Saturday, December 31, 2011

Shows of the Year, 2011

Great year for live music, with only having to travel for work for a few isolated weeks instead of months at a time I saw 125 shows and honestly very few of them were weak.  But these were the 20 that fought for themselves in my memory, that I wanted all my friends to be there seeing and was glad for whatever friends of mine were there, whether it was 100 or 2.  As with the other posts, everything in in Columbus unless otherwise stated.

1.  Tyondai Braxton and the Wordless Music Orchestra, 03/07/11 (Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center; Manhattan) – The sound of the world cracking open and being born.  Playing a record I’d already been in love with but hearing it in a great-sounding room with all the woodwinds and strings and a four-person vocals/kazoo section was eye opening to say the least.  Colors bleeding into each other and exploding in the back of my head and this raw, perfect joy.  Just joy.

2.  JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, 12/02/11 (The Basement) – JC Brooks also appeared on my theater list this year but the first time they came to Columbus doing their set – they were the backing band for my top-rated Numero Group show at the Lincoln Theater a few years ago – reaffirmed their status as the best live band working today.  A new lineup with no horns, stripped down and ready for action, with those same great songs that embrace everything from James Brown to the Delfonics to Johnny Thunders to Sonic Youth as dance music.  Even with a sadly small crowd – probably 50 people – Brooks didn’t for one second phone it in, a sweat-drenched, perfectly sung performance that had everyone in the palm of his hand, and the band was right there behind him.  Music like this is what’s keeping soul alive.

3.  Liminanas/Gaz Gaz, 08/19/11 (The Summit) – A band, Liminanas, that comes to the US for the first time (at least for a full tour) and really come out with something to prove.  They and Gaz Gaz teamed up to do both sets as a barbed wire wall of 7-piece sound.  Great, catchy songs sung in a manner just disaffected enough - caring/not caring blurring into one another.  A mix of elements that’s not new – a dash of Velvet Underground pulse instead of beat, ‘60s girl group vocals and drums, Ramones drive, clean and dirty guitars switching prominence between verse and chorus, and a tambourine player who looks like he’s having the time of his life – but all played with such fire and charm that it sounded brand new.  The whiskey was sweeter, the smiles grew bigger and by the time we all stumbled into the night slick with sweat we felt washed clean.

4.  Budos Band, 02/26/11 (Outland on Liberty) – For all my bitching about poor Columbus crowds, once in a while my city really does me proud and this time they did it again with Budos Band.  The last of three shows A. and I made it to that night (and not a stinker in the bunch, I should say, Rodney Crowell acoustic and the Bill Frisell/Greg Leisz tribute to Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant were both top notch also) and it was a scorcher.  Promoting their great third record, III, as the sax player said, “It’s the one on the merch table with the fuckin’ cobra”, bari sax melting over the crowd, trumpet raining knives, bass twitching like a raw nerve and walls of percussion and guitar undulating in time.  These last three shows on the list, I danced more than I did at any other show.

5.  Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and Dan Zezelj, Brooklyn Babylon,  11/09/11 (Brooklyn Academy of Music; Brooklyn) – I was really torn whether to put this in the “theatre” list or the “shows” list, but as good as Zezelj’s images and animation were – and they were very good – this was all about the music for me.  Everything perfectly balanced, big, brassy, cinematic music that harkened back to classic Basie and Jones/Lewis but also full of modern riffs and touches including electronics and the whole band playing percussion, no boundaries but always within the realm of the narrative, nothing showy.  I was so enraptured I didn’t want this to end; barring a DVD, I’d love a CD of this music.

6.  Robbie Fulks, 05/23/11 (The Hideout; Chicago) – Fulks’ Monday residency at the Hideout is a treat everyone who can get to Chicago should experience as often as possible.  The joy of seeing Fulks as a player and a songwriter not hemmed in by budget or travel or the third booked night in a row where he’s lucky to get gas money has really brought a flowering of the artist he’s always been.  His ad hoc recurring band the night A. and I were in Chicago, The Scavengers, had Robbie Gjersoe on guitar, KC McDonough on bass and organ, and Gerald Dowd on drums and everyone singing.  As purely fun a night of music as I had, full of wacky surprises – bebop and funk instrumentals played as perfectly as anyone right now, covers of Jon Hartford and Bobbie Gentry and Bill Fox, some new Fulks originals that were heartbreaking and wry as always, everything good about the last 40 years of pop music in a tiny room played out of love.

