By Karen Isaacs
Who would have predicted that as 2021 begins we would be concerned with the financial health of theater in America. Which theaters would survive? How many professionals would leave their fields? What creativity theater companies and people displayed in finding ways to still bring a semblance of the theater experience to audiences. How generous lovers of theater would be giving donations to theaters and to groups helping those in the industry.
Perhaps, when theaters open again, audiences will be so hungry for the live, communal experience that tickets sales will skyrocket.
The best of 2020
Live Productions: I’ll start with those I saw between January and March.
One of the last plays I saw in Connecticut was the fine adaptation of Jane Eyre at Hartford Stage. I liked everything about this production from the adaptation and direction by Elizabeth Williamson, to the setting, costumes and performances.
Long Wharf gave Connecticut a fine, if not great, production of I Am My Own Wife, which featured an excellent set.
Also in New Haven, Yale Rep introduced a Native American playwright with the production of Manhatta, set in Dutch New York (or New Amsterdam) and in present day Oklahoma.
Finally, in Connecticut, the production of Lifespan of a Fact at TheaterWorks was as good as, if not better than the Broadway production.
Broadway was just gearing up for a deluge of openings when it shut down. But I can commend the musical Girl from the North Country and the play Grand Design. The latter because it brought Jane Alexander, a national treasure, back to Broadway. The former for the excellent performances and the book by Conor MacPherson.
Both Live and Live Stream
Music Theater of Connecticut was the first theater in Connecticut to do a show with an audience in addition to live streaming. In fact, it did three this fall: Fully Committed, RFK and It’s a Wonderful Life- Radio Play. I saw two as a member of the audience and one on the live stream.
These can be difficult to pull off and Connecticut theaters had varying degrees of success with them. The best was TheaterWorks’ production of The Who and the What.
But the Irish Rep excelled at creating streaming productions. I thoroughly enjoyed The Weir, Belfast Blues, The Touch of the Poet and On Beckett/On Screen. Each was performed and done so well, you almost forgot you were present in the audience.
Another off-Broadway production that excelled in both technical aspects and in its thought-provoking ideas was American Moor.