On balance, I think the performance that has the edge over all the other actresses this year is Sinead Cusack’s two outstanding roles in Tom Stoppard’s Rock ’n’ Roll. In Act I, Ms. Cusack is Eleanor, the flinty Cambridge professor and dying wife of an unrepentant Marxist; in Act II, she’s Eleanor’s now middle-aged daughter, Esme, a disenchanted romantic and lapsed hippie. (“Lean out of your window, golden hair.”) In each contrasting role, whether in a state of fury or grace, Ms. Cusack captures the mysterious essence of the passage of time.
THIS WASN’T THE best of years for new musicals, unless the kitsch of Xanadu or Mel Brooks’ bloated Young Frankenstein are for you. I was happy to catch at the Fringe Festival an unlikely, hot musicalization of The Winter’s Tale—of all magical, brutal fables—and to acclaim the confident new voices of its gifted creators, Bridget Ryan and Chris Winters.
I also hailed the theatrical magic of Julie Atlas Muz, who brought a whiff of Weimar in the night to Spiegelworld’s revivalist burlesque show, Absinthe. Ms. Muz entered seductively wearing little more than a G-string, carrying a huge balloon, as “Moon River” played. Then she suddenly put her head inside the balloon, where it remained! I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. And then—as the strains of “Moon River” reached a crescendo—she swiftly climbed into the balloon! And there was the miraculous Ms. Muz, waving merrily at us from inside! How I longed to climb into the big balloon with her and shout out to the world, “This is the life!” Or, “Too beautiful! Too beautiful!”
But duty called. The downtown Flea Theater Company production of Adam Rapp’s Bingo with the Indians, directed by the playwright, reminded me in its physicality and daring of Steppenwolf in its infancy. Meanwhile, Off Broadway’s Epic Theatre Ensemble continued to stage risky and important new work—Howard Barker’s uncompromising moral fable about blindly compromised world leaders, A Hard Heart, with the dazzling Kathleen Chalfont.
It was also the year when we said farewell to one of our greatest playwrights, August Wilson. Radio Golf was the last of his magnificent 10-play cycle of African-American history born in the chains of slavery and the necessity of memory. He wrote it as he was dying. And if this furious comic parable—the only example of a Wilson play to deal with the black middle class—wasn’t quite his finest, it still pierced the heart and soul and conscience inexorably.
August Wilson’s come and gone. Let’s see out the year toasting his plays and his memory.