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critics’ picks for best of 2011
In 2011 Berkeley Repertory Theatre gave thanks for another remarkable year. As the nonprofit’s staff took up residence at a beautiful new campus in West Berkeley, its School of Theatre celebrated 10 years at its home on Addison Street. The Theatre’s daring mix of work played to acclaim on local stages, while several past projects traveled on to new success.
In addition to leading off lists made by local critics of the year’s top shows, plays developed at Berkeley Rep ranked among the best of 2011 in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Seattle Times and Seattle Weekly. Before setting out for an international tour, American Idiot won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album. Leigh Silverman won an Obie Award for directing In the Wake, Compulsion extended its off-Broadway run and top brass from the Pentagon requested an encore performance of The Great Game.
Here at home, Berkeley Rep began the year by debuting a controversial new monologue from Mike Daisey. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs attracted international attention, and went on to Washington, DC and Seattle before occupying off Broadway. Critics across the country ranked it among the year’s most important works of theatre:
- In the New York Times, Charles Isherwood named it the Solo Performance of the Year—the sixth straight year in which a show developed at Berkeley Rep appeared among his favorites!
- Peter Marks placed Agony second in his annual Top 10 for the Washington Post, and Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal included it among the best individual performances of 2011.
- The Berkeley run led off Karen D’Souza’s Top 10 for the Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times. George Heymont included it in his Top 10 for the Huffington Post, and Rob Avila cited it in end-of-year accolades from the SF Bay Guardian.
- The Seattle Times and Seattle Weekly also ranked this show among the year’s best. Daisey’s message is so timely that he’ll return to The Public Theater in Manhattan for five more weeks of Ecstasy starting January 31.
Two other monologues seen at Berkeley Rep also garnered big praise in 2011:
- During its national tour, Anna Deavere Smith’s Let Me Down Easy earned the Barrymore Award for Best Leading Actress in a Play. Charles McNulty included the show’s Southern California appearances in his Top 10 for the Los Angeles Times—while the show’s extended run in Berkeley ranked among the 10 Best of 2011 for Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle and Karen D’Souza of the Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times.
- Meanwhile, Eric Grode of the New York Times awarded the Biggest Laugh of 2011 to John Leguizamo’s Ghetto Klown, the sixth show in six years to appear in Berkeley on its way to Broadway. Leguizamo received both the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Solo Performance.
And the applause continues:
- The American premiere of The Wild Bride has engendered such rapturous response that a three-week extension has the Brits remaining in Berkeley until January 22. In the Chronicle, Robert Hurwitt proclaimed this “enchanted, blues-drenched folktale graced with irresistible performances” the “high point of the year.” Like father, like son: Sam Hurwitt listed the show in the Idiolect’s Top 10 too—and Karen D’Souza included Bride among the year’s best in the Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times.
- Our co-production of Ruined also made the cut in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Idiolect—and it led Don Aucion’s Top 10 in the Boston Globe!
- To top it off, Berkeley Rep helped a legend celebrate her 80th birthday with a sold-out, extended run of Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup. Respected theatre critic Chad Jones named the world premiere of Bill Cain’s How to Write a New Book for the Bible the best show of 2011, and Karen D’Souza included Les Waters’ staging of Three Sisters among her Top 10 in the Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times.
On that note, Charles Isherwood of the New York Times recently wrote about the year’s “most promising out of town development: The appointment of the director Les Waters to head Actors Theater of Louisville, which hosts the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays.” After eight years as Berkeley Rep’s associate artistic director, Waters will be dearly missed in the Bay Area—but everyone wishes him well with his new adventure.
critics’ picks for best of 2010
Berkeley Repertory Theatre celebrated the New Year with a shredder and a pair of underpants. Yep, you heard that right…
On the East Coast, the Tony Award-winning nonprofit rang out 2010 when performers from its Broadway production of American Idiot helped shred bad memories as part of the annual Good Riddance Day in Manhattan—then it rocked in 2011 when they sang songs from the show on NBC’s live New Year’s Eve broadcast from Times Square. On the West Coast, Berkeley Rep marked the occasion with happy houses for its hit productions of The Arabian Nights and Lemony Snicket’s The Composer is Dead. Meanwhile, Berkeley Rep looked back on one big year and forward to another, while celebrating year-end accolades from national journalists, local critics and popular bloggers.