7.  Hell Shovel and Day Creeper, 10/05/11  (Ace of Cups) – Anyone  who’s ever seen one of these lists knows I love Demon’s Claws, but even I was unprepared for Jeff Clarke’s new band.  The Riders of the Purple Sage on mushrooms, Old 97s with a taste for meth instead of whiskey, whatever comparisons you want to make the material and playing is more than strong enough to stand up to it.  Songs that split the difference between Carl Perkins and Johnny Thunders but with a deep Suicide love of drone; my happiest musical surprise all year.

8.  Black Swans, 12/30/11 (house concert) – The Black Swans ending a pretty great year that also had them releasing their best album so far and touring like mad, with the wrap-up at this recorded house concert for an invited crowd.  They rolled through 15 songs including new stuff – that sounded fantastic, particularly “Fickle and Faded” – and most of their records, played with characteristic warmth and practiced telepathy.  Songs of loneliness and love bringing a community together.

9.  Josef Van Wissem with Che Chen and Robbie Lee and Paul Metzger and Mike Shiflet, 06/18/11 (Skylab) – van Wissem’s lute playing’s always extraordinary and this set had him, for lack of a better word, more rock and roll style with a deep Keith Richards rhythm but without ever dumbing down.  The flurries of notes all felt perfectly inevitable, and the backing with Che Chen on tapes, percussion and violin and Robbie Lee on a homemade bass clarinet was a wall of sound that cracked my rib cage and left me trying to explain this to people I knew wouldn’t care and not giving a damn.  Mike Shiflet’s opening set was transcendent and Paul Metzger’s set after them of bowed extra-string banjo (I wrote down 12 but thinking about it, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 18) was the perfect thing to send us all back into the night.  The kind of thing Skylab does better than anywhere else in town that makes Columbus lucky to have them. 

10.  Puffy Areolas and Unholy 2, 04/02/11 (Cafe Bourbon Street) – For a while, the Puffys have been leading Ohio’s charge of joyful, anarchic, greasy rock.  Damon taking up lead vocals as well as guitar started the concentration and adding Bim Thomas (of legendary Bassholes, Obnox, anything worth playing on fame) turned the flame bright blue.  As strong a sweaty, beer-drenched show as I saw all year, the room all leaning in, huddled close as one and dancing simultaneously – that’s right, we were defying motherfucking physics.  The Unholy 2 set afterward that turned into an improbably rocking all star jam was also damn fine.

11. Signal Ensemble and Third Coast Percussion, 03/13/11 (Le Poisson Rouge; Manhattan) – Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians at LPR played flawlessly, with rhythms that sank all the way into your skin and made the molecules of the room vibrate in countless different directions at once.  The capper on one of the best New York trips I’ve ever had, and after it was over, the four of us took a cab to my favorite bar and toasted the night without words.

12. Orgone, 07/14/11 (Ravari Room) and Gang Gang Dance, 07/12/11 (Double Happiness) – Two shows in the same week that were very different but equally invigorating takes on rhythm.  Gang Gang Dance, in one of my favorite new bars of the year almost uncomfortable packed, which makes that kind of music even better.  The waves of people mean you can’t not dance and the long neon taffy synthesizer lines and percussion like a dozen heartbeats in a sack put everyone over the top.  Orgone, sadly playing to maybe ten people at Ravari Room, where I’ve seen a number of great shows, giving their 100% and swirling their psychedelia through vintage Roy Ayers style smooth funk, occasionally throwing us with a hard break.  Bliss.

