Page 24

PERFORMANCE

Aggie Diversity Moorehead Awards run gamut g from Albee to “Hound Dog” choreography was the most exciting of the season, and, as always, Ann Roth’s vivid costumes told each character’s entire backstory from their very first entrance.

BY DAVID NOH he Method School thinks the emotion is the art. It isn’t. All emotion isn’t sublime. The theater isn’t reality. If you want reality, go to the morgue. The theater is human behavior that is effective and interesting.” So said Agnes Moorehead, who may have created more effective, interesting characters on film than anyone, which is why my annual awards for best live performances are named for her. This year’s 10 Aggies go to:

“T

“Three Tall Women” When this spectacular revival of Edward Albee’s mesmerizing three-hander ended, I felt almost in a state of grace, as one does in the rare instances of truly great theater, barely able to move or bear the banal chatter of the enthralled, exiting audience. In the best costumes of the season (Ann Roth, of course), Alison Pill finally showed me why she is so ubiquitously cast, obviously rising to the magnificent occasion of sharing a stage with those titanesses Laurie Metcalf and a still ferocious Glenda Jackson. I’d forgotten how much I’d missed Jackson’s monumentally commanding voice. “The Ferryman” After so many impoverishedseeming, paltry American family sagas, usually set around a dining table in some upscale country retreat, the sheer opulence of this play’s huge, roiling, cross-generational cast, imported from the UK, easily riveted its audience. Although not a great play, crafted from shards of Se án O’Casey, Liam O’Flaherty, “Of Mice and Men,” and Lord knows what else, it definitely works, and Sam Mendes, back in blazingly theatrical form made it a full, rich, and finally shocking evening of pure entertainment. “My Fair Lady” Many had issues with Bartlett Sher’s feminist rethinking of what

24

BRIGIT TE L ACOMBE

Alison Pill, Glenda Jackson, and Laurie Metcalf in Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women.”

some consider the greatest of musicals. I had little problem with him wanting to emphasize a flower girl’s self-empowerment, especially after delivering the rest of this gold standard show with so much real elegance and loving care. Even a highly mixed cast — never less than adequate but few achieving the sublime — could not take away from the work’s enduring brilliance or Lauren Ambrose’s detailed, startlingly authentic, beautifully sung portrayal of Eliza. “Lobby Hero” Acted with piercing humanity by Michael Cera and Bel Powley, Kenneth Lonergan’s affecting urban chamber piece emerged as a true repertory classic, with its deep humanity and sage observation of regular Joes searching for transcendence. Trip Cullman’s direction was all the more treasurable for its gracefully timed unobtrusiveness. “Saint Joan” The French warrior girl may have a great story, but rarely has it been dramatized effectively, whether it was the too-glossy Ingrid Bergman 1948 film “Joan of Arc” or the God-awful David Byrne musical “Joan of Arc: Into the Fire,” foisted on the Public Theater last year. George Bernard Shaw’s play, written in 1923, has always struck me as some kind of definitive take on her, but rarely revived because of the costly large cast and spectacle it requires. Roundabout did a very

decent job of it, keeping the action clear and ever-propulsive, ploughing through Shaw’s challenging verbosity. It never once came across as too philosophically dry, thanks to the luminous presence in the title role of Condola Rashad, a daring casting choice. She paid off, delivering a performance that verged on greatness. It’s damned difficult to convey saintliness convincingly on the stage without seeming a sanctimonious freak, blowhard, or tiresome goody-goody. She quietly but fervently owned the role, played it like a simple country girl radiantly touched by her private God as well as destiny, and, indeed, was great. “Carousel” I’m sure this wasn’t the first revival of the estimable Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in which the comic secondary leads, playing Carrie Pipperidge and Enoch Snow, stole the show from the tragic central couple of Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan. But Alex Gemignani and, especially, Lindsay Mendez, whose performance automatically entered the realm of the legendary, had such true chemistry, individually and together, that they were easily the most romantic couple on a New York stage in all of 2018. Jessie Mueller and Joshua Henry essayed Julie and Bigelow, with their acting even taking precedence over their singing: his searingly realistic death and her heartbreaking discovery of him, bloodied and finally bowed, tore at your heartstrings. Justin Peck’s

“Conflict” Miles Malleson (1888-1969) was a British character actor best known for the films “The Importance of Being Earnest,” as Dr. Chasuble, and the clueless, toy-loving, doomed Sultan in “The Thief of Bagdad.” He was also a skilled and very forward thinking playwright, whose “Yours Unfaithfully” (1933) dealt with open marriage, something he himself had with one of his three wives. The essential Mint Theater revived that play last year and this year briskly mounted hs “Conflict”(1925), filmed in 1931 as “The Woman Between.” It was a gripping account of a love triangle set against a trenchant political background, superbly directed by Jenn Thompson and acted with superb relish by a sterling cast. “Miss You Like Hell” Ever since she illuminated the stage in the epochal “Rent,” I’ve been waiting for a play to truly showcase the special wonder that is Daphne Rubin-Vega. She found one in this utterly disarming, timely, and deeply moving musical (book and lyrics by Quiara Alegría Hudes; music and lyrics by Erin McKeown), featuring a funky road trip taken by an immigrant Mexican mother (Rubin-Vega) fearing deportation and her estranged, resentful, and possibly suicidal daughter (Gizel Jiménez). They encounter a retired gay couple (David Patrick Kelly and Michael Mulheren), quirky yet possessed of a near magical charm, and when I spoke to Rubin-Vega about it, she enthused, “I loved doing that show. We just recorded the cast album, and Gizel was a phenomenal find, the real thing!” “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” Some may have turned up their

➤ BEST PERFORMANCES, continued on p.25

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