FREEDOM FIGHTER Estrella (top) in Rock 'n' Roll.
We laugh, we cry, we stifle annoyance and look at our watches. Theater performances vary widely in what they attempt and how well they accomplish it. This year has run the usual gamut, from George and Martha in marital mayhem to a sweet transvestite from Transylvania in net stockings.
The Broadway road shows that come through the Providence Performing Arts Center are in a class by themselves. Wicked was visually bewitching, South Pacific was equally hypnotic with the entrancing baritone of David Pittsinger, and Jersey Boys was musical wizardry, giving Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons back their youth. But putting on a show in a black box instead of magnifying it with a six-figure set can be a plus: audiences pay closer attention. We can then appreciate the subtleties of local performance artists like Phil Goldman and Kevin Broccoli. Here's a look at some, but by no means all, of the best of 2010 in no particular order.
BEST EXCUSE FOR UNABASHED NARCISSISM
Goldman created the monthly late-night Live Bait events at Perishable Theatre, inspired by The Moth in New York, where volunteers step up to relate true experiences. Goldman's I SHOULDN'T BE TELLING YOU THIS..., at the Warwick Museum of Art, was a deliciously funny stack of slices from a far-ranging life, from being a morbidly obese 22-year-old virgin to being chased by an elephant in Thailand.
BEST VARIATIONS ON EXISTENTIAL MAYBES
Broccoli is the hyper-imaginative author and presenter of such monologues as YOU MIGHT NOT BE CRAZY, which examined the question of sanity in an insane world; YOU MIGHT BE GOD, which threatened to multiply religions like rabbits; and THAT MIGHT NOT BE SEX: AN EXAMINATION OF POTENTIAL FORNICATION. At the Artists' Exchange, the latter recruited 82 local actors over three weekends to look at every kind of love, from the lubricious to the lighthearted.
BEST DRAMATIC GLIMPSE INTO ANOTHER CULTURE
Pamela Gien's THE SYRINGA TREE, at Trinity Repertory Company, was an absorbing snapshot of apartheid in 1963 Johannesburg, at its seemingly indissoluble height. Directed by Laura Kepley, four female actors — Anne Scurria, Barbara Meek, Rachael Warren, and Tiffany Nichole Greene — portrayed 28 characters. The simplest of actions, such as a six-year-old without papers playing in view of neighbors, was fraught with consequence.
BEST ACTING IN A SHOW THAT COULD HAVE COASTED ON GLITZ
LIFE-AY Platt in Hedwig.
Alexander Platt was phenomenal at Perishable in HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, the rock band-backed 90-minute monologue by John Cameron Mitchell, with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask. Under a towering blond wig and wearing a make-up counter's worth of color and glitter, Platt was not just intense belting out the dozen angry songs, he was intensely moving.
BEST ENSEMBLE IN A ROCKIN' HORROR SHOW
Speaking of transvestites, one was out of this world in the URI Theatre production of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. Andrew Bernap played Frank 'n' Furter, the net-stockinged master of the castle, with unflagging command as simultaneously mischievous and sinister. As seductive minions Magenta and Columbia, Shannon Hartman and Betsy Rinaldi beautifully competed for our attention, as did Johnny Sederquist as hollow-eyed majordomo Riff Raff.