13. V-Roys, 12/27/11 (Southgate House; Newport, KY) – The Southgate House was one of my favorite venues in Ohio (yeah, I know it’s Kentucky, but it’s the greater Cincinnati area and it doesn’t occur to me in the same breath as venues in Louisville or wherever) which is closing after the 31st.  This show did justice to every  great memory I had there.  Mic Harrison and Scott Miller’s solo projects are fantastic with great songs but there’s a special magic with those two voices and guitars bouncing off each other, which is in no way meant to slight the swinging, driving, supple rhythm section of Paxton Sellers and Jeff Bills.  Still nailing everything from slowly blooming explosions of heartbreak and rage like Miller’s “Lie I Believe”, “Goodnight Loser” and “Sorry Sue” and grimy, ragged power-pop like Harrison’s “Amy 88”, “Sooner or Later”, and Miller’s “Guess I Know I’m Right.” Sure, maybe this went on a little too long and had too many midtempo songs but when someone hasn’t been around in 12 years and they just came back for a few drinks and some sweet memories before they vanish back into the ether, indulgence isn’t a sin it’s a blessing.

14. Group Doueh, Chicha Libra, and Mucca Pazza, 06/25/11 (Cleveland Museum of Art; Cleveland) – Every museum fundraiser should be this good, in all senses.  Well run, plenty of places to get a drink, lines are managed and the music is perfectly curated, never an afterthought.  Group Doueh’s blistering guitar over synth and gospel vocals in twisting mobius strips took my breath away.  Chicha Libre’s Peruvian pop takes on everything from classic French ballads to the theme from the Simpsons worked just as well in the midwest under a warm, cloudy sky as in a tiny Brooklyn club.  Mucca Pazza worked better in these circumstances than I’d ever seen them.

17. Paradoxical Frog, 11/10/11 (Cornelia Street Cafe; Manhattan) – I saw Tyshawn Sorey twice this year, both in sax/piano/drum contexts;  along with being blown away by his playing even more than usual, Paradoxical Frog stunned me with their compositional rigor and ultimate dedication to sound.  Kris Davis’ piano sounds better every time I see her and she was a massive gravitational force with Ingrid Laubrock’s tenor swooping in and pulling out, weaving through Sorey’s upside down lightning storms.  A band all about tone and feeling but still steering clear of any clichéd way to think about those concepts. 

16.  Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, 11/18/11 (Wexner Center for the Arts) – The kind of thing the Wexner does better than anyone in town.  An invigorating  show where the main instrumental voices were ngoni of different sizes (may  be called something different, like the difference between a mandolin and a mandocello) ringing out in different ranges with different resonance, under gorgeous not quite gospel vocals, waves of groove and melody melting in and washing over each other and the audience. 

17. Six Organs of Admittance and Black Swans, o8/08/11 (Skully’s)  – I don’t get a lot of joy out of ragging on promoters or venues but the way this show was handled was a fucking travesty.  An act that hadn’t been here in a while, that had always drawn in the realm of 100 people played to 12 by my count not including the opening band, and I can almost guarantee won’t be here again for a long, long time if ever.  But beyond that ass-chapping lack of promotion, this was a beautiful, meditative thing with Six Organs (in solo acoustic mode like the first time I saw him) soothing silence and reflection in paintings of his own blood on a rainy Tuesday right as some chill was puncturing the end of summer.

18. Guitar Wolf and Cheap Time, Bottom Lounge, 05/19/11 (Chicago) – Chicago might be my favorite place to see a straight up, do shots and bounce into people rock show as well as boasting some of my favorite people to see that kind of show with.  Cheap Time came out and got us all moving with what Ken Hite dubbed “The Pretenders recreated as a Replacements tribute band”, Brit-inflected Pop songs with a rust belt sensibility (and a male vocalist really reviving Hynde’s clipped vocal style and range) played by three people bashing through their instruments at the very edge of their ability like it’s the only thing that matters.  And Guitar Wolf came out and destroyed like always, Ramones songs played twice as fast and three times as hard, with stage presence that harkened back to KISS and the Kinks. 

