The Best of Connecticut Theatre 2012

The bumper crop of professional theatres in Connecticut usually provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy top talent without ever making a trip to Broadway. Citing the state’s best of 2012 helps to diminish the memory of misguided productions like “Boeing-Boeing” at Hartford Stage, “Mame” (Goodspeed), “Harbor” (Westport Playhouse) and, heaven help us, “The Killing of Sister George” (Long Wharf). But why dwell on the negative? In alphabetical order, my favorite theatre experiences of 2012:

• “Carousel”: Director Rob Ruggiero achieved miracles with a fresh revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein warhorse at Goodspeed Opera House. As doomed carousel barker Billy Bigelow, James Snyder had sexual charisma to burn.

• “Dear Elizabeth”: Sarah Ruhl’s loving, literate tribute to poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell was told completely through their letters and was performed to a fare-thee-well by Mary Beth Fisher and Jefferson Mays. A world premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre.

• “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”: Jefferson Mays, again, in that rarity: an original American musical that is actually pretty damn good! Mr. Mays was astonishing playing multiple roles in Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak’s often hilarious new work based on the British film classic, “Kind Hearts and Coronets.” Hartford Stage presented this world premiere. Can Broadway be far behind?

• “Hedda Gabler”: Roxanna Hope’s mesmerizing take on the difficult title role played Hedda in all her glorious conflicting shades of grey. Director Jennifer Tarver had some strange touches and lesser actors in Hartford Stage’s handsome production, but that was all forgotten whenever Ms. Hope was on stage.

“Into the Woods”: Stephen Sondheim’s adult take on Grimm’s fairy tales was given a vibrant, moving revival by director Mark Lamos and his Westport Playhouse. This 25th anniversary production boasted a gifted company of actors none better than Dana Steingold as a deadly, adorable Little Red Riding Hood.

“Marie Antoinette”: David Adjimi’s audacious look at the poor little rich queen and her downfall was a eye-popping world premiere at Yale Rep. Marin Ireland played Marie as equal parts Paris Hilton and Joan of Arc and, anchored by her superb central performance, the play proved a jolt to the solar plexus and a dazzling work of theatricality.

“My Name is Asher Lev”: Based on Chaim Potok’s classic novel, Long Wharf’s sensitively directed (by Gordon Edelstein) production featured a trio of fine actors (Melissa Miller, Mark Nelson, Ari Brand) bringing flesh and blood performances that moved and provoked. Currently playing off-Broadway.

“Next to Normal”: My favorite musical in 2012 was this Pulitzer Prize winner given a gorgeously sung and acted production at Westport’s intimate Music Theatre of Connecticut. A real surprise, “Next to Normal” is a great musical that adapted nicely to the comfy confines at MTC.

“The Realistic Joneses”: The world premiere of Will Eno’s thoroughly original new play at Yale Rep (did any other Connecticut theatre have a better track record this year?) featured the best ensemble cast of the year (Parker Posey, Johanna Day, Tracy Letts, Glenn Fitzgerald) having a ball with this contemporary comedy about words and how hard we work at miscommunication. Darkly comic and brilliant.

“The Year of Magical Thinking”: Maureen Anderman’s luminous performance lifted Joan Didion’s often talky theatrical memoir into another realm that managed to thoughtfully guide audiences effortlessly to tears. In a year of several compelling performances by women, this was the pinnacle. A stunning achievement.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: