For Triangle theatergoers, 2017 was a banner year. More than 50 performing arts centers, professional companies, semi-professional independents, community theaters and university theater departments offered audiences nearly 150 entertaining and thought-provoking productions.
Here are some of the year’s most notable shows and participants:
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▪ “Orlando,” Delta Boys Theater Company – Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s satire on gender roles was breathtakingly original. Five performers played all the parts in a beautifully fluid staging, directed by the cast, and made magical by Elsa Hoffman’s patterned steel set pieces and Joseph Amodei’s scene-setting lighting.
▪ “The Night Alive,” Honest Pint Theatre Company – Conor McPherson’s tale about two destitute friends trying for a better life was moving and funny, especially in John Allore’s portrayal of the ever-scheming Tommy. Susannah Hough’s nuanced direction and Thomas Mauney’s realistically ramshackle setting unified the action.
▪ “The Seagull,” Bartlett Theater – Staged outside an historic farmhouse near Durham, this production of Anya Reiss’ adaptation of the Chekhov play took the audience to four different locations (woods, field, front porch, side portico) and was performed in natural light, from late afternoon to early evening. Director Jonathan Bohun Brady’s clever conception framed engaging work from the charming cast.
▪ “Lombardi,” Theatre Raleigh – Charlie Brady’s cinematic direction about the feared and revered football coach makes this one of Theatre Raleigh’s strongest productions in several seasons. The play by Eric Simonson featured a riveting, rollercoaster-ride performance by David Henderson in the title role, matched by Judy McLane as his acerbic, long-suffering wife.
▪ “Marjorie Prime,” Manbites Dog Theater – This mesmerizing production of Jordan Harrison’s play about future treatments of memory loss provided insights and warnings. Marcia Edmundson’s fragile but feisty Marjorie and Derrick Ivey’s robot replica of her dead husband were prime lessons in acting. Jeff Storer’s direction subtly employed Sonya Leigh Drum’s imaginative setting of boxes that displayed reminders of Marjorie’s past.
▪ Actresses: Rasool Jahan’s indomitable seamstress Esther in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s “Intimate Apparel”; Hazel S. Edmond’s loyal actor’s wife in Theatre in the Park’s “N”; Rebekah Holland’s blooming wallflower, Rose, in North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s “Dogfight”; sixth-grader Skyla Woodard’s amazingly confident and knowing Mary in Theatre Raleigh’s “The Secret Garden”; and Lauren Knott’s embodiment of a 1950’s housewife (with a secret) in Raleigh Little Theatre’s “Perfect Arrangement.”
▪ Actors: Gary Milner’s boisterous, rascally Doolittle in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s “My Fair Lady”; Preston Campbell’s towering presence as boxer Jay in Burning Coal’s “The Royale”; Aaron C. Finley’s vocally soaring, emotionally gripping Judas in N.C. Theatre’s “Jesus Christ, Superstar”; Ryan Ladue’s menacing bravado as Eddie in McQueen & Company’s “Fool for Love”; and Adam Poole’s peace-making family outsider Adam in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s “Dot.”
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▪ Most creative use of office space: Ward Theater Company’s transformation of generic office park digs into a canvas tent for “Revival” and a realistic modern living room in “Honour” that placed the audience within the settings.
▪ Most convincing food consumption: A father and three sons messily stuffing themselves with Chinese take-out and beer on Christmas Day in Sonorous Road’s “Straight White Men.”
▪ Best chance to dance in the aisles: Theatre Raleigh’s “Smokey Joe’s Café,” a high-energy nostalgia fest of Leiber and Stoller songs, included cast members stepping into the audience to find very willing dance partners.
▪ Best chance to be heckled and humiliated: Jesse Gephart’s hilarious off-the-cuff barbs at audience members as the harried lead character in Raleigh Little Theatre’s “One Man, Two Guvnors.”
The announcement of Manbites Dog Theater’s closing at the end of its 2017-18 season provided the year with a somber note.
Co-founders Jeff Storer and Ed Hunt have overseen 31 years of some of the most original and significant theater experiences in the Triangle. The loss of that Durham producing source, as well as its playing space for small, emerging companies, is immeasurable. Happily, the company will live on as a funding organization for Triangle theater artists, helping to maintain the area’s theatrical riches.