Lincoln flogs

Beowulf, phantoms, and swearing Scots mark the year in theater

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Barack Obama wasn't the only lanky senator from Illinois to have a triumph on the stage, political or otherwise, this year. Abraham Lincoln took a couple of bows himself. Of course, many have noted the weighty coincidence of the country's first African American president following Lincoln's senatorial trail to the White House. But who could match Thick Description's revival of Suzan-Lori Parks' The America Play — focusing on an African American protagonist whose calling involves dressing up in Lincoln drag — for political prescience? Special mention goes to playwright Aaron Loeb, who at SF Playhouse last week unveiled a bawdy frolic he calls Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party. This Lincoln thing just gets weirder.

I guess it would be pretty easy to call 2008 a year of triumphs and defeats, whether you were a politician, a voter, a banker, a shaken-down taxpayer, an Olympian, an artist, or just a serial theatergoer. So it was a year of triumphs and defeats. God, I feel cheap. Still, most of one's life is lived straddling a slippery seesaw of success and failure. And no doubt 2009 will confirm as much. The following list accentuates the positive, the more victorious moments in the sweep of theatrical offerings this year, and eliminates the negative, minus an equivocating remark or two. Until this year is over, I'm not messing with Mr. In-between.

<\!s><0x0007>The Andersen Project at Zellerbach Playhouse.

<\!s><0x0007>The Ballad of Edgar Cayce (A Bluegrass Operetta) by Construction Crew Theater at Traveling Jewish Theater.

<\!s><0x0007>Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage at Ashby Stage

Shotgun Players shrewdly gave a material foot-up to brilliant but low-budg Banana Bag and Bodice, leading to the New York City company's most wildly enjoyable show to date. What would they do with some real cash? For a hint, catch the show's one-night-only remounting at Berkeley Rep's Roda Stage on Jan. 8, 2009.

<\!s><0x0007>Billy Connelly Live! at Post Street Theater

The secret of success in theater remains elusive, but clearly one cheerfully roguish, foul-mouthed Scot is sometimes all it takes. (Check that — I'd also had a couple of pints.)

<\!s><0x0007>Blade to the Heat at Thick House

Thick Description was doing more than just resting on its laurels when it devoted its anniversary season to remounting past successes, often with the original principals.

<\!s>Survivors: In the arts — and in this economy — staying power itself counts as a triumph.

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