From red blood to the red carpet: A year’s top ten


It was a year ago yesterday that I published my first Daily Planet review: I wrote about the site-specific performance Strange Love by Skewed Visions. As I watched the stage blood gush from Charles Campbell’s gaping mouth, I suspected that as a newly-minted arts reporter, I was in for quite the ride.

Was I ever! It was a year of yawnworthy lows and hilarious highs, culminating in a trip to the 2008 Ivey Awards. Looking back at the dozens of articles and blog entries I’ve written over the past year, I compiled this list of highlights—my ten favorite shows among everything I’ve covered.

10. The Importance of Being Earnest, Pendulum Theatre Company (January) Next to Tenebrism, this show had the smallest audience of anything I saw all year—but from the sound of it, all 12 of them wet their pants laughing. The cast performed with gusto and transported us from icy Minnesota (it was the only night all winter my car needed a jumpstart) to a sunny garden kept toasty by the dialogue’s snap. 9. Kirby, History Theatre (October) Most reviewers saw this show’s ambiguity as a weakness, but I appreciated Syl Jones’s refusal to tie a tidy bow around the turbulent life of a complicated man. Also, in the men’s room I got to wash my hands next to Tony Oliva. 8. Old 97’s at First Ave (June) We were all worn out from dancing by the end of this high-energy show, but it was just another night’s work for Rhett Miller and company. 7. Fat Man Crying, Joseph Scrimshaw Productions (December) Joseph Scrimshaw is a meticulous writer of comedy: he simply will not permit more than a few lines of dialogue to go by without a gag. When he’s at his best, as he was in this show (being revived this December), it makes for a happily hedonistic evening at the theater. 6. Kate Nash at First Ave (May) On her first American tour, the gifted young Brit was visibly uncomfortable when she was forced to emerge from behind her curtained keyboard—until she lost herself in one of her tuneful, introspective songs. Contrasted with the practiced polish of more experienced acts, Nash’s reticence made for a movingly intimate performance. 5. The Deception, Theatre de la Jeune Lune (October) Though I missed every show in every one of Jeune Lune’s first 29 seasons, I was lucky to catch both shows what turned out to be its final season. Fishtank was a sad last gasp, but The Deception embodied the qualities that made a generation fall in love with Jeune Lune: daring, humor, sexiness, and—above all—intensity. (I was right, by the way, when I predicted that I wouldn’t see a more striking set all year—though it sounds like Cabaret may have given The Deception a run for its money.) 4. The Song of Hiawatha Pageant, Hiawatha Club of Pipestone (July) 30 years is a pretty good run, but the Hiawatha Club of Pipestone doubled that before the curtain (of night) fell on its final performance of the Song of Hiawatha Pageant. This time capsule from 1948 was preserved as if in amber…but its demise was inevitable, part and parcel with the demise of the small-town culture it sprang from and embodied. 3. The Avett Brothers at the Cabooze (May) Like Bruce Springsteen, the Avett Brothers believe in rock-n-roll. As it happens, they also believe in bluegrass and country, and they refuse to choose among the genres. Their brilliant songwriting and impassioned performances haven’t gone without notice—they’ve been tapped by Rick Rubin for a jump to the majors with their next album, which he’ll produce. If the Brothers can top their 2007 release Emotionalism, they’ll be in a position to fill stadiums—and those of us who were there at the Cabooze can say we knew them when. 2. Mr. Marmalade, Walking Shadow Theatre Company (November) I’m sorry, Fat Man, but I cannot tell a lie—this was the show I laughed hardest at all year. Led by pitch-perfect Jaime Kleiman, the cast gave itself with complete abandon to the lunatic invention of playwright Noah Haidle. The press kit included a script, which helpfully allowed me to realize that the play’s best line was improvised: “¡Hola!” 1. You’re My Favorite Kind of Pretty, Jon Ferguson (March) It wasn’t perfect. Some of it was tedious, and some of it was awkward, and some of it was painful—but the overall effect was absolutely transcendent. Jon Ferguson’s moving production, with beautifully simple sets inspired by the work of Jennifer Davis, elegantly drew a parallel between stepping onstage and falling in love. It’s scary, and also exhilarating…all you can do is close your eyes, hold on tight, and let yourself be rushed away over the waterfall.