LGBT fare and out talent distinguished several of the best productions of 2013. Out actress Cherry Jones headed a stellar cast in A.R.T.’s thoughtful revival of “A Glass Menagerie.” Zeitgeist Stage made out activist Larry Kramer’s AIDS epidemic-focused drama “The Normal Heart” as visceral as the recent Tony Award-winning New York revival. Hovey players did full justice to “Falsettos,” out Natick composer William Finn’s Broadway masterwork, in which a son celebrates his bar mitzvah at the hospital bed of his gay father’s AIDS-battling lover . Out actor Denis O’Hare co-wrote and dazzled in a one-man Homer-based evocation of war entitled “An Iliad,” presented by Arts/Emerson. The big disappointment –at least for this critic- was the Boston tour of the nine Tony Award-winning “The Book of Mormon,” which not only lacked the satiric brilliance of the musically superior envelope-pushing “The Producers” but also treated the idea of turning the heroine into a lesbian as a potential punishment.
The following are the best of 2013 theater .
Blood Knot (Boston Center for American Performance) Mason Sand and Hampton Sterling Fluker stunningly portrayed two Apartheid-impacted South-African half-brothers (with different fathers) in this early Athol Fugard play.
Driving Miss Daisy (Gloucester Stage Company) Lindsay Crouse brought feisty nobility to the evolving title Jewish widow and Johnny Lee Davenport luminous majesty to black chauffeur Hoke in Benny Ambush’s luxury drive revival.
Chess (The Longwood Players) Director Kaitlyn Chantry checkmated any assumptions that this Cold War-set musical is dated in a robustly sung concert-style version.
The Elephant Man (New Repertory Theatre) Tim Spears was transcendently touching as the title hero of Bernard Pomerance’s heartfelt look at physically challenged but intellectually undaunted John Merrick.
Falsettos (Hovey Plays) Liz Fenstermaker brought fresh vitality to the life-affirming lyrics of William Finn’s musical gem with Gabriel Clark radiant as bar mitzvah boy Jason and Nicholas Howe moving as his gay father Marvin.
Little Giants: The Miniature Plays of Thornton Wilder (Imaginary Beasts) Out artistic director Matthew Woods and his envelope-pushing company fascinated area audiences with such eye-opening short works of the closeted playwright as “The Flight to Egypt” and “Mozart and the Gray Steward.”
The Normal Heart (Zeitgeist Stage Company) Out artistic director David J. Miller and an impassioned ensemble brought new resonance to gay Jewish writer Larry Kramer’s masterwork about human connection and social conscience in the age of AIDS.
Operation Epsilon (Nora Theatre) Alan Brody’s riveting world premiere play became a kind of ‘Ten Angry Men’ in which German scientists are both defendants and witnesses to each other’s moral and ethical failings during the Holocaust. Will Lyman was a heart-wrenching standout as Otto Hahn, particularly as the Nobel Prize scientist spoke of his (unseen) fleeing Jewish colleague Lisa Meitner.
Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me (Bad Habits Productions) Frank McGuiness studies the alternating hostility and fraternity of three hostages-one Irish, one American and one English- in this gritty Arab prison-set play. Director A. Nora Long and a strong trio made the experience so powerful that their audience became a kind of empathizing fourth character.
Tribes (SpeakEasy Stage Company) Nina Raine vividly examined the conflict between hearing family members and a Deaf returning son in a strong drama about identity and human connection. M Bevin O’Gara directed sharply, with Nael Nacer especially moving as his hearing brother.
Best solo efforts Neil McGarry in a brilliant one-man staging of “A Christmas Carol” (Bay Colony Shakespeare Company) –through December 23 (baycolonyshakespeare.org or 866-411-4111) and Peter Fogel in Steve Solomon’s “My Mother’s Italian My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy (The Regent Theatre).
Honorable mention A Soldier’s Play (Roxbury Repertory Theater) , Closer (Bad Habits Productions), In the Heights (SpeakEasy Stage Company),Lebensraum (Hub Theatre Company), Stones in His Pockets (Lyric Stage), Windowmen (fine new play by Steven Barkhimer,Boston Playwrights Theatre).
All the Way (American Repertory Theatre; on Broadway at Neil Simon Theatre, February 10-June 24, 2014) Brian Cranston caught the complexity and the raging of lionesque Lyndon Baines Johnson in this provocative and informative new play.
A Christmas Story The Musical (tour at Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre; at Madison Square Garden The Theatre, through December 29) The rollicking tour of this family –centered show displayed the striking talents of Josh Lucas and Noah Baird respectively as siblings Ralph and Randy.
The Glass Menagerie (American Repertory Theatre; on Broadway at Booth Theatre, through February 23,2014) Gifted A.R.T. veteran Cherry Jones could be on her way to a third Tony Award with a performance of great heart and feeling in this affecting revival of the Tennessee Williams chestnut.
Glengarry Glen Ross (Merrimack Repertory Theatre) Will Lebow nailed the bravado and vulnerability of real estate salesman Levene in artistic director Charles Towers’ blue chip revival of David Mamet’s masterwork.
House & Garden (Trinity Repertory Theatre) Trinity veteran actor Brian McEleney and a first-rate ensemble caught the challenging complementary and diverse elements of this Alan Ayckbourn two-some as they smoothly moved between the Providence company’s upper and lower stages.
Mies Julie (Arts/Emerson) Baxter Theatre Centre at the University of Cape Town in association with the South African State Theatre gave the Strindberg original new forcefulness in this electrifying and sensual look at the eternal war between enslavement and freedom.
Miss Saigon (North Shore Music Theatre This Puccini-influenced musical (“Madame Butterfly”) continues to resonate today as efforts continue to reunite American fathers and their Vietnamese children. Out frequent NSMT director Richard Stafford caught the show’s personal and topical messages.
Pippin (American Repertory Theatre; on Broadway at Music Box Theatre in indefinite run) A.R.T. artistic director Diane Paulus brought new charm to this Steven Schwartz hit musical with flashy acrobatics and the Fosse-influenced choreography of Chet Walker. This deservedly Tony Award-winning 40th anniversary revival gave Schwartz a new corner of the American musical sky.
A Raisin in the Sun (Huntington Theatre Company) Liesl Tommy captured the heart and the honesty of Lorraine Hansberry’s powerful family drama with a sterling ensemble. LeRoy McClain was commandingly good as Walter Lee Younger.
Best Solo Effort Gifted Denis O’Hare in his own co-authored (with Lisa Peterson) Homer-based “An Iliad” (Arts/Emerson).
Honorable mention Baritones Unbound (Arts/Emerson), invisible Man (Huntington Theatre Company), Les Miserables (Reagle Players), Metamorphosis (Arts/Emerson),The Servant of Two Masters (Arts/Emerson), Tappin’ Thru Life:An Evening with Maurice Hines (Arts/Emerson)