Metro Weekly

Year in Review: The Best D.C.-Area Theater of 2018

From dazzling musicals to gripping dramas, here are the best D.C.-area productions of 2018, as chosen by our critics

Hamlet by Shakespeare Theatre Company — Photo: Scott Suchman

Kate Wingfield’s 5 Best Productions

5. Sleepy Hollow, Synetic Theatre — Though they don’t utter a word, Synetic’s dance-theater interpretation of Sleepy Hollow, that age-old legend of the headless horseman was nothing short of phenomenal. Through sheer imagination, director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili told a fabulous tale through exciting, evocative dance. The ensemble gave 110 percent, delivering a village of vibrant personalities complete with tumultuous romance, humor, and an all-too-convincing backstory to their mysterious curse. But truly stellar here was the beautifully choreographed and danced Horseman and his fantastic beast — one born of physical and creative ingenuity. This was real theater. (Full review.)

4. John, Signature Theatre — Enduringly memorable thanks to the confident hand of director Joe Calarco, Annie Baker’s funny and clever tale of intersecting generations featured a perfect blend of humor and haunting potency. From the stunningly clever, melancholy set capturing a cluttered mid-Atlantic B&B, to Nancy Robinette’s priceless performance as a pensive proprietress trying to fathom her tragic-comic Millennial guests, this was high entertainment grappling with home truths. It was the kind of storytelling with everything to give and nothing to prove, and it captivated fully. (Full review.)

3. The Winter’s Tale, Folger Theatre — Continuing its tradition of staging Shakespeare with a traveling-troupe kind of magic, The Folger’s weird and wonderful yarn of a jealous king who gets his comeuppance was another chance to see the Bard delivered with irresistible ingenuity and energy. Guided by director Aaron Posner with his trademark warmth, wit, and contemporary flair, the evening was chock full of giggles, beautifully-drawn pathos, and charming music. Offering the lion’s share of emotional goods was a fabulously convincing Katie deBuys as Hermione, while the ever-charismatic Eric Hissom carried the night with his wry, ironic Storyteller who was at once inviting and reassuring while suggesting a tiny bit of challenge with a twinkle in his eye. (Full review.)

2. Two Trains Running, Arena Stage — August Wilson’s Two Trains Running delivered a glimpse of working-class black America via the social scene of a 1960s diner. Arena’s ensemble was extraordinary, creating Wilson’s small but deeply layered world with the precision and complexity of an orchestra. By turns vibrant, angry, sad and funny, the characters navigated the small choices of everyday life amid a backdrop of bigger, harder questions. The joy was in director Juliette Carrillo’s quietly potent vision and the cast’s phenomenal delivery of the playwright’s patter, comfortable routines, and secret souls. A powerful reset on what it means to be black in America, it was a reminder that the journey is far more complex than a hashtag. (Full review.)

1. Hamlet, The Shakespeare Theatre Company — A deeply elegant and wholly original vision, director Michael Kahn gave us a Danish court in calm, corporate-chic with a tightly-wound Hamlet at its core, pulsing like a star ready to implode. His was a complex, keenly-conceived psychology and it was delivered perfectly in Michael Urie’s gorgeously agitated, deeply appealing young prince. In this adorably flappable, clever but ever-vulnerable neurotic, there was not only much that engaged and entertained, there was also authentic answer to some of the play’s most enduring questions about the iconic character. Finally, we understood how intelligence could breed impulsivity, an obsession with death live aside the awe of existence, and why pretending to be crazy might seem the best disguise in a grief-ridden quest for truth. Extraordinary. (Full review.)

Hamilton National Tour — Photo: Joan Marcus

André Hereford’s 5 Best Productions

5. Girlfriend, Signature Theatre — Todd Almond’s gay teenage romance, inspired by a seminal alternative-rock album of the ’90s and set in that same decade, felt as achingly new as first love always feels. Matthew Gardiner’s balanced staging of high school kids Will and Mike finding themselves and each other, from the comfort of their bedrooms, brought a timeless, universal love story down to the intimate scale of two anxious hearts. Although, these two hearts came with their own kickass backup band of babes to bang out Matthew Sweet songs expressing all their angst and longing. The picture of young love as Will and Mike, Jimmy Mavrikes and Lukas James Miller created the most memorable romantic coupling of the season. (Full review.)

4. Vietgone, Studio Theatre — The clever, time-shifting narrative of Qui Nguyen’s layered synthesis of history, politics, language, and rock ‘n’ roll brought affecting clarity to a murky patch of the past. The semi-autobiographical tale of how Nguyen’s Vietnamese parents met in the U.S. after the war, Vietgone flowed like a road movie, gaining momentum and meaning over time, thanks to the frank and funny script, deft staging by Natsu Onoda Power, and a wonderfully versatile ensemble backed by the show’s house band, the Vietgoners. Both a loving tribute, and a powerful history lesson, it was a colorful cross-country trip worth taking and remembering. (Full review.)

3. Anything Goes, Arena Stage — Beauty and elegance danced from every corner and brilliant talent filled the stage in Arena’s ship-shape production of the Cole Porter classic. Not only did the whole cast look swell in costume designer Alejo Vietti’s wow-worthy wardrobe, they sounded great swinging and skipping around Ken McDonald’s shifting sets, dancing up the storm that was Parker Esse’s electrifying choreography. Director Molly Smith teased out just the right gleam of style and attitude to add a modern gloss to the old-fashioned farce and the familiar, tuneful delights of Porter’s score. Those legendary songs came pouring out of Soara Joye-Ross’ sweet Reno Sweeney, and were a perfect platform for the effervescent and effortless turn of leading man Corbin Bleu. (Full review.)

2. The Wolves, Studio Theatre — Talk wasn’t cheap, it was everything in Sarah DeLappe’s bitingly witty whirlwind of team-building and teenage round-table discussion. The suburban teens of the all-girls soccer team the Wolves lived out seemingly a lifetime’s worth of highs, lows, and woes between them, in this illuminating glimpse into their inner lives and all-encompassing fears. The girls’ often hilarious talk spilled out naturally and super-fast, all while they stood, sat, or jumped in a circle drilling soccer skills and training. Director Marti Lyons and the uniformly solid cast kept the comedy bouncing, the intensity striking, and never dropped the ball. (Full review.)

1. Hamilton, Kennedy Center — A Broadway musical that’s rewritten history yielded a stellar touring production that exceeded expectations in its glowing summertime run at the Kennedy Center. While Lin-Manuel Miranda’s canny book and score turn Revolutionary-era American history — and the biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow — into pulsating, pop and hip-hop-laced drama, the production’s energized cast turned the Pulitzer-winning piece into sublime comedy, romance, triumph, and tragedy. Their diverse voices and faces reflected the show’s pointed depiction of a young nation’s aspirations towards freedom and equality. Led by Austin Scott’s stately Hamilton, Nicholas Christopher’s sly Aaron Burr, and Julia K. Harriman’s beautifully sung Eliza Schuyler, the show itself fit warmly into the embrace of the Opera House, bringing Hamilton, Jefferson, Washington and their comrades to vivid life in a city that’s steeped in their legacy. (Full review.)

André Hereford and Kate Wingfield are Metro Weekly’s theater critics. Read their reviews here.

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