Our performing arts critic's nine favorite shows of the year in chronological order:
Delta Boys: Love and Information (The Carrack Modern Art)—A gifted quintet played a compelling game of human pinball as Caryl Churchill's characters got the news (or didn't) in 65 relationships, ranging from snarky lovers to torturer and victim. It returns next month in an encore production at Manbites Dog Theater.
StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance: Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green (UNC's Swain Hall)—Local playwright Howard L. Craft created a black everyman and sent five iterations of him on a mystery train through 20th-century America. Joseph Megel directed Alphonse Nicholson in a production that impressed New York critics after a five-star run here.
PlayMakers Repertory Company: Trouble in Mind (Paul Green Theatre)—As the country braced for a year of soul-searching unseen since the civil rights movement, PlayMakers Rep publicly indicted the racism in the theatrical community. Kathryn Hunter-Williams gave the voice of conscience to Alice Childress' gripping 1955 drama.
Manbites Dog Theater: The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls (Manbites Dog Theater)—Director Jules Odendahl-James took a cast of strong women through a Cyrillic looking glass in Meg Miroshnik's provocative meditation on heritage, identity and the not-so-innocuous gender narratives encoded in folk and fairy tales.
Triad Stage: Common Enemy (Triad Stage)—In Preston Lane's Ibsen-esque, ripped-from-the-headlines drama, a sociology professor uncovered evidence of corruption in Division I basketball, mounted a campaign to expose it and learned a different set of troubling truths about our culture, and a small college's struggles to stay alive.
Burning Coal Theatre Company: Dark Vanilla Jungle (Murphey School Auditorium)—A winsome young woman matter-of-factly related her experiences of neglect and abuse. As she did, something dark and monstrous slowly blossomed in Caitlin Wells' amazing and harrowing solo performance under Staci Sabarsky's direction.
Paperhand Puppet Intervention: A Drop in the Bucket (Forest Theatre)—One of the strongest shows in Paperhand's 16 years of puppet pageants reminded us of what the I Ching calls the taming power of the small. Adults revisited the vivid worlds of imagination they knew as children, tiny towns raised their political voices, and a chorus of owls asked gentle, insistent questions about our future. Jennifer Curtis' soundscape was a bonus.
PlayMakers Repertory Company: Disgraced (Paul Green Theatre)—In another shining moment of artistic leadership at PlayMakers, Ayad Akhtar's characters wrestled with the darkness and light—and American xenophobia and bigotry—in conflicting takes on contemporary Islam and the experiences of immigrants of Muslim heritage.
PlayMakers Repertory Company: Seminar (Paul Green Theatre)—A wake-up call and commitment check for aspiring artists. Ray Dooley's tour de force performance in this hard-nosed look inside a high-stakes writing seminar confronted its characters and audience with the gantlet artists must run in presenting their work to the public.