The Bitter Lemons' Best of Los Angeles Theater 2015


The time is here, LemonHeads! The time for all the Bitter Lemons’ Best of Lists! First we’ll have this Best of Los Angeles Theater list (see below), shit that left an impression on me, kept punching me in the face in a good way after I left the theater, then we’ll have the Top Rated list - which are the shows that received the best critical accolades pulled directly from our LemonMeter – and then we’ll have the Best Stories of 2015

I know, I know, the excitement is overwhelming. 

I saw probably more shows than I’ve ever seen in one year, I’m guessing more than a 100.

Hold on. Need a moment to absorb that thought.

Okay, I’m back.

I know that doesn’t come near what some of the critics in this town saw, and frankly, I’m glad. I saw what I saw and what I saw I have now seen. Again, just one man’s limited opinion over one year of theater going. So if you didn’t make the list, look around, there are going to be about twenty of them and I’m sure you’ll be on one of them. And if you think about it, wasn’t garnering a Scenie this year adulation enough?

These are the ten Los Angeles Theater productions that did it for me this year, that stayed with me, that rose above the rest for one reason or another, but mostly for their excellence. I’ve added a little somethin’-somethin’ along with each show to tell you why it made me all warm and googly inside. They go in descending order, my favorite first, tenth favorite last. I’ve also added some Honorable Mentions for those worthy productions who deserve a mention but did not quite make the grade.

Congrats to all for one hell of of a 2015!

And now without any further Freddy Adu (look him up) here is the…

Bitter Lemons’ Best of Los Angeles Theater 2015

1) Failure: A Love Story (Coeurage Theatre): This was the show that affected me most in 2015, its whimsical nature, the masterful staging, the execution of the ensemble, the heartfelt performances, the music, the dancing, but most of all the powerful message: we will all die, it’s all about what you do with the time you have left. Love is the answer. A tremendous show from top to bottom.

2) Trevor (Circle X Theatre): This one was not far behind Failure, if they could only excise that final scene, well, the thing would’ve been a masterpiece. That said, the performances by Jimmi Simpson and Laurie Metcalf were superb and the comedy and poignancy of the piece came through loud and clear thanks to Tim Wright’s guidance. A truly unnerving and stellar evening of theater.

3) Spring Awakening (Deaf West at The Wallis): Saw this in its first incarnation, and for me, it just got better at The Wallis. I can only imagine how they are blowing Broadway away at this very moment. An almost perfect evening of theater.

4) The Day Shall Declare It (The Wilderness): Incredible choreography and stagecraft and a truly immersive experience. My biggest quibble was that they went a little too heavy on theme and gave short shrift to the story. But overall, excellent. Looking forward to what they bring in 2016.

5) Picnic (Antaeus): This was a beautiful revival of a play that, on first read, shouldn’t be as powerful as it is. But it is, and was, in the hands of this crew. Thanks for giving me another look-see on an enduring classic. Antaeus was on fire this year and now they are leaving my ’hood. Bastards!

6) Alien vs. Musical (Hollywood Fringe): My favorite show of the Hollywood Fringe. Tremendous music and singing, actual choreography, hilariously subversive themes and unexpected poignancy, and dammit it all to hell if they didn’t have a singing Mama Alien Puppet to put this one over the top. Still can’t believe it didn’t find a life after the festival.

7) Guards at the Taj (Geffen Playhouse): My first Rajiv Joseph play and it was a good one. I had some issues with the awkward tonal quality, shifting from farcical to lyrical, but the two actors were excellent and they did not back away from the horror of it all, which I always appreciate. The Geffen actually had a couple of good shows this year. Wonders will never cease…

8) The Johnny Cycle – Part I: The Quick and the Dead (The Speakeasy Society): Another very good immersive experience, this one was a deconstruction of the Trumbo Novel “Johnny Got His Gun” and while the level of talent was a bit up and down, the overall experience definitely stayed with me afterwards. Again, looking forward to what this gang might bring in 2016.

9) Shakespeare’s Last Night Out (Hollywood Fringe/Orgasmico): Another of my Fringe faves. Michael Shaw Fisher finally dispensing with the clutter of a cast and just letting it all hang out with a one man musical that brought the music and the muse. Still running! His next original musical is schedule for Sacred Fools’ season in 2016. Bring it!

10) Man Covets Bird (24th Street Theatre): Though this piece did not pack the punch of Walking the Tightrope (what could?), it was a tremendously imaginative offering that got better the second time I saw it and the music and singing was exquisite. The story itself just wanted to be too many things and that ultimately diluted its power a bit. Not enough to knock it off this list, but still…

Best Season:

1) Coeurage Theatre Company: These guys may not have hit it every time, but when they did, it was glorious. An endlessly emerging gem in Los Angeles Theater.

2) Antaeus Theatre Company: Their renditions of Picnic and Vanya were sublime and their whole season was stellar. And now they’re moving to Glendale. Classical sons of bitches.

3) The Road Theatre Company: These guys were on a major roll this year, only caught a couple shows but they were good. Well done.

4) Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group: They toss up over 30 shows a year, not always a good thing, and this year certainly had some stinkers, but these guys take risks all the time, every time, and when they hit, like they did with Othello, Urban Death and Alice, they hit like a visceral tsunami to the heart and bone.

5) The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts: These guys have a very eclectic schedule, lots of co-pros with Ashland and overseas companies, some excellent, some a little meh; but they are also doing what the other big boys aren’t, looking in their own backyard for the scintillating work being done there by companies whose annual budgets might just cover The Wallis’ Starbucks’ bill. Case in point: Deaf West’s Spring Awakening. Now on Broadway. Take note CTG, Geffen, SCR and Pasadena Playhouse. We’re here doing the work for you, have some balls and give us a foot up so we can take it to the next level and wow your subscribers with some homegrown huzzah. You might surprise yourself. And them.

Honorable Mention:

King Dick (Gangbusters Theatre), Othello (Zombie Joe’s Underground), Carrie The Musical (Los Angeles Theatre), The Seventh Annual One Man Show Championships (Hollywood Fringe), Urban Death: Tour of Terror (Zombie Joe’s Underground) and The Temptation of St. Antony (Four Larks).