Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year-End Wrap-Up!

As the year draws to a close, we at the Iowa Theatre Blog have gotten to reminiscing about the past 12 months. We're sure you have, too! So, we invited our reviewers to talk to us about their "best of" choices for 2014. It was a fun process: usually, we restrict what our reviewers can comment on. No one can review a show that a company they're affiliated with has produced, for example. Here, though, we gave them free reign to talk about what caught their attention, what moved them, what huge successes they saw in Corridor theatre in the year 2014. We hope you're as excited as we are to read the results! Also, we'd LOVE to hear what YOU think on the matter! Sound off in the comments here, or on FB, or Twitter... or just start the conversation at your favorite NYE party :-D What excited YOU about local theatre in 2014? What gave you hope for 2015? Read our reviewers' thoughts after the jump...

Matt Falduto - Choosing a ‘show of the year’ is more than a little difficult. We are fortunate to have so many wonderful theatres in the Corridor producing so many amazing shows. I finally narrowed it down to two shows. One was the finest production I saw all year. The other was an excellent production, too, but more than that, I want to spotlight a company that is filling a new niche in our community.

Ruben Lebron and Felipe Carrasco; photo by Bethany Horning
Dreamwell’s The Whipping Man was a devastatingly human portrayal of one of the darkest times in our history – The Civil War. Rich Riggleman’s set was excellent, even suggesting a staircase to a second level in a space with 9 foot ceilings. Rachael Lindhart’s expert direction brought out amazing performances from the three actors – Roe Lloyd, Felipe Carrasco and Ruben Lebron. Like reviewer Mathew R. Kerns wrote, “These men have forged a powerful ensemble and their work is not to be missed.” To me, this is theatre at its best – an intimate, powerful performance that touches the heart and forces us to ask questions. As Kerns wrote, The Whipping Man was “A must see.”

My second choice for show of the year is Dogfight, by the newest company in the Corridor, Revival Theatre Company. This group is an excellent addition to the theatre landscape as they’re focusing specifically on musicals – both contemporary rare gems as well as the classics. Their first season includes Dogfight, one of the rare gems, and Pippin, a definite classic. Dogfight was excellently performed and well directed. The music was fun and lively at times and terribly moving when necessary. Most of all, I had the definite impression that this company knows itself and what they want to accomplish as part of the Corridor arts scene. They are a theatre company to watch, no doubt about it.

Sharon Falduto - I wanted to mention a couple of shows, both of which happened early in the year, and both of which dealt with the racial issues that were so prevalent in the U.S. at the end of the year.

Dreamwell's Whipping Man was smart and heartbreaking and wonderful, and TCR's For Colored Girls was necessary and powerful and also wonderful.

I saw a lot of other great theater, too, but those are the ones I want to mention this year.

The cast of for colored girls...; photo by Len Struttmann

Genevieve Heinrich - It seems so self-serving to call out for colored girls... as a "best of" for 2014, since I was in it... In part, that's why it ranks, for me - it was absolutely one of the best theatre experiences I have ever had as a performer. Larger than that, though, is the impact it has had on the community. Almost a year later, I still hear stories about how much the show affected people. I still get strangers coming up to me talking about how moved they were. It's a startling work that deserves to be done more often, and I can't begin to say how proud I am to have been part of a troupe that did it so well.

When I think about the shows that I've been in the audience for this year, the one that shines brightest in my memory is a small piece that I'm not sure many people saw. Ragged Ascent, by Mike Moran (aka The Iowa Goatsinger), was a stunningly generous piece of original theatre. The CR-IC corridor sees an amazing amount of locally-written work; none of it is perfect of course - we are so blessed to be seeing this amazing art in what is essentially its workshop phase, sitting with audiences for the first time. Ragged Ascent was simply beautiful, from concept to creation, and I'm very lucky to have seen it. I hope it goes far.

I'd like to add that while, sadly, I didn't get to see it myself, Working Group Theatre's Out of Bounds is the only time that my 12 year old has come home from a show and immediately started texting her friends to tell them that they simply HAD to see it. It is the #1 piece this year that I am heartbroken to have missed, and I applaud WGT's ability to speak truth to so many segments of the population.

Rachel Korach Howell - Of Mice and Men - Jaret [Morlan]'s work as Lenny was better than anything I've seen. He stole the show. It was magnificent. The ensemble work was also truly wonderful, not just to watch, but to be a part of. A simple classic, something everyone knows, and one most people are afraid of... It's hard to feel.

Hannah Spina, Rachel Howell, Genevieve Heinrich;
photo by Len Struttmann
Much Ado - The simple fact that 4th Rm does free theatre like this is essential to the community and should be celebrated. No one else does this and the quality of the show was wonderful as well. Making Shakespeare approachable is important and seldom achieved. I think they (we) did that. It's not the heaviest Shakes, and it's not the most comfortable of settings, but still... WOW. The talent, the location, the concept... all really great.

Out of Bounds - Again, the work this company [Working Group] does is singular and essential. It's giving theatre a new purpose (or perhaps, simply a forgotten one?) and bringing important topics to the stage in the "guise" of entertainment, allowing the hard truths to penetrate a little easier. The topic at the front of this really marked me, having a daughter myself... made me question how we talk about these things... how do we protect her... can we begin to try to protect her? The cast wasn't 100% across the board, and the script still needs to buff out some dings, but it was more than enough to drive the show home. And the shadow work was super awesome to watch.

Matthew Kerns - For me, the best show of last year was the one I worked on with the indelible Angie Toomson and the fiercely brave and talented ladies of the Rainbow. For Colored Girls... opened the eyes of her myriad of watchers to a style of play rarely seen in these parts. She afforded stories to our community that were diverse in nature yet universal in experience. She moved unlike anything else witnessed on any other stage at TCR or the like and she made joy and pain communal as the gifted ladies of our cast ebbed and flowed through her poetry.

One audience member said to me, "I don't know what was yours and what was Angie's..." I say, yes! Our work as director and choreographer melded so easily together when we built the piece with the ladies that the shows harmonies played as tightly as a Simon and Garfunkel song on a cloudy day.

The technical aspects were simple and elegant.

The production a dream.

I loved it. I am proud of it AND it is my favorite work of last year.

James E. Trainor III - I would pick Colored Girls by far.

This is the type of show that is very challenging for a community theatre, which is a shame because it's a piece that needs to be seen by as many people as possible. This is as true today as it was forty years ago, and TCR's production brought the inherent life out of this poignant text. For Colored Girls was marked by great direction, great choreography, great design, honest and memorable performances from the actors. TCR would be doing a great service to the community if it continued to use its studio space to produce powerful, relevant theatrical offerings.

K. Michael Moore - I'm nearly incapable of choosing a favorite anything, regardless of criteria... therefore:

Kalvin Goodlaxon, Rip Russell, Iver Hovet, Bob Shaffer;
photo by Emily McKnight
I think theater in the Corridor started changing this year - shows like For Colored Girls... at TCR, the consistent work of WGT and Combined Efforts in particular: these, as well as others, began (or have been) really using theater and performance to create discussion in the community. The impact of this method of theater cannot be overstated, but is often quite rare in community theater. We are starting to see it more and more - productions mounted, not strictly for entertainment, but for incitement, conversation, and community.

There were a lot of great shows in 2014. We are blessed to have so much theater happening that we can't see everything, be in everything. But I'm proud that our community is embracing theater for more than just entertainment (which is also a wonderful thing!).

Many thanks to YOU, our community, for reading and engaging and LOVING theatre in 2014! We'll see you onstage and online in the new year!

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