19. Doveman, Nadia Sirota and Owen Pallett, 03/09/11 (Merkin Hall; Manhattan) – Let’s have some love shown to Judd Greenstein’s work with the Ecstatic Music Festival, I’m bummed I can’t make the 2012 iteration (just can’t pull off a trip up there till April this year) but it’s always packed with stuff that I’m drooling over.  This example from last year was perfect.  It started with Owen Pallett doing a number of songs from his mesmerizing Heartland and reaching back to his earlier work under the name Final Fantasy, really reaching into his lungs and playing with his abilities as a singer, enjoying not having to set up loops, really taking advantage of having the string quartet with him.  Then Nadia Sirota played some gorgeous viola pieces, slowly reassembling the quartet behind her, including a new piece Pallett wrote for her.  And Doveman with his charming banter and intoxicating piano and vocals, backed by everyone who’d been on stage that night playing much of his last record and brand new work with new arrangements.

20. Plastic Crimewave Sound and Psychedelic Horseshit, 01/28/11 (Skylab) – The first time I saw Psychedelic Horseshit’s new material live with Matt Whitehurst and Ryan Jewell building taffy sculptures of JG Ballard cityscapes, layer on layer of synth and guitar and percussion both organic and synthesized.  Then Plastic Crimewave came out and did their patented art-rock, Stooges through Hawkwind through earlier Crimson, with those great songs and guitars turned up just loud enough in that little room to pry your third eye open.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Art Exhibits of 2011

The second of the posts about stuff that turned me on and left me breathless this year.  Every year I get a little more into visual art, with the ravenous hunger of someone trying to catch up because he wasn’t on it enough in his teens (like music or theater).   I’m still a total dilettante, and these are always through untrained eyes but I’m hoping they get trained a little more every year.  I saw some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen this year, all over.  I felt bad I didn’t make it to any new cities – or back to St. Louis, Pittsburgh, etc – but I saw plenty of stuff that sparked me emotionally or got me writing or even made me want to be a better person.

As with the other three, unless stated otherwise it was seen in Columbus, Ohio.

1.  Glenn Ligon, America (Whitney Museum; NYC) –I remember pretty clearly the first time I saw Ligon’s work (depressingly recently) at the Wexner Center here in Columbus and how stunned I was.  His work still stuns me, both what I’ve seen before and what’s new to me, the potency of the narrative and the politics suffusing the aesthetic but never losing sight of the purely aesthetic pleasures.  No narrative, no history, no theory is left unquestioned in Ligon’s work and the drugs all come to you through needles in your eyes.

2.  Willem de Kooning, de Kooning: A Retrospective (Museum of Modern Art; NYC) – I was already a de Kooning fan but this retrospective was perfect.  This is a textbook case of how to do a blockbuster exhibition that’s earned its bonafides and even has things around some corners for the true fans/geeks to surprise and awe.  For me, this was more about the pastels and sketches and the final room of his late Alzheimer's paintings, all sharper lines and eye-scorching color, but if you didn’t know anything this would show you all you need to know and if you know everything this would be gorging yourself on your favorite chocolates.

3.  Josephine Halvorson, What Looks Back (Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Gallery; NYC) – The most stunning new set of paintings I’ve seen in a long time, the kind of work that makes your hair stand up.  Generally inert objects: a door starting to rot, a set of channel locks, masonry coming apart, in one of the most arresting moments a splayed rib cage, all in uncomfortable/disorienting closeup.  They’re painted very realistically, except for inhuman perspectives, and tiny expressionistic touches – a hole that’s one blob of color – that add to the overall mystique.  The color palette is muted and warm but also a little drab, shutting down the sensual eroticism as it starts to rise up.  Like a Raymond Carver poem or a Gary Braunbeck short story, the straightforwardness belies other metaphors, the whiff of mortality gets overpowering at times, but even things starting to go still hum with life. 

4.  Nathalie Djurberg, Human Behavior (Wexner Center for the Arts) – The blockbuster of the Wexner Center’s spring exhibitions was the very fine Louise Bourgeois/Hans Bellmer exhibit but the Djurberg was what I kept going back to and kept stunning me.  Her videos – with music by Hans Berg – got chuckles for their vintage claymation format, “the darkest Davey and Goliath episode ever” and it uses that childlike sense to drop the hammer.  Sexual abuse, racial violence, the grinding under the wheels of avarice keep pounding at you but there’s such a strong understanding of psychology and the nuance of the medium that it never gets didactic.  The audience is engaged while they’re repulsed.

