Since the beginning of this year, I have carefully cataloged all the plays I have attended, complete with star ratings. I know quite clearly what the Best Plays I’ve Seen This Year are. Today’s post, however, is about the Most Influential Plays, Ever. Before I started rating, before I started writing down every play I saw, before I became A Theatre Critic, I saw these plays, and these are the ones that stuck with me, the ones that led to my involvement in theatre today.
July 2004: The Phantom of the Opera, starring Hugh Panaro | The Majestic Theatre | Broadway
The Phantom of the Opera became my favorite musical the first time I saw it, when Howard McGillan played the Phantom, so for my 13th birthday when my parents asked me what I wanted, I requested tickets to see it again. I was so mesmerized by Hugh Panaro’s voice. I had been taking voice lessons, been doing musical theatre at the time, but Hugh Panaro brought meaning to my hobby and made it a passion. Music can be that powerful – “sweet intoxication” – he made the music real, inspiring devotion to its practice in the way worthy of the Phantom himself.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favorite play, and this production is part of the reason why. But before I mention this production, I will mention another: the one performed by the drama students at OxPrep 2007, led by Simon Purse. Their collaboration, putting on this play without rehearsal, just as done in Shakespeare’s day, was inspiring to the extent that it was life-changing for me. (Their production is not on this list only because I was their book keeper, and was only able to see about a quarter of it from backstage). Now on to Creation Theatre Company, my favorite theatre company in Britain. They perform Shakespeare as well as other plays, all in unique and deliberate locations. Their Midsummer was set in several stages throughout Headington Hill Park, with Puck guiding the audience around the woods in between scenes. The acting was so lively and committed – the Lovers ran through the dirt barefoot, and doubled as some of the Players, and I didn’t even realize this until near the end. This production is Midsummer at its full potential. The nostalgia I feel for this play always connects back to the images created in this beautiful interpretation.
December 2008: Equus, starring Daniel Radcliffe & Richard Griffths | Broadhurst Theatre | Broadway
I went to see this because Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffths were in it. And I am so glad to have been introduced to this amazing play because of, well, Harry Potter. This was the first play that left my head buzzing at intermission and for hours afterwards. Passion. Insanity. Beyond being a brilliantly written play, it was staged so fluidly, yet coldly, with the simple boxes shifting to become the furniture for every scene, the fleshless horse masks. For me, seeing Daniel Radcliffe perform live would have been enough. But I gained so much respect for him as a real actor after seeing this.
March 2010: Othello | Villa Victoria Center for the Arts | Actors’ Shakespeare Project
Actors’ Shakespeare Project is the Creation Theatre of the other side of the pond: the focus is on unique spaces, most of the productions are Shakespeare, and it is my favorite company in America. I saw their Othello while in the process of organizing and acting in Twelfth Night with the Dream Team Shakespeare Company. I was spending every spare moment reading about Shakespeare and watching videos about how it should be performed. No research could compare to the benefit I gained from watching this production, however. The acting was so precise, yet relaxed, calculated, yet spontaneous. For the first time, I found myself caring about the characters – when I had read the play previously, I struggled to sympathize with Othello. Actor Jason Bowen made Othello a believable person, one who made a series of mistakes, but the reasons behind these mistakes were explained in a way that had not been clear to me before. Now Iago. My favorite character in all of Shakespeare. Very high expectations to meet, and Ken Cheeseman managed to exceed them. Cool. Charming. Unapologetic and ruthless. Perfect. (I wrote about this production, and a discussion afterwards, in a previous post. Hey, I used some of the same words! My descriptive memory does not fail me).
September 2011: Alvin Sputnik, Deep Sea Explorer | Burton Taylor Studio | Weeping Spoon Productions
What’s this?! A play from this month?! Yes, I’m excited too. And yes, I sort of said that I wouldn’t be writing about plays I’ve seen recently, but I can include this one on this list without a doubt. As a theatre critic, I am very careful about distributing 5-star reviews. Out of the 77 productions I have seen this year (Has it really been that many?!), I have only deemed eight plays worthy of five stars. About halfway through each of them I think “Could this be worth 5-stars? I’ll wait for the end.” With Alvin Sputnik I was completely hooked from the start, trying to restrain myself from giving in and calling it 5-stars from about five minutes in. It is a one-man show that revolutionizes theatre. It incorporates animation, puppetry, acting, cool lighting, singing and ukelele-ing and I think I may have even forgotten some. Beyond the amazing cohesion that is its technical medium, the play is a sweet, emotional, devastating, and uplifting story. A reviewer compared it to Pixar, and yes, it’s quite Pixar-y.
Now, unrelated to the content of the play, my experience: I was thinking of going to Stratford for the day to see Midsummer for about the seventh time, but instead of taking the time and spending the money, I decided to take a chance on whatever was playing at the BT to fulfill my Second Play this week (I see two plays per week, at least, hence the 77 and counting). The BT rarely fails to impress, but I was so startled to stumble upon this gem without any prior knowledge of it, when I could have been seeing my favorite play by one of my favorite companies (I think. I’ve only seen one RSC production, but it was fantastic). This is why I make the effort to see two plays per week, and after this experience (and many similar before it, though not to this extent) this is why I give plays a shot sometimes, not knowing at all what to expect.
And that concludes the first edition of “What I Like Wednesday,” in which I will comment upon something I have read, watched, or listened to in the past week, as recorded here on dodgy’s culture diary. Enjoy, and please share your comments on what theatre productions have hooked you :)