To kick off our coverage of the best in North Texas arts and culture in 2012, we asked our theater critics which plays they thought were the best to hit local stages this year. Here they are, the ten best in no particular order.
Night of the Iguana, Contemporary Theater of Dallas.
I’m just repurposing what I wrote for the Best of Big D in August, since nothing I saw before or after has edged it out of my short list. For Tennessee Williams’ little-performed melancholic comedy, director René Moreno and his cast and crew eschewed easy sentimentality. We felt the oppressive heat of a stormy summer night in Mexico, the seemingly random calamity of living, and the anxiety and depression that come with it. The most these characters could hope for was a moment of understanding. Iguana provided similarly unsettling comfort. — Liz Johnstone
Superior Donuts, Theatre Three
The story by the writer of August: Osage County is simple on the surface: down and out donut shop proprietor hires an idealistic young man. Life changes and an unlikely friendship ensues. The play is a little gem of enlightenment; however, director Bruce Coleman and two transcendent acting performances by Van Quattro and the multi award-winning Chris Piper, took this play to another level. – M. Lance Lusk
A strong production of Tracy Letts’ play about a Chicago donut shop and its broken-down proprietor, Arthur Przybyszewski. It was capably directed and designed by Bruce Coleman in a black box of a theater that had been lackluster the last few seasons. Christopher Piper, this year’s BOBD best actor, was excellent in this. — Liz Johnstone
August: Osage County, WaterTower Theatre
Grand ambition paid off: director René Moreno tackled Tracy Letts’ twisted, complex, and sometimes appalling tale of extreme family dysfunction with a stellar cast of local favorites and a production design where everything clicked. It’s easy to let the snowballing horrors of August overwhelm, but Moreno and company seized the weird and funny and frightening with vigor and ultimately came out the victors with an unforgettable production. — Lindsey Wilson
The Real Thing, Stage West.
In Stage West’s spare, minimalistic production, actor Chuck Huber emerged to lead us capably into a place where words alternately create and destroy and love trumps things like dignity and self-preservation. Huber’s Henry, as directed by Jim Covault, is sincere and sympathetic almost to the core, a not-unwelcome interpretation, especially since the women in his life are around to expose, explore, and occasionally revel in his flaws. With an excellent cast, the production was sweet and soft, pointed and thought-provoking, and often very funny. — Liz Johnstone
Yeah, I’m an admitted sucker for Shakespeare, but the consistently excellent work done every year by Trinity on two plays running in repertory would convert the most curmudgeonly of Bard avoiders. Last summer’s duo of plays helmed by festival artistic director T.J. Walsh and Stephen Fried could not be more different from each other, but were equally amazing. — M. Lance Lusk
Oklahoma!, Lyric Stage
The classics are known as such for a reason, but sometimes familiarity can breed boredom. Director Cheryl Denson and music director Jay Dias dusted off Rogers and Hammerstein’s beloved 1943 musical and shined it up like a new penny, reminding us why it deserves to endure. A new heartthrob was discovered in leading man Bryant Martin, while Kyle Cotton brought intrigue and sympathy to the often brutish Jud Fry. And I think we can all agree that the chorus offered some of the most energetic, athletic ensemble dancing seen on a local stage in ages. — Lindsey Wilson
Avenue Q, Theatre Too
Finally! The intimate downstairs space at Theatre Three found its perfect tenant with the coterie of foul-mouthed, musically inclined puppets that invaded it for a record six months. Jac Alder’s set snugly made use of the theater’s awkward corners and provided a multi-tasking backdrop for the multi-talented cast, most of whom gave dual performances as both the puppet stars and the humans controlling their movements. It was a production I returned to on my own dime, happily bringing unsuspecting friends along for the laugh-out-loud funny ride. —Lindsey Wilson
War Horse, Lexus Broadway Series
The state of Oklahoma wasn’t the only thing having a moment this year. Puppets popped up again at the Winspear, but this time they were muscular, larger-than-life works of art that told Michael Morpurgo’s enduring children’s story more poignantly onstage than Steven Spielberg did on film. Awe-inspiring stagecraft combined with a heartbreaking theme of love and friendship, all set during World War I. Oh, and there was a hilarious puppet goose. — Lindsey Wilson
Diamond Dick: The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921, Project X: Theatre
Some plays are great for all of the right reasons: excellent source material, flawless direction, and superior work by the cast and crew. All those elements came together to re-create a dark event from our past, but told in an incredible way by a group of fantastic artists. — M. Lance Lusk
On the Eve, Nouveau 47 and Spacegrove Productions.
Sliding in under the wire, Nouveau 47 and Spacegrove Productions’ gave us a new musical that’s joyful, original, engaging, restorative; with a cast, crew, and creators who so clearly delight in testing the boundless limits of the stage. — Liz Johnstone
As busy as we are, it is not often that critics get a chance to see a play more than once, especially ones that we are not reviewing. When I heard the unbelievable buzz about this show, I had to check it out. I was blown away to the point that I saw this musical extravaganza of wit, whimsy, and whirlwind performances twice. — M. Lance Lusk