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Acting out

The top theatrical production of 2013 doesn’t favor glitz or pomp, but substance.

Larry Laneer December 23rd, 2013

A theater company that was founded to stage musicals produced the best play in 2013, and a theater company that focuses on plays gave us the best musical. Go figure.

The best play of the year was Lyric Theatre’s The Glass Menagerie. Smartly directed by Michael Baron, the production kept a faithfulness to the script that gave theatergoers an idea of how the play must have looked and sounded in 1945.

Dawn Drake’s set design and John Fowler’s lighting balanced the real and surreal in this “memory play,” and Baron employed Paul Bowles’ original score. Feel free to join the legions at Civic Center Music Hall for Lyric’s summer seasons of glitzy musicals if you want to, but the company does its best, most provocative work at the Plaza Theatre.

As the year’s best musical, Reduxion Theatre Company’s Cabaret could barely (no pun intended) be contained in the cozy Broadway Theater, made up to look like The Kit Kat Klub, featuring the scantily clad Kit Kat Girls and Boys. The director/choreographer Michael Sipress brought fresh ideas to the staging of this classic musical.

As Sally Bowles, Rachael L. Barry rendered the title song with a bitter irony that bitingly reflected the degeneration and turmoil in Nazi Germany. And thank Thespis (or Sipress) we had another chance to see the excellent Elin Bhaird as Fräulein Schneider. Kaleb M. Bruza was outstanding as the Emcee.

Pollard Theatre Company has loaded its recent seasons with musicals and presented two this year that closely rivaled Cabaret. The company revived its Passing Strange from 2011, and if anything, the show looked better on second viewing.

Avenue Q
isn’t a great musical, but you’d be hard-pressed find a show that’s more fun. Featuring an outstanding cast of actor-singer-puppeteers, the show was a hoot on the Pollard stage.

Those of us who’ve been waiting to see Hal Kohlman play King Lear finally got the chance in Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park’s production of the Bard’s great tragedy. Kathryn McGill staged the play with a refreshing, mostly effective efficiency and minimal props.

OSP also presented a fine staged reading of Everyman, that hit from the Middle Ages, in St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. The company regularly presents minimally staged productions or readings of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works or other classical plays. The runs are usually short but are much appreciated by theatergoers.

Reduxion gets an honorable mention for the year’s single best line of dialog in Clare Boothe Luce’s 1936 The Women. Discussing sleeping alone after divorce, a character says, “It’s marvelous to be able to sprawl out in bed like a swastika.”

Some excellent work was done by our collegiate drama departments, which take risks the professional and semi-pro theater companies avoid. Oklahoma City University’s production of Kurt Weill’s 1947 opera Street Scene featured fine voices, and the University of Oklahoma’s On the Town tore up the stage with great dancing. Both productions boasted excellent orchestras.

Notice anything about all of the above? Except for Passing Strange and Avenue Q, both from the first decade of this century, the newest show is from the 1960s (technically, Cabaret was the 1998 revision, but still).

The ultimate risk for theater companies is producing new shows, and we don’t get much around here. An exception is some of the work done at a place called The Boom on Northwest 39th Street.

I saw four new plays there this year, more than all other theater companies and venues in the city combined: Rebecca McCauley and Rodney Brazil’s Clipped!, McCauley’s droll Penetration: The Game Show, A Tribute to Grease 2 by Brett Young, and Alcoholidays by Ted Satterfield and Melanie Wilderman. The quality of plays at The Boom is wildly uneven and the standards to judge them are iffy, but the productions have a scrappiness that more corporate theater companies lack. Adventurous theatergoers will want to keep up with what’s happening here.

The Boom is a nightclub, so a plate of nachos may land next to you just as a show begins. But that’s not so bad — people have offered to share.

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