Christopher Rawson’s Top 10 in Pittsburgh Theater for 2015

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 10:53 PM Written by  Christopher Rawson

In the ’80s, I inherited the Post-Gazette’s annual Top 10 theater list from George Anderson, who must have inherited it from his predecessor, Harold V. Cohen, back in the mists of antiquity. In the past few years I and my successor theater editor, Sharon Eberson, have done it in tandem.
For 2015, we’ve gone our separate ways. Sharon has created a wonderful list of “bests” mixing shows, events and individuals, summoning up much of the theatrical year, while I stick with a more traditional list of 10 favorite evenings, listed chronologically. Naturally there’s overlap with Sharon’s list, but we have different sensibilities and to some extent we saw different shows.

Ten favorite 2015 theater evenings

“How I Learned What I Learned,” Pittsburgh Public Theater: August Wilson’s autobiographical monologue looking back at being 20 years old in the Hill, starring Eugene Lee and making the Public only the second theater anywhere to produce both this and all 10 plays of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle.

“All the Names,” Quantum Theatre: One of those mysterious, eccentric Quantum shows that took the audience on a search through time and several spaces, including even a field of sheep.

“The Dance of Death” by August Strindberg (adapted by Conor McPherson), Kinetic Theatre: Producer/director Andrew Paul brought Helena Ruoti, Sam Tsoutsovas and Mark Staley together in a ghostly stuffed attic for the heavyweight marriage bout of all time.

“Saints Tour,” by Molly Rice, Bricolage: An actual tour of Braddock, guided by Bria Walker, whimsically peeling back layers of history, invention and legend, with a communal dinner at the end.

“Sharon’s Grave” by John B. Keane, PICT Classic Theatre: One of the great Irish playwrights (a tough league), rarely performed here, and a surprising play mixing realism, folklore and myth.

“Kinky Boots” by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper, Broadway Series: This uplifting musical version of the movie brought a triumphant Billy Porter back to his native town in his Tony-winning role, only because he decided to take a leave from the Broadway production to make it possible.

“The Winter’s Tale” by Shakespeare, Handel and other composers, Quantum Theatre: A brand new baroque opera, enchantingly tragi-comic and delicious in many ways, to mark the 25th anniversary of Quantum, with the musicians of Chatham Baroque, the dancers of Attack Theatre, Joseph Seamans’ projections and Susan Tsu’s costumes.

“The Diary of Anne Frank” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Public Theater: Just about as good a production as we could wish for of the heart-rending 1955 drama about hiding from the Holocaust.

“A Night Alive” by Conor McPherson, City Theatre: Down and out in Dublin, a story that achieves some kind of transcendence, either realistic or spiritual.

“Small Engine Repair” by John Polono, barebones theatre: Gritty, funny, raw – everything that barebones loves to do – completing the 2015 Invasion of Braddock.

Five more: “Three Sisters,” CMU; “Oblivion,” City Theatre; “Fences,” Pittsburgh Playwrights; “The Light in the Piazza,” Front Porch Theatricals; “Chickens in the Yard,” Quantum Theatre and Hatch Collective.

And an addition to Sharon’s list:

All August Wilson: The 10th anniversary of the great playwright’s death at 60 was marked February 20 by “The Ground on Which I Stand,” a major PBS/WQED documentary for the American Masters series. There was a Post-Gazette/PNC town meeting (I moderated) and a preview party at the August Wilson Center. During Wilson’s “How I Learned” (see below), the Public Theater hosted a panel about the Black Horizon Theater where he got his start; in April there was a celebration of his birthday and a program about “August Wilson’s Women”; and Pittsburgh Playwrights started its second journey through the Pittsburgh Cycle.

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