The Best of 2011!

Lay on the eggnog! Toss the confetti! It’s time for the 2011 superlatives! Huzzah! This year’s winners of the internationally renowned theater-words awards are listed below, roughly in the order they opened.

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BEST CASE FOR THE SURVIVAL OF THE WELL-MADE PLAY:

Good People, MTC/Broadway

Here’s how it goes: There’s an interesting lead character who wants something that she has to fight hard to get. A shocking setup, I know, but we Aristotelians in the audience at David Lindsay-Abaire’s latest were giddy at the elegance and payoff of this perfectly crafted and relevant class drama.

BEST REMINDER THAT TONY KUSHNER ROCKS AND TOTALLY DOESN’T CARE ABOUT NON-COMMERCIAL TITLES:

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, the Public Theater

Mr. Angels in America’s four-hour behemoth stood proudly on its own, complicated terms: Spectacularly performed and directed, it simultaneously made you uncomfortable and blissed out—not exactly an easy combination.

BEST REMINDER THAT MUSICAL THEATER INNOVATION IS STILL GOING ON:

London Road, The Royal National Theatre of London

Writer/composer team Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork went all Anna Deavere Smith on a small English town that had suffered a string of murders, then took it one step further, setting their real-life interviews to music, every “um,” “like,” and “y’know” making its way into this totally revelatory chamber musical. The whole concept made for truly sympathetic performances, especially from the great Kate Fleetwood.

BEST TONY-VOTER CALL:

The Normal Heart, Broadway

This revival was just as vital and crackin’ as any up-to-the-second contemporary play (more so, actually), and its Tony win was the most deserved acknowledgement of last season. Joe Mantello’s righteous anger was gripping and overwhelmingly emotional, and the spare set focused the play perfectly.

BEST PROOF THAT QUIETER IS OFTEN BETTER:

Sweet and Sad, the Public Theater

By virtue of its intensely naturalistic aesthetic, this wonderful ensemble drama by Richard Nelson reminds you how much extra “acting” there can be in plays. Its characters (all endearing and complicated) actually speak and behave in the volume and tenor of real people. Shocking, no?

BEST REMINDER TO PUT DOWN THE DAMN IPHONE AND ACTUALLY LIVE YOUR LIFE:

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, the Public Theater

Somewhere in the Jobs-mania that has gripped America since the Master’s death sits this one-man show written and performed by Mike Daisey. His interwoven pair of stories—one, about the history of Apple; the other, about Daisey’s trip to the Chinese plant where Apple products are hand-crafted—brings you face to face with the dirty little secrets hiding in your pocket (and on your desk and in your backpack). Not only are Apple products turning our brains to mush, they’re crippling the bodies of poor, abused workers. Political theater at its best.

BEST REASONS NOT TO GET MARRIED:

(tie) A Doll’s House, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and Betrayal, the West End

Sam Gold’s take on this Ibsen classic ended in an excruciating (the good kind) half hour, where Nora and Torvald basically broke up—agonizingly, truthfully—in real time. Across the pond, “Betrayal,” a possible candidate for a Broadway transfer, was biting, gorgeous, and successfully created the kind of alternative language-space that marks great writing. Neither, however, projected much confidence in flowery white dresses and five-level cake.

MOST SHOCKING SECOND-ACT REVELATION:

Other Desert Cities, Lincoln Center Theater/Broadway

Stockard Channing and Stacy Keach serve up a serious dish of “WTF HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?!” in this super-praised Jon Robin Baitz play. Obviously, the less revealed there, the better; what I will say is this: Every play that involves a writer (as this one does) should have a big moment where she throws piles of paper into the air (as this one does).

BEST REASON TO SEE A BIG BROADWAY MUSICAL:

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Broadway

You know you love ‘em: this re-imagined “Clear Day” proves why big musicals are just about the best part of New York City. Simultaneously sparkly and honest, it delivers all the spine-tingling glory of The Musical and gives an enormously satisfying, kooky, emotional story. David Turner’s climactic “What Did I Have” seals the deal and sends the house into rapture.

MOST IMAGINATIVE SETUP AND AWESOME FOLLOW-THROUGH:

Maple and Vine, Playwrights Horizons

A contemporary fable about an NYC couple that moves in with a town of 1950s re-enactors, Jordan Harrison’s new play reminds you why people go to the theater: the stories. His account latches onto one odd little conceit and imaginatively riffs on it for two plus hours in a beautiful (and surprisingly provocative) yarn. Plus, Jeanine Serralles is just hilarious.

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