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Posted on 01/07/11
Photo from Dracula
Photo: Carol Rosegg

F+

Anemic, undead, and bloodless are among the most popular vampire-themed words critics use to savage this production. With startling unanimity, critics pan every aspect of the show: the set, sound design, direction, acting, even the wig on the Count's head. Not even the esteemed George Hearn escapes unscathed. Wisftul references to Frank Langella's 1977 Broadway turn can be found throughout, and more than a few critics take aim at the producers for attempting to cash in on Twilight mania with this limp stab at the seminal vampire story.


Posted on 01/07/11
Photo from A Small Fire
Photo: Joan Marcus

B

"Not enough of a good thing" seems to sum up the critical reaction to Adam Bock's new play, about a middle-aged businesswoman, Emily, who mysteriously starts to lose each of her five senses in turn. While some critics find Bock's economy and restraint admirable and winning, a good number of others feel he has left too many blanks unfilled and hence short-changed the possible impact of his material. Another recurring critical lament, provoking a spectrum of reacitons from confusion to frustration, addresses the play's tone: If Emily's illness is metaphorical, why is Bock's tone so naturalistic? There's almost universal praise for director Trip Cullman and for the performances of Michelle Pawk and Reed Birney.


Posted by Rob Weinert-Kendt at 01/05/11

Among other milestones, 2010 was the year that StageGrade was officially born (after gestating for more than a year as a blog called Critic-O-Meter). Since our launch took place in April, we can't quite muster the sort of year-end top-graded-shows feature as we did last year (we switched from average to median scores around then, for one thing). Then again, the whole concept of a calendar-year-end list runs against the grain of theater season and awards schedules. Unlike movie awards, which consider films released in discrete calendar years, the Tonys, the Obies, and the rest measure a year from spring to spring, so that a look back from December considers roughly half of last season and half of the one we're in (give or take a summer).

Still, that doesn't stop theater critics (some of them, at least) from compiling year-end best lists, and in particular lists of "Top 10." We thought this mathematical rubric would give us enough pretext for some delicious numbers-crunching, and so we present to you our 2010 Meta-Top-10 List.

A word about our methodology: We combed critics' Top 10 lists (sources listed below) and assigned points according to whether they ranked shows or not: i.e., a show in the No. 1 slot on a properly ranked Top 10 list received the maximum points, while shows on unranked lists all received equal median points.

Without further ado, the consensus on the best shows in New York in 2010:

1. A View From the Bridge
2. The Merchant of Venice
3. The Scottsboro Boys
4. Clybourne Park
5. The Little Foxes
6. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (the Broadway version, which a few lists insisted on distinguishing from the Off-Broadway run)
7. Gatz
8. Angels in America
9. La Cage Aux Folles
10. Red

Interestingly, quick click-throughs on these titles will reveal that these weren't necessarily the highest-graded shows of the year.

For a good chuckle, here is John Simon's characteristically cantankerous piece on why he'll have none of this insidious list-making.

And a Happy New Year!

Sources consulted: Ben Brantley, Scott Brown, David Cote, Joe Dziemianowicz, Adam Feldman, Charles Isherwood, L Magazine, John Lahr, Charles McNulty, Matthew Murray, Aaron Riccio, David Rooney, Frank Scheck, Helen Shaw, TheaterMania, Roma Torre, Elisabeth Vincentelli, Matt Windman, Linda Winer, and Richard Zoglin


Posted on 12/20/10
Photo from Three Pianos
Photo: Joan Marcus

B+

Most critics respond to this meta-theatrical romp around Schubert's chilliest song cycle as if it were a slightly sloshed holiday party that goes on a bit too long, with the main differences of opinion centering on whether critics found the creator/performers' company diverting and worthwhile despite the show's flaws and digressions, or found them tiresome, self-indulgent, and ultimately underwhelming despite the moments of charm and insight. Rounding out the top and bottom of the spectrum are the chuffed Michael Sommers of New Jersey Newsroom and the thoroughly disenchanted Scott Brown of New York magazine.


Posted on 12/15/10
Photo from Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte
Photo: Steven Schreiber

A-

Though a few critics were left hungry for more of the "charged eroticism" present in Egon Schiele's paintings (he was brought up on charges of pornography), they don't let that twist them into knots--they leave that to Kelly's much-praised choreography. Overall, reviews agree that while Kelly may be a somewhat "unclassifiable" performer, his work serves to reincarnate Schiele, bringing new light to familiar questions about art and creation. They also recommend the show even to those without art-history degrees: New York's Scott Brown, in particular, notes that Kelly is an "honest and hypertalented stage artist, a conceptualist who doesn’t over-rely on concept."


Posted on 12/14/10
Photo from Blind Date
Photo: Greta Tjepkema

B+

Nick. Steven. Your boyfriend. These are just a few of Rebecca Northan's potential scene partners in her new interactive show, and critics say she'll craft a warm, touching, and hilarious evening of improv with whoever she happens to pluck from the audience. Using the convention of the blind date as a springboard for 90 minutes of free-form scene-sharing comedy, Northan impresses critics not just with her charm and wit but with her generosity and risk-taking, as well; she manages to guide the evening, they say, while keeping the focus on her scene partner.


Posted by Rob Weinert-Kendt at 12/12/10

While Broadway's 2010 openings ended weeks ago, theaters beyond the Great White Way haven't slowed down a bit, and the critical horse races have been no less fierce. At the top of StageGrade heap in the past few weeks were Tim Miller's (already closed) state-of-the-gay-union survey, Lay of the Land... (Read More)


Posted on 12/11/10
Photo from Baby Universe: A Puppet Odyssey
Photo: Jim Baldassare

A-

Wakka Wakka earns high praise from all of the critics for its innovative puppetry, which integrates a variety of styles and meshes with a beautiful design to support an ambitious staging of quantum physics science fiction. The play supported by all this beautiful design is also mostly praised, with the notable exception of That Sounds Cool’s Aaron Riccio, who says “the play needs to grow up.” The same whimsy and childishness is specifically cited by Nytheatre.com’s Will Fulton as exactly why the show succeeds, however, and most critics describe a fun and intelligent look at the end of our universe.


Posted on 12/10/10
Photo from Goodbye New York, Goodbye Heart
Photo: Rick Ngoc Ho

B

Critics like the idea of the virtual world presented in Lally Katz's play and the implications for our plugged-in society, but find that Katz fails to make a strong enough point. Critics are divided on how well director Oliver Butler handles the material, but agree on the merits of the cast.


Posted on 12/10/10
Photo from Michael & Edie
Photo: Nick Gordon

B

Critics recall Rachel Bonds' previous exploration of damaged souls in her one-act Penelope when they praise her thoughtful, quiet, and sad treatment of the hurt youth in her latest play. For some, this “suffusion of sadness” (as Backstage’s Karl Levett calls it) makes for an unsatisfying ending or disinvests the audience from the characters. Regardless, the consensus is that the play is well done and has intelligent dialogue. OffOffOnline’s Kellie Mecleary spotlights the set design by Hugh Morris, which functions as a musical art installation and whimsical playground for the actors.