Clinton Campbell's Top Ten for Boston Theater 2017

by Clinton Campbell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday December 15, 2017

It's been a rough year and if you're like me, you are ready to bury 2017 in the backyard and forget it existed.

However, even with the challenges that this year presented, there are always moments of beauty that we cling to. They remind us that all is not lost.

For Boston's theater community, here are some of them:

10. "The Weird" - possibly the most quirky and adventurous play this year was produced by Off The Grid Theater Company. Four new works by Boston playwrights Kirsten Greenidge, Obehi Janice, Lila Rose Kaplan, and John Kuntz looked at the ways in which women can find their power.

9. "The Color Purple" - while the score is nothing special, this touring production of John Doyle's beautifully simplified Broadway staging was led by three spectacular actors -- Adrianna Hicks as Celie, Carla R. Stewart as Shug Avery, and Carrie Compere as Sofia -- making a memorable evening of theater.

"Bridges of Madison County" (photo: SpeakEasy Stage Company)

8. "Bridges of Madison County" - Speakeasy Stage's elegantly minimalistic production was all about Jason Robert Brown's gorgeous score impeccable performed by Jennifer Ellis and Christiaan Smith as the ill-fated lovers.

7. "Beauty Queen of Leenane" - Druid Theatre Company's 20th anniversary production performed at ArtsEmerson reunited Tony winning director Garry Hynes with Best Actress winner Marie Mullen, who this time took on the role of the despotic mother. It was an evening of fireworks.

"A Guide for the Homesick" (photo: Huntington Theatre Company)

6. "A Guide for the Homesick" - this new work by Huntington Theatre's Playwriting Fellow Ken Urban and directed by Colman Domingo, was an unexpected delight. What began as a romantic comedy soon took on a depth and power that left you shattered.

5. "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" - a low-tech production by Speakeasy Stage showcased the talents of one of Boston's best young actors, Eliott Purcell. Removing much of the tech wizardry used in the Broadway and touring productions allowed the story to become more intimate and family centered.

"Julius Caesar" (photo: Actors' Shakespeare Project)

4. "Julius Caesar" - Actors' Shakespeare Project's all-female Caesar was just the production that was needed in the midst of the Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement. Led by the fearless performances of Marya Lowry as Brutus and Marianna Bassham as Marc Antony, it was a riveting and thought provoking evening of theater.

3. "Gardens Speak" - somewhere at the crossroads of theater, ritual, and sound installation, Lebanese artist Tania El Khoury's show produced by ArtsEmerson was probably the most gut-wrenching experience of the year. Attendees were asked to immerse themselves in a visit to a grave of Syrian killed during the uprising and hear what the dead had to say.

"Merrily We Roll Along" (photo: Huntington Theatre Company)

2. "Merrily We Roll Along" - this year Huntington Theater brought director Maria Friedman's Olivier Award winning production of Stephen Sondheim's infamous early work over from London. Despite many attempts over the years, no one has ever been able to make this piece really work until Freidman. Spot on direction and a killer cast led by Mark Umbers as Franklin, Damian Humbley as Charley, and Eden Espinosa as Mary made this a truly spectacular show.

1. "Constellations" - right in the heart of Central Square, Underground Railway Theater produced this pure gem of a play. A beautiful script, a simple yet dazzling set, touching performances by Marianna Bassham and Nael Nacer, and Scott Edmiston's elegant direction all combined to create utter perfection.