Every end-of-year-theater list is a lie and a dream. A lie because they’re always wrong, and a dream because you forget almost everything. What we’re left with are the shards and fragments of lasting feelings -- the stuff that you can’t shake months, years or even a lifetime later. And that’s why these lists should always be rough, as well as full of gratitude for all these stunning moments that happened and then passed.
Here are my top five shows of 2015 in descending order:
5. Affinity Project’s Russian Play
CounterPulse at ODC Studio B, Nov. 22-24
It took on about 15 seconds of Anton Chekhov’s The Three Sisters and relentlessly attempted to find the perfect rendition of that brief moment. Under Emily Hoffman’s sharp direction, Atosa Babaoff, Beatrice Basso, and Nora el-Samahy spoke and moved with such precision that they seemed to be one entity, a true examination of the pleasures and terrors of what it means to be a third of three sisters. Alternately exhilarating and exasperating, the Affinity Project cut to the heart of Chekhov and stayed there for one mesmerizing hour.
4. Rude Mechs’ The Method Gun
Z Space, Nov. 20-22
The Method Gun followed a group of actors putting on one of the most famous plays in the western theatrical repertoire -- A Streetcar Named Desire -- without any of the show's main parts (Stanley, Blanche, Stella, and Mitch.) What at first seemed to be a rueful backstage farce about a troupe of fools somehow became a primer on how idiocy can turn transcendent. After The Method Gun, you’ll never look at your stupid artist friends in the same way.
3. The Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s production of Moliere’s Tartuffe
The Berkeley Repertory Theatre, March 13-April 12
The Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s production of Moliere’s Tartuffe was masterfully directed by Dominique Serrand and featured an impossible-to-describe performance by Steven Epp. This 17th century farce has more to say about ISIS, state power, and the incredible lack of will in our culture than a thousand articles in The Nation, Mother Jones, The New Yorker, and Dissent. Turning the standard Tartuffe-is-a-hypocrite reading on its head, Serrand and company came to a more terrifying conclusion. Instead of acting the hypocrite, Epp’s Tartuffe did and said exactly what he wanted. That no one tried to stop him was where the terror began. I didn’t laugh once.
2. Dave Malloy’s song cycle Ghost Quartet
Curran: Under Construction, Oct. 23-31
Dave Malloy's song cycle Ghost Quartet was never anything less than stunning. Malloy’s a brilliant storyteller who has somehow managed to take his obsessions—17th century Japan, astronomy, drinking, subways, Thelonious Monk, to name a few—and give them artistic and emotional coherence. For such a subtle composer and writer, there’s nothing subtle about what Malloy does to us: Every time I step on BART, witness a family erupt in anger, or happen upon a fragment of bone, his music comes flooding back.
1. The Wooster Group’s Early Shaker Spirituals
Z Space, Feb. 5-8
The Wooster Group's Early Shaker Spirituals made me question if there’s a difference between demonic and artistic possession. The seminal American theater company's performance/recreation of the 1976 album Early Shaker Spirituals existed somewhere outside of time, making the audience feel happy to just sit back and listen to these beautiful, entrancing hymns. And then the production exploded into dance and myth in an unlikely and ecstatic union of older women and younger men. It was no less than a reordering of what we expect from the world. That the Wooster Group accomplished all this in just shy of an hour was the wildest, nuttiest, and loveliest moment of 2015.