Houston theater did not disappoint in 2018, and here are the top ten things that I loved on the stage this year:
First, the year started out epically with An Iliad at Main Street Theater with Guy Roberts delivering one of my favorite performances of the year. I will never think about war in the same way, and I sure hope Main Street brings him back to do this show again—although, let’s get real, I would watch Guy Roberts do anything.
Second, I loved two one-woman shows at Stages Repertory Theatre: Sally Edmundson as Ann Richards in Ann and Denise Fennell as Sister in Sister’s Summer School Catechism: God Never Takes a Vacation! Single-actor shows are high-wire acts in and of themselves, and both actresses were a pleasure to watch. Fennell as Sister Marie Christina is a marvel as she combines improvisation with audience interaction—but it actually works. And both actresses have great comic timing; considering comedy is dead, that is really saying something.
Third, I loved the excess of Cleo at The Alley. Lawrence Wright’s script isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but the performances were, and evoking the messy private lives of Hollywood royalty is never dull.
Fourth, there was a lot to like about the Bard in the Alley’s visually lush and creative production of Twelfth Night. I thought these were the best performances I have seen from the Alley’s resident actors, and it was a stunning production—including real rain—that even my skeptical college students absolutely loved.
Fifth—and you should know that these are in no particular order—Brandon Morgan gave a tour-de-force performance in the Alley’s compelling Skeleton Crew, where the ensemble cast, including the stellar Candice D’Meza (who always delivers), brought to life issues that will stay with the audience. If your empathy quotient for the American worker didn’t increase after this play, then nothing will notch that number up.
Sixth, I admired the risk-taking of the quirky and memorable Mildred’s Umbrella performance of The Moors, with a knock-out performance from Lyndsay Sweeney. As was true of Stages’ We are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South-West Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915. A completely original and eviscerating look at history and its fabrications and omissions, with a stellar cast including Joe Palmore, I caught it closing night, and if I had missed it, well, I would’ve missed one of the year’s best shows, for sure.
Seventh, I have always thought that I hated science fiction (is anything more boring than Dune?), but then I saw Replica at Stages with twins Julie and Janna Cardia and the superlative John Feltch, and boy was I totally wrong because I loved it. One of my theater critic friends said she saw the plot twists coming from a mile away, but call me blonde, I sure didn’t.
Eighth, I loved The Great American Trailer Park Musical because I love trailer parks, I love music, and I love fun. I also love Teresa Zimmerman, Susan Koozin, Carolyn Johnson, Brooke Wilson, and Holland Vavra, so you can imagine how exciting it was to see so many of my favorite actresses who also have superlative voices in a single show.
Ninth, the best show of the year was Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train at 4th Wall. I probably should have put this earlier in my list, but just like I learned from that show, suspense can be good. I have been up-front in all my reviews that I am a huge fan of Joseph “Joe P” Palmore, and this performance is why I am right—he is good in every show, every time. But this part, playing Lucius, an imprisoned murderer, was so stellar that it took my breath away. A deep play that asks hard questions, this is the one that will stay with me the most, long after 2018 is a distant memory.
Tenth, I loved that 4th Wall ended the year with a great update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with great pop song transitions between scenes and a contemporary spin on 18th century romance. It makes some political points, but without being preachy or dull. I mean, this show was fun. And it was a perfect pairing with Main Street Theater’s second run of Christmas at Pemberley—a comic sequel to Pride and Prejudice, which I reviewed last year hoping they would bring it back.
As for 2019, I have a few wishes: That 4th Wall brings back Lobby Hero with an identical cast. That Stages brings back Carolyn Johnson as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow. And most importantly, I wish that every creative person in Houston theater realizes how talented they are, how much we appreciate the hard work they all do, and that they understand that they not only light up the stage, but the whole city, week in and week out.
So don’t do something crazy like run off to New York City. We need you here—onstage and backstage—right here in H-town.