It's time to look back on the wonderful and weird experiences the theaters of Dallas and Fort Worth gifted us with in 2015. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it's a sampling of some of the productions and players who created magic onstage (and sometimes off). With a year this strong, we can't wait to see what's coming in 2016.
The Flick, Undermain Theatre
A lot of audiences were perturbed by and perplexed with the off-Broadway premiere of Annie Baker's three-hour play — many walked out — but it still ended up winning the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for drama. With Blake Hackler's production at Undermain, it was easy to see why this challenging piece of art is worthy of its accolades. Just three main characters (embodied by Alex Organ, Mikaela Krantz, and Jared Wilson), one dark set (a movie theater, which Undermain's basement space was perfect for), and many long stretches of silence. But even during those long pauses, the actors communicated so much with body language that I was riveted.
Mississippi Goddamn, South Dallas Cultural Center
Jonathan Norton wrote an ambitious time-twister that blends history with speculation, and I hope he continues to refine what is already an enthralling piece of theater. A family who lives near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. experiences all the harassment and fear he endured, but with none of the glory. vickie washington kept the pieces sorted as we jumped through time, and Stormi Demerson gave yet another soul-searching performance.
The Spark, WaterTower Theatre
The host company for Out of the Loop delivered one of the strongest original works not only of the fringe festival, but of the year. Kelsey Leigh Ervi directed and wrote (with collaboration from her cast) a charming tale of a young girl whose father instills in her a great imagination and what happens to that wonderment when she grows up. Like all OOTL shows it featured a minimalist set, but shadow play, puppets assembled from found objects (Kyle Igneczi, who played the father, has extensive puppetry experience), and the good old reliance on the audience's imagination made this a bittersweet yet magical experience.
Medea, Dallas Theater Center
Many of you have probably been to the Kalita Humphreys Theater, but a special group of audience-goers got to travel deep into the building's basement for a stark, startling staging of Euripides' Greek tragedy, Medea. Sally Nystuen Vahle swept the season as the scorned wife and mother, who descends into fierce madness when her husband abandons her for a younger model. Her form of revenge is horrifying, but being so close to her in the basement — and watching actors disappear into the ramp at the rear of the play space, which began to resemble the mouth of Hell —made it even more so.
Ordinary Days, Our Productions
This new-ish company made a lovely Dallas debut with a small musical about love and connection. The cast (Sarah Elizabeth Smith, Juliette Talley, David Price, Matthew Silar) was top-notch, and the refreshingly simple set and lighting design didn't overwhelm the stories. If this is the caliber of Our Productions, we want to see more.
The Down Low, Audacity Theatre Lab and Octaviar Productions
Hands-down, this was my most unusual theatergoing experience of the year. Local playwright Danny O'Connor wrote the script, about a man who's hiding something bad in his bedroom and the people who stumble upon it, then staged it in a tiny house on East Mockingbird. That's right, a house. Only 15 audience members were allowed at each performance, and the absurdity of the play's violence was offset by the incredible dark humor it managed to cultivate. When someone emerges from the "theater's" only bathroom wearing a plastic apron and covered in blood, you definitely want to rethink missing the action for a bathroom break.
The Nance, Uptown Players
B.J. Cleveland is a local treasure, but he's usually hamming it up in comedic roles or directing excellent productions around town. At Uptown, he got to temper his slapstick with sincerity in a strong and good-looking staging of the recent Broadway play about a gay man trying to survive amid the rise of homophobia and dying days of burlesque. The cast was uniformly strong, with Bruce R. Coleman's direction landing all the jokes while tugging on the heart strings.
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, Stage West
Mix The Simpsons with a post-apocalyptic world, and it sounds like you have a no-fail formula for a hit. What really made Anne Washburn's play sing — literally — was Garret Storms' direction and a cast that tackled many different styles of storytelling. Each of the three acts was like its own play, and I'd happily see any part of this wild and weird production again.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Uptown Players
You might be sick of hearing about Kyle Igneczi and his star-making turn as the East German cabaret singer who's a victim of a botched sex change operation, but, well, too bad. This role was originated by its creator, John Cameron Mitchell, and tackled recently on Broadway by Neil Patrick Harris, Michael C. Hall, Darren Criss, and Taye Diggs, so you could say Igneczi had pretty big platform shoes to fill. He stunned as the brash yet vulnerable Hedwig, who sings nonstop through this rock concert of a show, and he was aided by his onstage band and Grace Neeley as Yitzhak, his scruffy, sullen lover. The glitter from this will take a long time to fade.
The Adventures of Flo and Greg, Echo Theatre
Echo Theatre's Big Shout Out international playwriting competition brought this new play to Dallas, and it satisfied the manic-pixie in all of us. Flo and Greg each have their issues, but the humanity they find in each other is heartwarming — not to mention fantastically sarcastic with a biting wit. It also introduced us to Chandler Ryan and Matt Holmes, two transplants who made a big impression with this show and whom I hope to see more of in 2016.
Faust, The Drama Club
Ask and ye shall receive, for Ryan also showed up in this wickedly debauched version of the Marlowe and Goethe stories about a man who makes a deal with the devil to achieve his ambitions. Adapted by Michael Federico, Lydia Mackay, and Jeffrey Schmidt, this sexy and sinister staging reimagined Dr. Faust as a Big Pharma ladder-climber, whose newest concoction becomes the hottest and most dangerous club drug around. Seamlessly inventive staging, outlandish costumes and makeup, and even a rave gave this spooky concept a modern twist.
A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tragedy of Richard III, Shakespeare in the Bar
Though it didn't premiere in 2015, Shakespeare in the Bar really made a name for itself this year with several sold-out showings of "minimally rehearsed" classic plays. Whether presented at The Wild Detectives, Community Beer Company, or Small Brewpub, scores of diverse folks showed up to experience Shakespeare in a whole new way. A relaxed and fun atmosphere (every time an actor calls "line" the audience takes a drink) and passionate, professional actors who are truly having a ball made this one of the hottest tickets in town.