In 2010, Berkeley Rep continued to debut daring shows at home while enjoying sustained success on Broadway and beyond:
- Three shows developed at Berkeley Rep enjoyed Broadway runs in 2010: American Idiot, Wishful Drinking and In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) all played the Great White Way. To top it off, HBO aired a film of Wishful Drinking in December.
- As a result, the Theatre added a few trophies to its shelf: American Idiot nabbed two Tony Awards, a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award. Wishful Drinking took home an Outer Critics Circle Award as well, and In the Next Room earned the Will Glickman Award.
- Back in Berkeley, audiences embraced five world premieres: The Composer is Dead, Compulsion, Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West, Girlfriend and In the Wake.
- In the Wake went on to an off-Broadway engagement at The Public Theater, and Berkeley Rep’s production of Tiny Kushner traveled to London. That makes two transatlantic transfers for the company in the last six years!
Reflecting on the highpoints of 2010, the media applauded Berkeley Rep and its artists. Once again, preeminent national publications recognized several plays developed at the Theatre in their annual Top 10 lists:
- American Idiot: Thanks to this raucous musical, a show developed at Berkeley Rep made Charles Isherwood’s Top 10 in the New York Times for the fifth straight year and landed among John Lahr’s favorites in The New Yorker for the second year in a row. American Idiot also led the list at TheaterMania, and four writers at Playbill.com placed it among the highlights of 2010. And, in USA Today, Elysa Gardner proclaimed director Michael Mayer the Overlooked Guiding Force of the Year.
- In the Wake: This play topped Adam Feldman’s list in Time Out New York. Michael Schulman also placed it among The New Yorker’s Top 10 off-Broadway shows, and David Sheward of Backstage ranked Deirdre O’Connell’s performance among the 10 most memorable of the year.
- Compulsion: The New Haven Register placed the show among the year’s artistic peaks—and Mandy Patinkin’s bravura turn as Sid Silver ranked among the five most important Jewish performances of 2010 for Forward magazine.
Here in the Bay Area, respected critics recalled Berkeley Rep’s shows fondly as well:
- San Francisco Chronicle: Robert Hurwitt included Compulsion in his annual Top 10: “Rinne Groff’s smartly told foray along the thin line between idealism and fanaticism got Berkeley Rep’s new season off to a strong start.” He also praised The Real Americans, which debuted at The Marsh in San Francisco and came to Berkeley Rep in June.
- SF Bay Guardian: Rob Avila called The Great Game: Afghanistan the Boldest Venture of the year, while declaring In the Wake and The Real Americans the year’s Best Political Theater Riffs.
- SF Weekly: Chris Jensen proclaimed In the Wake the Best Ensemble Drama, Lemony Snicket’s The Composer is Dead the Best Kids’ Show and The Real Americans the Best Play of 2010.
- Bay Area Reporter: Richard Dodds included four Berkeley Rep shows—The Composer is Dead, Compulsion, Girlfriend and The Great Game: Afghanistan—in his favorite recollections of 2010.
- SF Bay Times: Girlfriend topped the list of theatrical memories for Tom Kelly: “Audiences expect and get edgy and socially challenging theatre from Berkeley Rep.”
Theatre bloggers also joined in the chorus of praise for Berkeley Rep’s plays:
- Girlfriend ranked first on Chad Jones’ list for Theater Dogs, and Compulsion came in at number four. Marissa Skudlarek named Girlfriend her favorite musical of the year, and Sam Hurwitt included the show in his Top 10 as well.
- Spencer Williams (a.k.a. the Broadway Critic) ranked Compulsion and American Idiot amongst the year’s best shows. American Idiot also made the cut for Derek Gordon at the Daily Casserole.
