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Top Torn Tix 2012

The year's 10 best local theatre productions

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ELEANOR & HENRY 'The Lion in Winter' takes top honors this year.
  • ELEANOR & HENRY 'The Lion in Winter' takes top honors this year.

I can hardly fathom it. From January 2012 to the present, I have seen 89 plays and musicals. And that isn't even everything that hit the stages in the North Bay.

Still, once a year I am compelled to name my top ten favorites among those shows I've actually seen. It's no easy task, sorting through a year's worth of torn theater tickets, arranging them from least to most favorite. But here they are: the shows I know I would not have wanted to miss, the ones that made me laugh the most, smile the most, feel the most. I give you my top 10 torn tickets of 2012.

1. The Lion in Winter (New Spreckels Theatre Co. and Main Stage West): James Goldman's knotty Medieval drama, directed by Keith Baker, was a true dazzler, its first-rate cast wringing gallons of juicy humor and breath-catching heartbreak from an immensely entertaining script. As the feuding King Henry of England and his imprisoned wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, Barry Martin and Sheri Lee Miller electrified the stage from start to finish. So good, I saw it four times.

2. A Steady Rain (Marin Theatre Company): Stylishly directed by Meredith McDonough, Keith Huff's riveting drama was an intense story of crime, corruption and cannibalism, told by two disgraced Chicago cops. The gritty performances by Khris Lewin and Kevin Rolston were nothing short of astonishing.

3. The Weir (Main Stage West): The cozy theater at the corner of Main Street and Bodega in Sebastopol was supernaturally transformed into an Irish pub for Conor McPherson's lyrical drama about five lonely people swapping stories on a windy night. Directed by Sheri Lee Miller with spot-on delicacy, and brought to life by a brilliant cast, this unforgettably moving play was gorgeously haunting—in more ways than one.

4. The Ratcatcher (The Imaginists): In a wildly fruitful collaboration with local gypsy-roots band The Crux, this freaky, weird-ass adaptation of The Pied Piper of Hamlin was disturbingly electrifying. The deeply fractured fairytale took place in the creepy, shell-shocked town of Hamlin, a town still locked in dangerous denial ten years after the disappearance of its children, its fear-wracked elected leaders staunchly refusing to accept responsibility for the disastrous choices that took away their future. Performed with sublime physical commitment by a superb cast, The Ratcatcher was a work of theatrical dark magic, easily the best new musical of the year.

5. The Great American Trailer Park Musical (Sixth Street Playhouse): Rocking the house hard, director Barry Martin's flashy, trashy crowd-pleaser about the low-rent denizens of the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park had tons of charm, a toe-tapping score and acres of heart.

6. 39 Steps (Sixth Street Playhouse): Alfred Hitchcock done Monty Python style! Director Craig Miller kept this wacky romp spinning through a madly labyrinthine plot involving spies, evil plots, cow-loving yokels and April Krautner's hilarious parade of over-the-top femme fatales. My sides still hurt from laughing.

7. Other People's Money (Main Stage West): Crisply directed by Beth Craven, Jerry Sterner's perceptive fable about the pros and cons of corporate greed may have had a great cast (John Craven, Joan Hawley, Laura Lowry), but the show was stolen, corporate-raider-style, by Keith Baker, who took the meaty role of a disgustingly charming millionaire on the make and turned it into one of the most satisfyingly crude, outrageously funny performances of the year.

8. Rabbit Hole (Sixth Street Playhouse): Beautifully directed by David Lear, David Lindsay-Abaire's aching tale of grieving parents never succumbed to easy sentimentality. With a superb, openhearted cast and a perfectly pitched tone, Rabbit Hole was among the most satisfying tearjerkers of the year.

9. Othello (Marin Theatre Company): I've lost count of how many productions I have seen of Shakespeare's boat-rocking interracial romance-thriller. Directed with astonishing genius by Jasson Minadakis, this one, exploding with sexiness and impending tragedy, is without question the best.

10. Beauty and the Beast (Santa Rosa Junior College): Magic. Music. Students dressed as dancing spoons. Directed with contagious delight by Laura Downing Lee, Disney's tuneful fairy tale has never been more fun than this engagingly splashy gem.

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