The Best Theater of the Year

death of a saleman web e1332341212806 The Best Theater of the Year

‘Death of a Salesman.’

If 2012 wasn’t the year the musical finally died—like the novel, the newspaper industry and Fidel Castro, the art form will forever be on the verge of death—it was certainly a year that confirmed its chronically critical condition. But that doesn’t mean it was a dispiriting year in which to be a New York theatergoer. As the man said, the play was the thing.

Among the revivals, there was Mike Nichols’s definitive restaging—or, mostly a re-creation of the original staging—of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. And the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf deeply impressed critics, if not the box office, with Pam MacKinnon’s take on Edward Albee’s surprisingly contemporary classic.

But the most consistently wonderful part of theatergoing in 2012 were the new plays at major Off Broadway companies—mostly, like those two legendary works, finely observed and beautifully, funnily written examinations of American families. There were the transfers of Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles by Lincoln Center Theater and Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park from Playwrights Horizons, Katori Hall’s Hurt Village at the Signature,new Playwrights productions of Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit and Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale, and the new LCT plays Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar, and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, by Christopher Durang. Elsewhere around town there were also, though not about American families, Cock, the bisexual-Brits battle, The Twenty-Seventh Man, about a Soviet purge of Jewish intellectuals, and Paula Vogel’s A Civil War Christmas.

The single best thing on the theater landscape in 2012? Playwrights Horizons, the company devoted to new American plays about the American condition. From Leslye Headland’s Assistance in February to Ms. Herzog’s The Great God Pan this week—with Detroit and The Whale, Dan LeFranc’s The Big Meal and Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn along the way—it had a fantastic season of the stuff New York theater is now doing most fantastically.

As for a musical fantasia, well, Les Misérables is coming next week to a movie theater near you.

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