5.  David Wojnarowicz, Spirituality 1974-1990 (PPOW Gallery, NYC) – On a slightly smaller, more focused scale than the De Kooning, this was a blistering retrospective with a knife in the eye at every corner.  This is a scalpel into the dark, crusted-over cynicism in the heart of belief. Bursting with arresting images – ants climbing over classical art, a crucifix, a gun, a conquistador; the iconic “Silence = Death” with the lips sewn shut; collages with homeless children and headlines and babies and luchadores – that led to the hope inside of all defiance and the defiance inside of all hope.  I walked out of this practically in tears.

6.  Alexis Rockman, A Fable for Tomorrow (Wexner Center for the Arts) – An environmental cri de coeur, full of acrylic paintings of nature gone wrong.  Genetically altered animals ready for slaughter, actual trash between the painting and the surface, but kept from being an airbrushed van or a Heavy Metal cover with the intellectual rigor and deep reality under everything.  There’s a playfulness that underscores the horror and a rigorous classicism in the compositions.  Every time I saw these there was always more to see.

7.  Various Artists, The Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven (Canzani Center at Columbus College of Art and Design) – James Voorhies blew me away with his curation of this group exhibit at the local private art school.  The Love and Rockets-based title was a feint, attaching the show to a more obvious nostalgia and lulling you into false comfort before the more rigorous look at the detritus of post-modernism.  Highlights included: Mark Leckey’s and Alejandro Vidal’s homoerotic, hypnotic videos, Lara Kohl’s stunning ice sculpture of a remembered fairy tale inside an unadorned old freezer, Mary Lum’s photograph and painting hybrids that re-energized things that might go unseen or unnoticed.

8.  Various Artists, Nulla Dies Sine Linea (Instituto Cervantes; Chicago) – A fantastic look at contemporary Spanish drawing.  Breathtaking comic strips, Santiago Talavera’s empty but overstuffed with endorsements golf island.  Sure, with the 23 artists represented there was going to be some chaff but what was good left me chattering like an idiot and there was a massive bounty of riches here.

9.  Frances Stark, My Best Thing (PS1; NYC) – An episodic video of Stark’s online sex chat transcripts “acted” out by what looked like digital Playmobil figures in their underwear with subtitles and read by a text reader.  I didn’t expect much either, but this piece was entrancing.  Suddenly three chapters later I look around and not only am I still there, four people who were in when I came into the gallery are still there too.  A look at what we talk about when we’re trying to get laid and how much deeper that intimacy leads us into everything else we talk about.  This was a perfect refocusing after the interesting-but-flawed September 11 exhibit upstairs and a work that gave me a lot to chew on for the trip back to Manhattan.

10. Mark Grotjahn, Three to Five Faces (Shane Campbell Gallery; Chicago) – Grotjahn’s rhythmic, tribal abstractions, layers of paint like stalagmites forming on cave walls was exactly what I wanted to see on a sunny Chicago afternoon right off the Blue line.  The kind of ego-obliterating, meditative show I love and don’t see that often. 

11. Frank Stella, Irregular Polygons (Toledo Museum of Art; Toledo) – A. was right.  She damn near always is.  The Toledo Museum took my breath away on a weekend visiting the spots where my better half grew up.  And while the main collection was awesome, and the Botero exhibit was a hoot, this reassembling of these Frank Stella canvases blew my hair back and gave me a new appreciation for Stella overall.  Bright colors in shapes that created the impression of three dimensions in a way I’d never seen before. 

12. Richard Serra, Junction/Cycle (Gagosian Gallery; NYC) – A labyrinth of rusting metal almost reddish-brown, twice as tall as any person and curving in and back so the hallways it created suddenly narrowed.  The sculpture puts you back inside your body and suddenly you’re more aware of your own mumbling through the echoes, and every step needs planned out, navigated.  It almost begs to be experienced with a stillness but the closeness compels you to move on.  I had dinner with one of my dearest friends on that trip and this was the one thing we were both tripping over ourselves to tell the other about.

