Here is Charles McNulty’s look at the best of 2014 in theater in Southern California and beyond.
“Choir Boy” (Geffen Playhouse): Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney found poignant harmony in his play about the cruel disharmony of difference at an all-boys African American prep school renowned for its choir.
“Firemen” (Echo Theater Company): Provocatively creepy, Tommy Smith’s drama, about an intimate relationship between a school secretary and a 14-year-old student, daringly focused on the psychology rather than the morality of this tinderbox situation, dexterously handled by the leads, Rebecca Gray and Ian Bamberg.
“Happy Days” (The Theatre @ Boston Court): Samuel Beckett’s classic was pulled off with blistering realism in Andrei Belgrader’s production starring Brooke Adams as a Winnie I could have sworn I just saw shopping at Trader Joe’s.
“Luna Gale” (Kirk Douglas Theatre): Rebecca Gilman’s latest drama centers on the custody dispute of a baby taken from young meth-addicted parents, a situation the playwright uses to paint a portrait of contemporary America in which everyone is chasing an elusive miracle.
“Pippin” (Hollywood Pantages): An acrobatic revival of Roger O. Hirson and Stephen Schwartz’s musical staged with inexhaustible ingenuity by Diane Paulus.
“Stop Kiss” (Pasadena Playhouse): Diana Son’s drama about two women falling in love and encountering violence was delicately revived in an exquisitely acted production directed by Seema Sueko.
“Stupid … Bird” (The Theater @ Boston Court): Aaron Posner’s larkish Chekhovian update, ideally humanized by Michael Michetti’s pitch-perfect ensemble, was the most audacious theatrical delight of 2014.
“Top Girls” (The Antaeus Company): A sharp director (Cameron Watson), a committed cast of women and a brilliant dramatic poet (Caryl Churchill) made this feminist classic seem as though it had been expressly written for our own cultural moment.
“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” (Mark Taper Forum): Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning Chekhovian mash-up was even better in Los Angeles than it was in New York, thanks to David Hyde Pierce’s sparkling direction and the comic effervescence of Christine Ebersole.
“Water by the Spoonful” (Old Globe): This deeply affecting staging of Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning drama deserves accolades for all who brought this play about trauma and communal healing to life.
And a few accolades from beyond Southern California:
Most ambitious new American drama: Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Father Comes Home From the Wars Parts 1, 2 and 3" at New York’s Public Theater, a play about the hopes and hideous costs of freedom for an African American slave, written as a serial by a postmodernist who has grown fond of good, old fashioned storytelling.
Most inventive director: Ivo van Hove for his ingenious theatrical transformation of Ingmar Bergman’s film “Scenes From a Marriage” at New York Theatre Workshop.
Most heart-rending performance in a musical: Jessie Mueller’s captivating Tony-winning turn as the singer-songwriter in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” on Broadway.
Realest Broadway revival: Kenny Leon’s Tony-winning production of “A Raisin in the Sun” starring Denzel Washington in a true ensemble effort.
Most shattering dramatic revival: Scott Elliott’s New Group production at New York’s Pershing Square Signature Center of David Rabe’s all-too-timely Vietnam War-era drama “Sticks and Bones” with Bill Pullman and Holly Hunter leading the charge.
Most frolicsome musical revival: Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor production of “Into the Woods,” which was so good it was brought indoors for the holidays to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.
Most lamentable trend: The recently announced early closing of Bill Condon’s stupendous Broadway revival of “Side Show,” which has had difficulty in finding an audience despite being acclaimed by critics. Whither the serious Broadway musical?