- Brian at Out West Arts put The Great Game: Afghanistan in his Top 10, and Tom Bestor at the Rational Feast included three shows that played at Berkeley Rep: In the Wake, David Sedaris and The Real Americans.
- And the folks over at Stark Insider introduced the annual Starkie Awards, naming Berkeley Rep the Best Theater House of 2010: “It’s the theater most often to surprise, to innovate. And it’s the one I’d pick if I had to subscribe to only one theater.”
Finally, our co-production of Ruined, which reaches the Bay Area in February, began its journey at La Jolla Playhouse in November. Critics from the San Diego Union Tribune, San Diego Reader and North County Times placed that production among the year’s highlights in Southern California.
And what about those shorts? Oh, yes. Having mailed a pair of boxers to his home, Berkeley Rep is relieved to report that John Lahr of The New Yorker has a sense of humor. This year, alongside his Top 10 list, Mr. Lahr posted the following text:
- “In last year’s Ten Best, I mentioned that if Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room didn’t win the Tony, I’d eat my shorts. Well, it didn’t. Sometime this summer I received in the mail a pair of shorts from the Berkeley Rep, where the play originated, and a plastic knife and fork. The photo below is self-explanatory. From now on, I’ll stick to eating my words.”
And with that, all of us at Berkeley Rep wish you bon appétit for another year of delicious theatre.
critics’ picks for best of 2009
At the end of 2009, in the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Hurwitt asserted that “the rise of Berkeley Repertory Theatre” was the Top Theatre Story of the Decade!
“The Rep opened its new Roda Theatre in ‘01, allowing it longer runs and greater flexibility with two mainstages, and has quickly risen in local and national prestige. Under the leadership of Tony Taccone and his associate artistic director Les Waters, it’s become one of the region’s two flagship companies and a primary source of new work for Broadway (where Taccone and Waters each opened a show this fall) and the rest of the country.”
This praise came on the heels of the Chronicle’s front-page story (PDF) on our continued success.
It certainly was an incredible year here at Berkeley Rep:
- Another two shows developed at Berkeley Rep landed on Broadway: Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking and Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room (or the vibrator play).
- Wishful Drinking also became a bestseller—and earned its author a Grammy nomination for her audio book!
- Spike Lee released his film of Passing Strange, and Green Day issued a new version of the song “21 Guns” featuring the cast from our blockbuster production of American Idiot.
- With our daring array of plays, we continued to break box-office records in Berkeley even as our shows toured to Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and other cities.
In 2009, we were proud to premiere an unconventional comedy called In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)—and even prouder when Associate Artistic Director Les Waters made his Broadway debut with Sarah’s script this fall. The play that we commissioned proved popular with the nation’s most prominent theatre critics:
- Elysa Gardner named it Best Play of the Year in USA Today: “Broadway newbie Sarah Ruhl defied gender and genre orthodoxy to give us a hilarious and moving meditation on the many factors that complicate communication between (and within) the sexes.”
- In The New Yorker, John Lahr proclaimed it the Top Moment in Theater for 2009: “Ruhl’s benign detachment, her astute mind, and her capacity for wonder turn this evening into an indelible pleasure. In Les Waters, who directed her exciting Eurydice a few seasons back, she has found an expert collaborator…In the Next Room is not only Ruhl’s best play in her short, distinguished career, but time may prove it to be a great play. If In the Next Room doesn’t win the Tony for best play—it’s Ruhl’s first Broadway show—I’ll eat my shorts.”
- And Charles Isherwood of the New York Times declared it one of “the four best new plays to be produced in New York this year.” He calls it “a wonderfully daring, serious-minded sex comedy about the fundamental lack of understanding between men and women in the post-gaslight era (and, by extension, our own).” That’s four straight years in which a show developed at Berkeley Rep made his list!
