Three milestone anniversaries this year: Thick Description at 20 years; the Exit Theatre, 25 years; and Traveling Jewish Theater, 30 years.
•<\!s><0x0007>Bone to Pick at Exit on Taylor
The Cutting Ball Theater and Magic Theater/Z Space New Works Initiative commissioned this fresh surprise, a clever and powerful reworking of the Ariadne myth by local playwright Eugenie Chan a standout in Cutting Ball's program of short avant-garde works.
•<\!s><0x0007>Bug at SF Playhouse
A great ensemble made the most of this weird and gritty tale by Tracy Letts, who won the Pulitzer this year for his latest, August: Osage County, due for a Bay Area bow in 2009.
•<\!s><0x0007>Curse of the Starving Class at American Conservatory Theater
Director Peter DuBois' anniversary revival of Sam Shepard's play was fairly terrific throughout, and included two outstanding female turns: Pamela Reed (the play's original Emma), returning brilliantly three decades later to play the mother, Ella, and Nicole Lowrance, wonderfully filling Reed's old shoes as the unstoppable firecracker of a daughter.
•<\!s><0x0007>Two by August Wilson: Fences at Lorraine Hansberry and Joe Turner's Come and Gone at Berkeley Rep.
•<\!s><0x0007>Two Conor McFirsts: Irish playwright Conor McPherson received a pair of strong local premieres this year, both showcasing exceptional performances. The Seafarer at Marin Theatre Company and Shining City at SF Playhouse. There were no slouches in Amy Glazer's production for SF Playhouse, but as the grief-haunted husband, Paul Whitworth's persuasive performance was more startling than any phantom.
•<\!s><0x0007>Work Eats Home by Sleepwalkers Theater at Phoenix Theater.
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?