The top 10 productions, trends and events in the full and hectic life of Washington theater in 2012:
Top ten in theater, 2012 edition
Woolly Mammoth Theatre.
The year’s most ingenious theater piece. Playwright Anne Washburn (“The Internationalists”), in concert with director Steven Cosson, turned “The Simpsons” into the stuff of post-apocalyptic mythology. In the years after a nuclear cataclysm, survivors of an America in ashes recounted from memory the “Cape Fear” episode of the TV cartoon series; over time, a game of cultural “telephone” began muddying details of the story. But it did so in ways that sneakily and scintillatingly illuminated the values of American society, in a disturbingly and brilliantly conceived future.
A feat of exhilarating imagineering, the performance piece heralded the emergence of director/writer/technical whiz Natsu Onoda Power as a captivating force in Washington theater. Almost as much ingenuity was apparent in this 70-minute exploration of the work and life of “Astro Boy’s” visionary animator Osamu Tezuka as is displayed in the design of a Mars rover. Having actors sketch onstage, as others interacted with animated movies and 3-D cartoon figures, transformed the theater from a Studio in name only to one where experimental breakthroughs truly can happen.
Dog & Pony DC.
The planting of a time capsule may rank among the most prosaic of civic events. But the audience-participation advocates at tiny Dog & Pony DC — one of the smartest young companies in the city —made it their mission to show how a Midwestern town meeting convened for a public vote on the contents of a capsule (shaped like a beer barrel), could be a profound, highly entertaining lesson in democracy’s group dynamics. The success of the piece, produced in a Woolly Mammoth rehearsal space on a budget that wouldn’t pay the monthly electric bill for some bigger theaters, renewed one’s faith that ingenuity knows no price point.
4. “Really Really”,
Here, in the region’s leading musical factory was built the world-premiere production of a sharp new play by Paul Downs Colaizzo that looked at college- age members of Generation Me, curled its upper lip and uttered a persuasive “Yuck.” A smashing cast under Matthew Gardiner’s direction skillfully navigated Colaizzo’s clever narrative maze of misleading intersections and blind alleys, in a provocative tale of sexual violence and ruthless self-advancement among our nation’s overly entitled youth. (David Cromer directs it in its off-Broadway premiere at MCC Theater in January.)
Shakespeare Theatre Company.
It’s difficult to overstate the debt D.C. playgoers owe to this classical company with a healthy appetite for sealing deals in Europe. This hunger has led the troupe to regularly supplement the local theater diet with vital pieces from across the sea, among them: “Black Watch,” Helen Mirren in “Phedre,” John Hurt in “Krapp’s Last Tape” and “The Great Game: Afghanistan.” Now to that roster it added “Prudencia Hart,” a site-specific play from the National Theatre of Scotland, set in a Scottish bar. For the run here, Shakespeare turned the Bier Baron Tavern near Dupont Circle into a temporary playhouse. The results were joyous for spectators, who watched and listened as five actors roved among them, spinning a tall tale with music about a researcher into Scottish border ballads and her date with the devil.