Passing Strange, the provocative rock musical that premiered at Berkeley Rep several years back, also continued its long, strange trip this year. Spike Lee released his documentary of our Broadway production, and both film critics from the Associated Press ranked Passing Strange among the Top 10 Films of 2009:
- David Germain: “Spike Lee oversees a blast of stage energy, his filmed version of the Broadway show so up-close and intimate that the players’ sweat practically drips onto the audiences’ lap. Musician Stew is the big-voiced master of ceremonies for his play, whose final performances Lee filmed to craft the movie. The small cast leaps seamlessly through multiple roles as they trace an artistic young black man’s journey to find his creative soul with grand humor, deep insight and songs that truly rock.”
- Christy Lemire: “It’s easy to see why Spike Lee was drawn to Stew, the one-named musician and mastermind behind the Broadway production Passing Strange. Like Lee, the artist formerly known as Mark Stewart possesses a powerful and singular voice, one he uses to express vividly his own experience of growing up black in America. In bringing Stew’s Tony-winning musical to the screen, Lee took the wise and uncharacteristic step of staying out of the way. The crisp, intimate result makes you feel as if you’re on stage with Stew and his formidable cast.”
Finally, here at home, critics continue to rank our shows among the year’s best:
- Charles McNulty of the LA Times placed our production of In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) among the Top 10 of 2009: “Sarah Ruhl’s latest drama is so flush with insight into the question that flummoxed Freud about what women want that it was impossible not to revel in the playwright’s singularly quirky imagination.” He also mentions that show—and Passing Strange—in his article looking back at the decade’s best theatre.
- Three of our shows made Karen D’Souza’s Top 10 for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune. Karen’s list starts with In the Next Room and also includes American Idiot and The Lieutenant of Inishmore.
- Robert Hurwitt chose Inishmore for his own Top 10 in the San Francisco Chronicle, calling it “a penetrating and hilariously timely dissection of man’s inhumanity to man—and cats.” Rob Avila named the show among his favorites of the year in the SF Bay Guardian as well.
- Two of our shows ranked among Rachel Swan’s Top 10 in the East Bay Express: Aurélia’s Oratorio is “tantamount to stepping inside a dream” and American Idiot “was certainly a knockout show…You never thought it would happen, but this year an East Bay theater production—an opera no less—actually graced the pages of Rolling Stone magazine. Indeed, this was the year of Green Day’s American Idiot, a dizzying production that gave director Michael Mayer newfound pop-culture currency while bringing an East Bay punk band into the high-art realm.”
- Richard Dodds of the Bay Area Reporter chose The Lieutenant of Inishmore and In the Next Room as the best productions of the year—and he selected Danny Scheie as his favorite performer for his work on You, Nero.
- And Richard Connema of Talkin’ Broadway mentioned four of our shows when he counted the year’s best: American Idiot, Aurélia’s Oratorio, Crime and Punishment and The Lieutenant of Inishmore (“a ‘fecking’ wonderful Irish farce—I saw the New York production and this production was just as good”).
critics’ picks for best of 2008
For the third straight year, a show that originated at Berkeley Rep made the Top 10 list in the New York Times! Our work also ranks among the year’s best in USA Today, Newsday, the San Francisco Chronicle and more.
In 2008, we repeatedly broke box office records here in Berkeley, even as our shows enjoyed runs both on and off Broadway. We sent two shows on tour—Danny Hoch’s Taking Over and Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking—and they played to sold-out houses in Boston, Hartford, Montreal, New York, San Jose, Santa Fe and Washington, DC.
Here’s how we looked in the local papers:
- This year, we’re the only theatre to have two shows selected for the Top 10 list in the San Francisco Chronicle: The Arabian Nights and Figaro.
- The same goes for the Mercury News, which put TRAGEDY: a tragedy and Wishful Drinking among the year’s best.
- Three of our shows made the Top 10 list in the East Bay Express: Figaro, Taking Over and TRAGEDY: a tragedy. (The Arabian Nights and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone also got honorable mentions—but it would’ve been unsporting of us to take five of the top 10.)
