Best of 2010: Theater

'ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA': Synetic's movement-based production, with Ben Cunis and Irina Tsikurishvili, was one of the season's highlights.
'ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA': Synetic's movement-based production, with Ben Cunis and Irina Tsikurishvili, was one of the season's highlights. (Katherine Frey/the Washington Post)
By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 19, 2010

Whether they featured a man alone at a desk, or a chorus dancing in formation, the best theater of 2010 in Washington shared a gratifying characteristic: the dazzle factor. For the sparkle of their prose, or the poetry of their performances, here are the top 10 productions of the past 12 months:

"Clybourne Park." The best play in Washington this year, and then some. Woolly Mammoth Theatre gave scintillating life to Bruce Norris's sly treatment of the rough etiquette applied to a neighborhood undergoing integration and, later, gentrification.

"Oklahoma!" Molly Smith's endearing revival for the reopening of the gorgeously renovated Arena Stage allowed audiences to see and hear this seminal American musical so freshly you wanted to jump out of your seat and bust a bronco yourself.

"Antony and Cleopatra." Little Synetic Theater is not so little anymore. It graduated to the big time at the Lansburgh Theatre with this gorgeously realized, movement-based rendering of Shakespeare's romantic tragedy.

"Circle Mirror Transformation." An exciting new talent, playwright Annie Baker, received an invigorating Washington welcome with Studio Theatre and new artistic director David Muse's sterling staging of this portrait of five confused souls struggling through a community center acting class.

"Passing Strange." If the theater world presumed that this autobiographical rock musical could not be a vivacious night of entertainment without its author, the songwriter Stew, Studio Theatre's satisfying 2ndStage production emphatically proved it wrong.

"New Jerusalem." The improbable hit of summer 2010 was at Theater J, where David Ives's bracing exploration of the philosophical heresies of 17th-century thinker Baruch de Spinoza sated audiences' appetites for plays with both substance and intellectual panache.

"The Liar." The ubiquitous Ives minted new laughs aplenty in his aptly hammy rhyme-scape for this Corneille classic, reworked uproariously for director Michael Kahn and Shakespeare Theatre Company.

"In the Red and Brown Water." The second leg of Tarell Alvin McCraney's movingly lyrical trilogy at Studio Theatre merged myth, classic tragedy and harsh contemporary reality to chart the rise and terrible fall of a young Louisiana track star.

"The Last Cargo Cult." The exceptionally gifted storyteller Mike Daisey transformed Woolly Mammoth's stage into a rousing bully pulpit for a mellifluous rant about the global banking system and his visit to an island where prayers were offered for material enrichment.

"Sycamore Trees." The value of Signature Theatre's American Musical Voices Project was affirmed with the premiere presentation of Ricky Ian Gordon's autobiographical musical, which revealed with sharpness and affectionate eccentricity the joys and tensions in one Long Island Jewish household.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company