2009: The year in theater

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  December 21, 2009

• Smells like teen fusion
Even to us Rent skeptics, the Tony-winning SPRING AWAKENING's visit to the Colonial Theatre proved there could be such a contradictory thing as a rock musical. Built on German writer Frank Wedekind's then-shocking 1891 infiltration of the wonder years by onanism, sado-masochism, abortion, and adult repression, this vibrant collision of surging teen sexuality contemporary and quaint uses a now-furious, now-folky alt-rock score by singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik to give voice to its young characters' raging inner thoughts and feelings. Bill T. Jones's choreography — heightened movement based on dreamy self-caresses and bursts of geometric frenzy — added to the urgency.

• Revival tent
Huntington Theatre Company artistic director Peter DuBois is known for his collaborative work on new plays. But one of the Huntington's two 2009 highlights was THE CORN IS GREEN, a warm-hearted revival of Welsh writer Emlyn Williams's 1938 encomium to the teacher who pushed him up and away from the coal mines that was directed by former honcho Nicholas Martin and featured an aptly tart performance by Kate Burton. And the other was Kenny Leon's exhilarating staging of August Wilson's first Pulitzer winner, the 1985 FENCES. In the best of Wilson's 10 plays chronicling the African-American experience of the 20th century, the kitchen sink is limned by a halo of the supernatural, and this 1950s-set tale of a galvanic garbage man is no exception. Leon's production, lush with Wilson's trademark cadences born of the blues, looked and sounded exactly right.

• SpeakEasy pickings
Whether setting us squirming with the new or going to the goofily tender heart of the familiar, SpeakEasy Stage Company continued on a roll. Marianna Bassham and Bates Wilder electrically acted David R. Gammons's bristling rendition of David Harrower's Olivier Award–winning BLACKBIRD, which is about the aftermath of an affair between a 40-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl. Bassham was also the giddy center of Scott Edmiston's precisely calibrated, very Christmasy revival of Craig Lucas's 1988 fable of holiday festivity and arbitrary mayhem, RECKLESS.

• Diamond solitaires
The year offered an embarrassment of lone-star riches: Nancy E. Carroll's elegantly contained delivery of Joan Didion's concise, almost unbearable chronicle of grief THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, for the Lyric Stage Company; Elizabeth Aspenlieder's caffeinated turn in Theresa Rebeck's BAD DATES at Merrimack Repertory Theatre; and John Kuntz's raw performance at Boston Playwrights' Theatre of his own THE SALT GIRL. You couldn't take your eyes off Kuntz's obsessive-compulsive loner — and that was before he put on the panda suit.

• High-school musical
Chris Conner, Alex Wyse, and Rachael Hunt made up the young, terrific cast of the Lyric Stage's area premiere of Stephen Karam's hilarious SPEECH & DEBATE, which is about three high-school misfits conjoined by the nerdy activity of the title. When a jiving Mary Warren from The Crucible shanghais a young, gay Abraham Lincoln into a musical number blessed by the National Forensics League, well, it doesn't get much better than that.

• Clashes of the titans
Whether your choice was vitriol or champagne, who could resist the battle of the sexes between Herculean Shakespeare & Company artistic director Tina Packer and incisive Nigel Gore in Edward Albee's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, which Diego Arciniegas directed for the Publick Theatre? Or the slyer, less coruscating skirmish between Paula Plum's Lady Disdain and Richard Snee's debonair stand-up of a Benedick in Benjamin Evett's post-war party of a MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING for Actors' Shakespeare Project?

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