- Joe Turner made the list in the Marin Independent Journal, and the Bay Area Reporter included The Arabian Nights in its Top 10.
- And Chad Jones included TRAGEDY: a tragedy in his lists for Theater Dogs and Examiner.com.
Even more exciting, our Broadway production of Passing Strange topped some important lists:
- USA Today proclaimed it the Best Original Musical of 2008, Charles Isherwood included it in his Top 10 for the New York Times and Gothamist named it the #1 show of the year!
- Strange also made the Top 10 at NY1, and NY Press put Stew and Heidi on its list of “who was nice” (as opposed to naughty) in 2008.
- Plus, one of the songs from the show, “Working the Wound,” was ranked 14th when the New York Post chose the 208 Best Songs of 2008.
critics’ picks for best of 2007
As the media looked back at 2007, they celebrated the shows that are born and performed at Berkeley Rep…
We’re thrilled to announce that, for the second year in a row, a show developed at Berkeley Rep made Charles Isherwood’s Top 10 in the New York Times! Last year, both Eurydice and Bridge & Tunnel made the grade. This year, Passing Strange is on the list. Strange also made the Top 10 in New York magazine and the Star-Ledger.
We’re also excited to report that Eurydice made this year’s Top 10 in Time Magazine!
In California, our shows ranked among the year’s best in publications throughout the state:
- In the San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Hurwitt picked The Pillowman as the theatrical highpoint of the year. Argonautika and after the quake were also in his Top 10—and the Chronicle’s Steven Winn praised quake as well.
- Down south, our co-production of after the quake topped the list in the Los Angeles Times and was also honored by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
- In the Contra Costa Times, two of our shows made the cut. In fact, Pat Craig said that Argonautika “will likely end up on my lifetime Top 10 list.”
- In the San Jose Mercury News, when it came to time to talk theatre, The Pillowman topped the list of “What We Loved This Year.”
- When the Bay Area Reporter, Daily Californian and East Bay Express made their Top 10 lists, each of them reserved three spots for Berkeley Rep shows!
- When the Pacific Sun named Seven Pleasures of the Stage from 2007, two of our shows made the cut.
- And Chad Jones, the Marin Independent Journal, the San Francisco Bay Times and Talkin’ Broadway all picked one of our productions for their Top 10 lists as well.
For 2008, we resolve to continue introducing innovations that make theatre a luxury everyone can afford. Think about it…In 2007, we launched lower ticket prices, a gourmet menu, pre-show tastings, a free book club and parties for folks under 30. What’s not to like?
and the critics named us best of 2006
As they looked back at 2006, the critics continue to applaud our artists. Shows born at Berkeley Rep made the Top 10 lists at major papers across the nation—including the New York Times! Here’s the news…
Top 10—New York Times
In his list of the year’s best plays, Charles Isherwood included two shows that headed east after being developed at Berkeley Rep and embraced by our audiences: he said Tony Taccone’s Broadway production of Bridge & Tunnel and Les Waters’ staging of Eurydice were the “cream-of-the-crop” and “highlights of my 2006 in theater.” Here are his exact words:
“Bridge & Tunnel: I could probably fill a 10-worst list with solo shows, but Sarah Jones’s ebullient panorama of the immigrant experience in New York City made me forget all those endless 90-minute nights of angst-ridden self-indulgence. The ease with which Ms. Jones slipped into a dozen different souls was matched by a rare gift for defining a character with a precise, indelible sound or image: the crook of a wagging finger or the musical lilt of an accent…
“Meanwhile, Les Waters’s lyrical production of Ms. Ruhl’s equally venturesome meditation on grief and loss, Eurydice, found a grateful home at Yale Repertory Theater (where The Clean House had its premiere two years ago). Happily, that production comes to the Second Stage Theater this spring.”
#1—San Francisco Chronicle
“HIGHPOINT OF THE YEAR: The Miser—Hilarity bared its teeth in Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre in May. From Steven Epp’s almost insanely inspired, monumentally avaricious performance in the title role to the remarkably active set, every aspect of director Dominique Serrand’s riveting, inventive production worked to convey the hilarity and darker, deeper textures of Molière’s classic comedy of a world in the grips of a profit motive run amok.”
