Best & Worst Houston Theater

Best & Worst of Houston theater in 2014: Bitches, food fights and Millennials behaving very badly

Best & Worst Houston theater: Bitches, food fights & bad Millennials

The Whipping Man Stages
A scene from The Whipping Man at Stages. Photo by © Bruce Bennett
Catastrophic Very Tamarie Christmas
Catastrophic's A Very Tamarie Christmas. Photo by Joel Luks
Theatre Under the Stars TUTS Reefer Madness Sean McGee as Jimmy, Nick Henderson as Jesus and Ensemble
A scene from TUTS' Reefer Madness with Sean McGee as Jimmy, Nick Henderson as Jesus and ensemble. Photo by Christian Brown/Theatre Under The Stars
Alley Theatre presents <i>Freud's Last Session</i>
Alley Theatre's production of Freud's Last Session. Photo by John Everett
Artists with the Ensemble Theater performing The Meeting at the ADL Houston in Concert Against Hate November 2014
Artists with Ensemble Theater performing The Meeting. Photo by Stephanie Maierson
Cameron Bautsch and Holland Vavra in Stages production of Xanadu June 2104
Cameron Bautsch and Holland Vavra in Stages' production of Xanadu. Photo by Bruce Bennett
Mildred Umbrella Theater Company Pollywog
A scene from Mildred Umbrella Theater Company's Pollywog. Photo © Gentle Bear Photography
Events_FallenAngels_july2014
Artists with Main Street in Fallen Angels. Photo by RicOrnelProductions.com
Manor of Speaking, Downton Abbey, Jackson Hicks, Helen Mann, Ernie Manouse, Robert Patten, Roseann Rogers
A scene from Manor of Speaking with Jackson Hicks, Helen Mann, Luke Wrobel, Ernie Manouse, Robert Patten and Roseann Rogers. Photo by Clifford Pugh
The Whipping Man Stages
Catastrophic Very Tamarie Christmas
Theatre Under the Stars TUTS Reefer Madness Sean McGee as Jimmy, Nick Henderson as Jesus and Ensemble
Alley Theatre presents <i>Freud's Last Session</i>
Artists with the Ensemble Theater performing The Meeting at the ADL Houston in Concert Against Hate November 2014
Cameron Bautsch and Holland Vavra in Stages production of Xanadu June 2104
Mildred Umbrella Theater Company Pollywog
Events_FallenAngels_july2014
Manor of Speaking, Downton Abbey, Jackson Hicks, Helen Mann, Ernie Manouse, Robert Patten, Roseann Rogers

The New Year might be a time for resolutions, but more importantly it’s a time for lists dissing and evaluating the old year. Why should Houston theater get a pass? I’ve seen a lot of Houston theater in 2014, but I’m not as interested in the big categories of best and worst as much as those little and big moments that make live performing arts so dangerous and mesmerizing. So here’s some true bests, worsts, and bits of proof for my personal theatrical theories.

Best should have been a double feature: Freud’s Last Session and The Meeting

Since the two productions overlapped by a few weeks, the Alley and Ensemble Theatres should have chartered buses to cart audiences between these two thematically similar what-if plays. What if atheist Sigmund Freud met devout Christian C.S. Lewis on the eve of the Second World War? What if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X had a secret meeting in Harlem shortly before Malcolm X’s assassination? Only theater can create such profound alternate histories that should-have-been.

Proof that from 2014 and hereafter only Jews should be allowed to write new Christmas shows: Catastrophic Theatre’s summer extravaganza A Very Tamarie Christmas and Abbey Koenig’s one woman show The Jew Who Loved Christmas.

Most stellar production of a play I viscerally hated: Really Really from Black Lab Theatre

Though I found it like sitting through a two-hour special drunken date rape episode of HBO's Girls, I applaud the cast and especially director Jordan Jaffe. The production was so powerful, months later I still hate any human being under the age of 23 after viewing this depiction of millennials' self-absorbed and psychological brutality, a.k.a playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo’s vision of college life.

The Polonius Memorial “This is too long” Award Winner: Pollywog at Mildred’s Umbrella

In my opinion, the greatest fictional theater critic ever is Shakespeare’s Polonius who when faced with a never-ending monologue by one of Hamlet’s pet actors speaks for audiences everywhere with a resounding “This is too long.” Though Polonius later gets stabbed through the heart for his assessment by theater-loving drama-prince Hamlet, the dude has a point.

While all bad plays are too long, sometimes a really good play could be made much better by a cut of just 10 or 15 minutes. This year in honor of Polonius, I’d like to give this award to the world premiere of Pollywog, a fantastic memory play of family, death, grief and swimming, but which also could and should have ended about three times before it actually did.

Proof that of the too-many musicals based on movies, the great ones are conceived in loving irony: TUTS Underground’s Reefer Madness and Stages' Xanadu.

Best, Hey, I know that guy. How do I know that guy?: Luke Wrobel

Usually you can find actor Wrobel singing his way through comedy cabaret at Music Box Theatre, but on Sundays in January he slips on black tie and tails to become Ernie Manouse’s long-suffering butler, Mr. Rogers, on the Downton Abbey talk show Manor of Speaking. This coming season, I’m hoping for a very special episode of Manor when Mr. Rogers gets drunk on Lord Manouse’s brandy and finally reveals what he really thinks of that bitch Lady Mary.

Best onstage food fight as a metaphor for contemporary and medieval power politics: Gregory Boyd’s direction of the world premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s Fool at the Alley Theatre.

Best Controversy: TUTS Underground’s production of Hands on a Hardbody

Personally, I think it’s just pathetic that Houston’s restauranteurs and chefs produce more public scandal and diva behavior than Houston’s theater community. Where’s your melodramatic pride H-town thespians? Still when director Bruce Lumpkin decided to make several major changes to song order in Hands on a Hardbody without consulting writer, Amanda Green, everyone took to the Internet streets (Facebook) to voice their learned opinions on cease and desist orders, directorial power, and play licensing legalese. It even made national news, on theater level. So really a fun, caught-up-in-the-drama time was had by all. . .except for the actual cast and crew.

Proof that old timey bitches are the best bitches and they ruled Houston theater in 2014: Classical Theatre’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Main Street’s Fallen Angels and Marie Antoinette at Stages.

Best play: The Whipping Man

If I do one old-school best, it’s got to be the best play I saw in town this year and that’s Stages’ production, directed by Seth Gordon, of Matthew Lopez’s The Whipping Man. In the dying days of the Civil War, two freed slaves, one older, one young, raised as Jews in the house of their former master, return home to collect what is monetarily and spiritually due them and end up celebrating Passover with the wounded, and possibly dying, Confederate soldier son of the house. A three-man play filled with powerful performances, desolation, and glimmers of hope and healing.