4.48 Psychosis. One critic called it “a 75-minute suicide note,” and in fact, Psychosis was perverse British genius Sarah Kane’s last play before she killed herself. But in its evocation of clinical depression, and in the shocking beauty of its despair, this is an experience that, staged well, can be poetic and cathartic. What it needs most is a brilliant director unafraid of the lower depths. Then: watch out.
A Raisin in the Sun. Though one of the top five American plays of the 20th century, Raisin hasn’t been staged in the Bay area within recent memory. And that’s a pity: we all need to spend time with the Younger family as they battle with racism and with their own outsize dreams. At least three of the Youngers are star-making parts: Mama, with her God and her personal power; Walter Lee, with his desperate vision of prosperity; and Beneatha, with her search for fundamental purpose. What A Doll’s House was to feminism, Raisin was to civil rights: an unforgettable salvo.
Speed-the-Plow. David Mamet’s scorching take on Hollywood is also about persons anywhere who want to rise above a corrupt society, and about the measures society will take to stop them. Two movie producers make a bet: can one of them get an attractive temp secretary into bed? But the secretary comes packaged with a strong moral compass, and wants to rescue her pursuer from his commitment to mindless dreck. Has she got half a chance? Does anyone?
God of Carnage. Two schoolboys have an altercation and their four parents get together to hash out blame and forgiveness. But human aggression doesn’t end with childhood — and soon the adults are into a wild battle of their own. Yasmina Reza’s play isn’t terribly important, but it’s funny and unpredictable and makes a wonderful spectator sport. So how come the closest it’s come to us is Sarasota?
Three Sisters. A year without Chekhov is, or ought to be, unthinkable. So why not this heart-wrenching play about three sisters who dream of going to Moscow, but who instead have to suffer life’s indignities and disappointments. Yes, it’s always autumn in Chekhov’s plays, but it’s a sometimes lovely season, where the losses are almost offset by the invigorating chill. And hope is never quite defeated.
Noises Off. Michael Frayn’s play-within-a-play is possibly the funniest stage comedy that’s ever been written. Ever. It shows us a troupe of British actors performing a silly sex comedy called Nothing On, and allows us to watch from backstage as the production becomes more and more confused, tempers get frayed, human relations implode, and just about everything goes wrong. Delicious.
Measure for Measure. Everything that makes Shakespeare sublime is in this philosophical play about a man condemned to death for fornication, and his sister, about to become a nun, who sets out to save him. Some critics think the play is an allegory about God’s silence — which is not so silent — and human irresponsibility — which is all too rampant. And can a single play contain so much beautiful dialogue?
Exit the King. Ionesco’s brilliant protest against human mortality features King Berenger the First, who has just learned that he’s dying, and can’t manage to accept something so contrary to his exalted status. The play was revived on Broadway in 2009, with Geoffrey Rush receiving rave reviews and a Tony award for his work as Berenger, and just cries out for a local company with talent and courage.
Buried Child. Is there a sin at the core of the American dream? Is it slavery? The ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans? On one level, Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is about Vince, a young man who comes home to his extended family and finds that no one recognizes him. On another, it’s about the youth of this country inheriting not just a superpower but also the supercrime that comes with it. Who is the buried child?
Master Class. A touring company of this show came to the Straz Center some years ago, but it’s time for a local company to give it another hearing. In Terrence McNally’s eloquent script, Maria Callas is teaching a master class on the singing of opera, and she can be withering when she’s not pleased. But mixed with the Verdi and Puccini come her recollections of a difficult life devoted to art — and to Aristotle Onassis. Believe me, this can be stunning.
That’s it for the year. Happy 2013! And may all your dramas be romantic comedies.