Arts & Culture

Critics’ picks: Best Tarrant-area theater of 2014

Jubilee Theatre’s production of ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring Valerie Houston and directed by Tre Garrett, was chosen by both critics as a top production of the year.
Jubilee Theatre’s production of ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring Valerie Houston and directed by Tre Garrett, was chosen by both critics as a top production of the year.

It was a good year for Fort Worth-area theater. Too good a year, in fact, to narrow the shows to a top five. Both of us (who did not always see the same shows this year) wanted to stretch our lists far beyond a handful.

But under that tight constraint, here are the dramas, comedies and musicals, presented in Tarrant County, that each of us would single out, in order of preference.

Notice that the No. 1 picks in both lists come from the same director and theater: Tre Garrett, who had a banner year at Jubilee Theatre, showing a maturation in the level of plays produced at the theater, which has traditionally been known more for its musicals.

Punch’s picks:

1. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at Jubilee Theatre (May): This perfectly cast production, deftly directed by Jubilee artistic director Tre Garrett, was powerful in every regard. But its greatest strength was a transcendent performance by Adam A. Anderson as an ambitious member of Rainey’s band.

2. Hunting and Gathering at Amphibian Stage Productions (April): A fine ensemble of players under the direction of TCU theater department chair Harry Parker elevated the slight material of this whiney, New York-centric comedy. Young up-and-comer Kelsey Summers more than held her own amid a cast of much more seasoned performers.

3. Heroes at Stage West (July): This charming bit of nostalgic theater, written by Gérald Sibleyras (and translated by Tom Stoppard), featured a dream team of local talent. You are seldom going to find any production that can do better than the three actors in this show: Jim Covault, David Coffee and Cliff Stephens.

4. Fellowship! The Musical Parody of the Fellowship of the Ring at Circle Theatre (October): This goofy send-up of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was pure fun. Director Lyle Kanouse maintained exactly the right tongue-in-cheek tone, and the cast did a great job of playing crooked material straight.

5. The Comedy of Errors at Trinity Shakespeare Festival (June): The acting and the directing (by local legend Joel Ferrell) were first rate in this production. But this show makes the list primarily for its wondrous, multi-tiered set by Tristan Decker. Amazing.

Rounding out the top 10, in no particular order: Killer Joe, L.I.P. Service at Arts Fifth Avenue; Orlando, Stage West; Hope & Gravity, Circle Theatre; Fully Committed, Amphibian Stage Productions; Next to Normal at Onstage in Bedford.

Mark’s picks:

1. The Brothers Size at Jubilee Theatre (October): Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney was finally produced in North Texas, and director Tre Garrett was the right choice to direct this lyrical, powerful tale about two brothers struggling with the future in different ways, and another character with his own plans, inspired by Yoruba legends. Unforgettable. Don’t miss when Jubilee produces the other two plays in McCraney’s Brother/Sister Plays trilogy in the coming seasons.

2. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom at Jubilee Theatre (May): Another strong showing from Garrett, with the only play in the late August Wilson’s Century Cycle not set in Pittsburgh, about a studio session with the legendary blues singer and the session musicians, all dealing with prejudice and ego. Garrett’s production moved beautifully.

3. Killer Joe, presented by L.I.P. Service at Arts Fifth Avenue (May): Jason Leyva’s company L.I.P. Service has been one of the most promising newcomers on the scene for several years, but with this early, gritty and sometimes hard-to-watch Tracy Letts play, which Leyva directed and starred in, he proved himself a theatrical force. It was also the best use of Arts Fifth Avenue I’ve seen for a theater production.

4. Orlando at Stage West (April): Sarah Ruhl’s innovative adaptation of the time-traveling, gender-bending Virginia Woolf novel made for terrific storytelling as co-directed by Jim Covault and Garrett Storms. Great performance from Anastasia Munoz in the title role.

5. The Other Place at Circle Theatre (May): A dark, twisty drama about a scientist developing a new drug and the tricks that memory can play, with a standout performance from Julienne Greer. Directed by Steven Pounders.

Rounding out the top 10, in no particular order: Into the Woods, Artes de la Rosa; Thoroughly Modern Millie, Prism Theatricals; The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Stolen Shakespeare Guild; Rose Nose Rhapsody, Hip Pocket Theatre; The Crucible, Tarrant Actors Regional Theater.

Arts & entertainment year in review

Friday: Pop culture, movies, pop and country music

Sunday: Dance, books

Monday: Theater

Tuesday: Visual art

Wednesday: Classical music

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