandable, so that we were artfully moved when in defeat he had to remove his prayer shawl. Later in the year the theater staged a definitive rendition of KING LEAR, with Brian Mc-Eleney modulating his performance so that the explosive regal never blew away our sympathy for Lear as a tragic figure.
Off-Trinity theaters, as usual, were led by the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre and 2nd Story Theatre. At the Gamm, the imminent end of the world was treated with good-natured spunk as Trinity company member Fred Sullivan, Jr. guided Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's BOOM with a light hand and a ringmaster's precision. In the similarly dystopian adaptation by Nick Land of George Orwell's 1984, Gamm boss Tony Estrella directed an intense Jim O'Brien and Georgia Cohen to less optimistic consequences.
At 2nd Story, the most adventurous play and production was Edward Albee's THE GOAT. The provocative ostensible subject is bestiality, but the real offering was Ed Shea's and Sharon Carpentier's heartbreaking dance of haunted compulsion and enraged loving kindness. For the sweet relief of Samuel A. Taylor's SABRINA FAIR, Shea directed a winsome Gabby Sherba as the film adaptation's Audrey Hepburn character and Alex Duckworth as Bogart's inevitably charmed older man, in a romantic disruption of class roles.
As for dramas and antics Way-Off-Trinity, several companies came up with further stage highlights of the year. The masterpiece of the season was the Wilbury Group's transfixing take on Duncan Macmillan's LUNGS, with Steve Kidd directing the subtle ebb and flow, as Rachel Dulude and Jed Hancock-Brainerd skillfully play a young couple deciding whether to bring a child into this worrisome world.
Bob Colonna's Rhode Island Shakespeare Theater mounted a couple of ad hoc productions, the most successful of which was the Bard's lighthearted AS YOU LIKE IT. Kristina Drager had a good time along with us as her Rosalind, in male disguise, makes mischievous fun of Patrick Cullen's Orlando sighful suffering over his absent love (Rosalind).