THE DELTA BOYS: ORLANDO (Manbites Dog Theater, Jan. 12–28) This smart, stylish take on Virginia Woolf's novella was exceptional in all aspects, including Elsa Hoffman's intricate metal set silhouettes, Joseph Amodei's lighting, and Kim Black's costume design. Even more remarkable, superlative actors Skylar Gudasz, Rajeev Rajendran, Caitlin Wells, Dale Wolf, and Emmett (then Emily) Anderson in the title role, shared directing duties while confidently escorting us through Sarah Ruhl's daunting stage adaptation, across a half-millennium of developments in gender roles, all in eighty thrilling minutes.
MANBITES DOG THEATER: BRIGHT HALF LIFE (Manbites Dog Theater, Feb. 16–Mar. 4) What Duncan Macmillan's Lungs did last season for a heterosexual millennial pair, Tanya Barfield's affecting domestic drama does for an interracial lesbian couple, tracing the consequences of decisions small and large as the shock waves resonate throughout their relationship. Under Jules Odendahl-James's direction, Tamara Kissane made striking new discoveries as an actor; by the time we really started worrying about the two, we already knew newcomer JoRose's chemistry with her was legit.
BURNING COAL THEATER COMPANY: THE ROYALE (Murphey School Auditorium, Apr. 6–23) We could all but smell the sweat when set designer Trevor Carrier took us ringside to a boxing parlor more than a century ago, as Jay "The Sport" Jackson (Preston Campbell) crossed the border between calisthenics and jazz, pounding out the polyrhythms with his sparring partner, "Fresh Fish" Hawkins (Sheldon Mba). Playwright Marco Ramirez zeroed in on the psychological inside game as both prepped for a historic first interracial prizefight for the heavyweight crown.
BARTLETT THEATER: THE SEAGULL (5612 Cabe Ford Road, May 20–29) Stanislavski be damned; Anton Chekhov insisted he was writing comedies. Though it took more than a century for British playwright Anya Reiss to take him up on the proposition, her sparkling 2012 adaptation ably proved his point—well, until the third act at least. Under Jonathan Bohun Brady's direction, one of the year's strongest ensembles took us across the grounds of a historic country house for a springtime foray into the tragicomic self-centeredness of artists and other selected jerks.
NCSU THEATREFEST: FULL GALLOP (Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre, Jun. 9–24) The role of maverick mid-century tastemaker Diana Vreeland seemed as tailored for seasoned stage veteran Lynda Clark as director and costume designer John McIlwee's slinky top-and-trousers couture. Equal parts solo show and acting master class, Clark's performance conveyed the caged and cagey energies of a fashion genius at bay—uncertain of her next move after being unexpectedly fired from the top spot at Vogue—with precision and panache.
BURNING COAL THEATRE COMPANY: THE GREEKS (CAM Raleigh, Jun. 9–25) Ian Finley and Alex Tobey's austere, streamlined, hauntingly contemporary adaptations of Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone reminded us that, because humanity is still grappling with autocracy, hubris, and unmerited exile after 2,500 years, the classics truly never go out of style. Jess Jones and Jonathan Able's uncanny Chorus led us downward through the galleries of CAM Raleigh as tragedy unfolded in striking performances by Sean Wellington, Freyja Sindemark, George Jack, Mark Filiaci, and Ellie Barone.
- Photo by Alexa Blazevich
THEATRE RALEIGH: LOMBARDI (Kennedy Theatre, Jul. 19–30) Coach Vince Lombardi was a nexus of contradictions: a gridiron micromanager whose famous power sweep play gave his players unprecedented autonomy on the field and a deeply principled autocrat who loved—and verbally and physically abused—his players and his family. Under Charlie Brady's sterling direction, David Henderson's latest career-defining role got at the soul of a man isolated from those around him by a merciless drive for perfection.
STREETSIGNS CENTER FOR LITERATURE AND PERFORMANCE: CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR (UNC's Swain Hall, Sep. 14–Oct. 1) When actor Trevor Johnson's Iraqi veteran sought to dial down his PTSD through a new virtual reality therapy, there was more than one ghost in the machine that Elisabeth Lewis Corley's doctor used to treat him. Smita Misra was compelling as a young Fallujah woman who somehow haunted the digital scenarios until a simulation of war ultimately became something else entirely. Jared Mezzocchi and Christopher Baine's noteworthy tech supported Joseph Megel's nuanced direction.
MANBITES DOG THEATER: LIFE SUCKS. (Manbites Dog Theater, Oct. 26–Nov.11) What are we going to miss when Manbites Dog Theater closes next year? Everything here: strong individual performances from an all-star cast including Rhetta Greene, Jock Brocki, Jessica Flemming, and Thaddaeus Edwards; an unshakable sense of place, world, and, above all, ensemble, under artistic director Jeff Storer; and a puckish, insightful, and contemporary script that fundamentally upgrades the Chekhov classic it's based on. Geez, life is gonna suck when Manbites Dog is gone.
RALEIGH LITTLE THEATRE: PERFECT ARRANGEMENT (Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, Oct. 27–Nov. 12) The chemistry between Paul S. James, Benoit Sabourin, Amelia Sciandra, and a career-best Lauren Knott formed the heart of this production as two couples—one gay, the other lesbian—who thought they'd created an impermeable shelter at the height of the McCarthy era's "Lavender Scare." But as Topher Payne's script tilts from domestic satire to desperate self-preservation, audiences got a good look at the terrors proponents of N.C.'s benighted "bathroom bill" were trying to reintroduce.