#1—Contra Costa Times
“9 Parts of Desire—The bar for theater excellence was set early, in January, by Berkeley Rep with this one-woman show. It was a moving and emotional look at the war in Iraq and its various kinds of carnage. The Heather Raffo show was a masterpiece.” Our productions of The Miser and Culture Clash’s Zorro in Hell also made this Top 10 list.
“SHOW OF THE YEAR: Comedy on the Bridge / Brundibar— Sometimes—love it or not—you just need a big, bold and emotional theatrical event to get the juices flowing [like this] grand production of two short operas (one meant for a children’s audience, the other for more adult sensibilities). Tony Kushner adapted a moving children’s parable with its Holocaust subtext, with Maurice Sendak creating a stunning visual work.” In this story, critic Frank Rizzo also praised Maria Dizzia’s performance and Scott Bradley’s set for Eurydice.
Hottest score—San Jose Mercury News
“Passing Strange—Don’t funk with Stew. The musician best known for his band The Negro Problem brought some serious rock mojo to bear for this premiere production, which was kinda, sorta auto-bio but was lit by groovalicious tunes…I’m still humming.”
In addition, the paper congratulated Berkeley Rep for successfully transferring shows to the Big Apple: “The Bay Area also enhanced its status as a launch pad for NYC this year with tons of shows debuting here, from splashy Broadway fare to edgier work like Brundibar and Passing Strange.”
#2—San Diego Union Tribune
“Zorro in Hell—Culture Clash capped a year of growth to saddle up and deconstruct California’s original masked man in an exuberant evening of savagely entertaining agit-prop, co-commissioned by La Jolla Playhouse and Berkeley Rep.”
#2—New York Sun
“Bridge & Tunnel—Virtuosity, uplift, wit, pathos, joy: Just about everything you could hope to see on Broadway was on glorious display in Sarah Jones’s one-woman show about an outer-borough immigrant poetry slam. Rarely has a week gone by in the last year without my thinking of Ms. Jones’s timid Dominican student, maladroit Pakistani emcee, or heartbreaking Chinese mother.”
“The Glass Menagerie at Berkeley Rep—The news that Rita Moreno, the Bay Area’s resident living legend, would tackle the role of Amanda in this Tennessee Williams classic was intriguing. Could Moreno handle it? Anyone who doubted Moreno’s chops was quickly proven wrong by her powerhouse portrayal of a mother desperate to see her children succeed in a harsh world. Director Les Waters gave us such a fresh approach to the play that it almost seemed newly minted.”
#3—San Francisco Chronicle
Not only did The Miser top Robert Hurwitt’s list of the year’s best theatre, it made Steven Winn’s list of the most significant Bay Area cultural events for 2006: “In this hilariously bleak adaptation of Molière’s 17th century text, Theatre de la Jeune Lune uncorked the theatrical miracle of the year at Berkeley Rep. The show got funnier and shrewder as it went, mounting to a heady depiction of greed, desolation and human cunning.”
#3—San Francisco Bay Times
“The Glass Menagerie at Berkeley Rep—Rita Moreno astounded us with her tour de force performance of Amanda Wingfield. Berkeley Rep offers visually outstanding stagings, top-notch tech, strong performances, great new scripts, and anti-war politics. Also fantastic last year were 9 Parts of Desire, Mother Courage, Ennio, and Zorro in Hell.”
“The Glass Menagerie—Rita Moreno’s stunning performance in Berkeley Rep’s triumphant production of The Glass Menagerie showcased drama at its finest. Themes such as the fragility of human nature and the pitting of illusion against reality were deftly interwoven with emphasis on dark humor, which brought a breath of fresh air to a venerated play. Familial tragedy had never seemed so hauntingly beautiful.” All Wear Bowlers and Passing Strange also made this Top 10 list.
And don’t miss…
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