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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    Favorites of 2018: Stage shows and author talks

    Haley Bennett and Peter Dinklage in Goodspeed Musicals’ “Cyrano”(Photo by Diane Sobolewski)


    “Cyrano” at Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre in Chester, Aug. 3-Sept. 2

    This was THE show to see around here this year. It wasn’t just that it featured “Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage in the title role — although he’s the reason the performances were sell-outs — but it was also that the adaptation, written and directed by Erica Schmidt (who is married to Dinklage) was so smart and moving, propelled by a haunting score.

    — Kristina Dorsey 

    Tape Face at Garde Arts Center, Feb. 15

    I don't know how to explain this guy. He does comedy without talking (since his mouth is taped), but in no way is he a mime. He's got a million and one props, but he's not a magician either. If you haven't seen him — either live or on "America's Got Talent" — you probably don't get it, but if you were at the Garde, and saw the balloons flying, I don't have to convince you of his genius.

    — Tim Cotter

    Brian Regan at Garde Arts Center, Aug. 23

    Somehow, even though Regan's PG material consistently and hilariously conveys contempt for the Idiots In Our Midst, his observations are simultaneously tempered by a charming self-effacement. Onstage, with a mime's ability to apply quick visual shadings to the folks in his jokes, and a debater's reasonable, "see how stupid this is?" delivery, Regan thus has a very persuasive quality — as though he's seeking to enlist followers rather than delivering punchlines. But there's no overt message other than the world is full of lunacy, and we might as well laugh at it. And a new bit about the invention of bagpipes/closing-time at the patent office was profound in its sublime silliness.

    — Rick Koster

    Monte Cristo Award ceremony, April 30 in New York City

    You know how most awards shows (see: the Academy Awards) are deadly dull? Boy, not this one. The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center bestowed its Monte Cristo Awards on Lin-Manuel Miranda, the "Hamilton" creator developed his musical "In the Heights" at the O'Neill in 2005. The ceremony was replete with fabulous performances by artists who have starred in Miranda's work, and Miranda spoke with heart and humor.

    — Kristina Dorsey 

    “Present Perfect” at Bingham Camp, Salem, in September

    The Bingham Camp Theatre Retreat was renamed Live & In Color over the past year, but more noteworthy is this: “Present Perfect,” the show staged there this fall, is the best musical yet to be developed at the camp. Kudos to playwright Nancy Nachama Cheser and composer Jaime Lozano for this thoroughly engaging piece about an English-as-a-second-language teacher and the immigrants in her class.

    — Kristina Dorsey  

    John Oliver at Foxwoods, Dec. 29 and 30

    Technically, his standup shows were in 2017, but it was the very tail end — as in Dec. 29 and 30 — so let's give him "best of" credit here. Please, Mr. Oliver, return soon.

    — Kristina Dorsey


    Paul Muldoon at La Grua Center, March 3

    It's always fun if a bit intimidating to sit 15 feet away when a Nobel-in-Literature shortlister reads and offers anecdotal asides — particularly if it's someone as awed and amused by the world as Muldoon. Yes, he's so smart that a lot of the references and words in his flowing, beautifully sculpted poems — "viduity"? "lugh"? "Sam Bethicket"? — blew through my poor brain like sleet-needles. But Muldoon also demonstrated an almost uncanny ability to intercede with explanations or backstory at just the right time — and with nary an ounce of condescension.

    — Rick Koster

    Tommy Orange at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, June 8

    Every year, someone unknown and unexpected is designated by the shadowy cabal of haughty book critics as THE next literary superstar. In 2018, that writer is Tommy Orange and, based on his reading/signing/Q&A appearance at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum on a quiet summer twilight, he's not particularly comfortable with impending fame. Wearing a ball cap and T-shirt, the 35-year-old Orange came across a bit shy, and his quiet, measured way of speaking seemed to indicate that, on the whole, he'd rather be home writing. But sales of and critical response to his debut novel, "There There," about contemporary Native American life in the U.S. is breaking through to the masses in a perhaps unprecdented fashion. It was almost voyeuristic to watch Orange as he dutifully responded — even if he didn't bargain for this part of the gig — to what will presumably be, going forward, his responsibility as a major spokesperson for his people.

    — Rick Koster

    Jennifer Egan at Wheeler Library in Stonington, June 20

    From the experimental narrative structure of her Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Critics Award-winning "A Visit from the Goon Squad" to the historical novel approach to her current bestseller, "Manhattan Beach," Jennifer Egan clearly follows no stylistic formula. Nonetheless, at this reading/signing, she surprised a crowd of about 60 fans by admitting that, when she sets out to write a new book, she never has a plot figured out — she lets her characters evolved and point the way. With immense charm and a mesmerizing explanation of the exhaustive research she underwent to write "Manhattan Beach," Egan was informative, fun and casual.

    — Rick Koster

    David Sedaris at Garde Arts Center, April 14

    Ah, Sedaris! The humorist spoke and read some of his writings, and with Sedaris, that’s all you need for a night of great wit and gut-busting humor. He included some material he was still working on, which was fascinating to hear (also interesting: to see him jot notes during his performance, as he noted things he wanted to change and bits that did or didn’t get an audience reaction).

    — Kristina Dorsey 

    Director Devanand Janki gives instructions to the cast of “Present Perfect” during a rehearsal of the Live & In Color production in Salem. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Brian Regan (Mitchell Zachs/HO/AP Photo)
    Tommy Orange (Elena Seibert)
    David Sedaris (Ingrid Christie via Little, Brown)

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