Mark Rylance (seated) in “Jerusalem”
Don Shewey’s Top 10 Productions in New York Theater, 2011
1. “Jerusalem” – Jez Butterworth’s dense, lyrical, astonishingly original play superbly directed by Ian Rickson, centered on the justly legendary performance of Mark Rylance (above, seated) as half-man/half-myth Rooster Byron, with help from a sturdy ensemble cast and production design by the artist known as Ultz.
2. “The Select (The Sun Also Rises)” – Elevator Repair Service’s adaptation of Ernest Hemingway lived up to the company’s high standard for wit, depth, theatrical liveliness, and tech savvy. Great ensemble performance directed by John Collins, with a special shout out to lead actors Mike Iveson and Lucy Taylor, supporting performers Kate Scelsa, Susie Sokol (right, as Pedro the bullfighter), and the amazing Kaneza Schaal, and production designer David Zinn.
3. The Wooster Group’s version of Tennessee Williams’ “Vieux Carré” — An unlikely match and another beautiful triumph for Elizabeth LeCompte and her brave actors, led this time by Ari Fliakos as the author’s stand-in with all subtext stripped away.
4. “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” – Stephen Adly Giurgis’s play kept me laughing really hard at the most heartbreaking scenes, where cruelty and romance kept morphing into one another. Top-notch cast, though for me the revelation was Yul Vazquez as the scene-stealing cousin.
5. “Other Desert Cities” – Jon Robin Baitz’s taut play, a showcase for five excellent actors beautifully directed by Joe Mantello. (I preferred the Lincoln Center cast with Elizabeth Marvel and Linda Lavin).
6. “Sleep No More” – British theater company Punchdrunk’s ambitious mash-up of Shakespeare and Hitchcock (with Nicholas Bruder and Sophie Bortolussi as the Macbeths, left) made for the year’s single most original theater experience, a dreamscape sprawling over 100 rooms in two adjacent former warehouses in Chelsea.
7. “The Illusion” – Signature Theater’s Tony Kushner season ended with Michael Mayer’s gem-like staging of this lyrical bit of poetic philosophy featuring memorable performances by Lois Smith, Henry Stram, and Peter Bartlett.
8. “Burning” – Thomas Bradshaw’s haunting, provocative play working the raw edges of sex, race, and politics staged with gleeful perversity by Scott Elliott.
9. “The Patsy & Jonas” – The incomparable actor and playwright David Greenspan had another banner year with his own play “Go Back to Where You Are” at Playwrights Horizons and this quirky double-bill of solo virtuosity.
10. “Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark” – I saw the final performance that could legitimately be said to reflect the work of director Julie Taymor (see video clip below), with its mind-boggling sets by George Tsypin and costumes by Eiko Ishioka, and I thought it was terrific. Sue me.
• James Macdonald’s production of Ibsen’s “John Gabriel Borkman” at BAM, headed by the formidable trio of Alan Rickman, Lindsay Duncan, and Fiona Shaw.
• David Leveaux’s smart revival of Tom Stoppard’s towering “Arcadia.”
• Taylor Mac’s collaboration with the Talking Band, “The Walk Across America for Mother Earth” at La Mama, a perfect tribute to the recently departed champion of idealistic experimental theater.
•”The Book of Mormon“(left, with Andrew Rannells, center, and Josh Gad, right), thanks to the fearless Trey Parker and Matt Stone and the clever Casey Nickolaw.
• Daniel Sullivan’s lucid Shakespeare in the Park staging of “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
• David Lindsay-Abaire’s troubling but sticky “Good People” – Frances McDormand justifiably got the reviews and the awards but let’s not forget Patrick Carroll’s exquisite supporting performance.
• Nina Arianda’s scintillating howdy-do in David Ives’ “Venus in Fur.”