13. Laurel Nakadate, Only the Lonely (PS1; NYC) – This piece threw me for a loop – 365 “snapshots” of the artist crying, in different circumstances, with different backdrops.  It was almost daring the viewer to come up with a story, a unifying narrative for what made her cry every day.  And then the other component consisted of videos where Nakadate got college girls to strip while saying in an even voice, “You’re so beautiful.  You know, you’re the prettiest one.”  Throwing a wrench in assumptions and inherited gender roles even if intellectually you’ve already discarded most of them.  Thought provoking and deeply visceral.

14. Tara Donovan, Drawings (Pins)/Untitled (Mylar) (Pace Gallery; NYC) – These two Tara Donovan pieces spread over two branches of the Pace Gallery made my mouth dry and left me stammering.  Untitled was Mylar folded into overlapping orbs with the folds visible inside like cauliflower turned inside out.  The orbs are asymmetrically lined up so it’s an enormous mass, looking like it’s tumbling over itself or growing like mold, but the way the folds are used – and the combination of skylight and artificial light at Pace – gives the impression that she sculpted with the light, the Mylar’s just there to trap it.  It looked like the birth of the universe.  Drawings was pins of different sizes and angled different stuck in canvas to give the illusion of shading, a slower burn but incredibly complex and incredibly effective, and again, light’s the subject and the medium, metal and canvas are just the conduit for transference.

15.  Uta Barth, untitled (Tanya Bonakdar Gallery; NYC) – Like the Donovan, this was also all about light.  Photos of a shower curtain which were laid out sequentially so the river of light through the center made a horizon.  There’s no attempt to hide the materials or the contrivance, the large format digital photos had some serious artifacting in places and a human hand – the photographer or an assistant – appears in a few pictures, clearly turning the curtain for better effects.  But ultimately, it’s just the drama in light shockingly breaking up our everyday that made my heart sing.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Theater and Dance of the Year, 2011

This is the first of four blog posts recapping what really turned my crank this year.  Nothing’s comprehensive, obviously everything’s hemmed in by what I managed to see/hear (I got better at cataloging the books I read, but not better enough; hopefully next year will include a fave books and a return of fave movies), which is in turn hemmed in by money/a desire to keep my job, time, and sanity.
My year in theater didn’t have the best batting average – sometimes the radar goes wonky.  So I only have 10 things that came to mind for the best of the year; I might have had some reservations, but if anyone asked me if they should see any of these things, it was an unequivocal yes.  There were a number of things with GREAT, astonishing parts – Laurie Metcalf’s performance and Joe Mantello’s direction in The Other Place; Lily Rabe and Alan Rickman’s work and Sam Gold’s direction in Seminar; the dance sequences to Underworld’s music in Beautiful Burnout; the performances and singing in Falsettos; Acacia Duncan in Hum; big chunks of Thomas Browning’s Burning I’m still processing.  But all of those had some unsatisfying element, usually the material.  These are ten shows (for lack of a better word, I included opera and dance) I can stand behind… you know, if anyone asked.
1Satyagraha by Philip Glass and Constance DeJong (Metropolitan Opera, NYC) – The first Glass opera I’d ever seen live though I’d been a fan for a long time, and I was stunned.  An orchestra of organ, woodwinds and strings, no brass or percussion, a small cast, a set of headlines and corrugated metal all added up to one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen on a stage.  Waves of diamond, glittering sound subsuming you and tossing you up, and Richard Croft’s Gandhi was an injection of pure light in his phrasing and singing, a tenor you’re lucky to see once.  I was in tears a few times, and the climax of the second act was an image that I think will always stick with me.
2.  Passing Strange by Stew and Heidi Rodewald (Balliwick, Chicago) – The first midwestern production of Passing Strange worked like a charm, partly thanks to JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound in the place of Stew and his band.  The band was smaller and tighter and Brooks sank his teeth into the material coming up with a different take: angrier, more physically present, that was electrifying.  And the rest of the cast was pitch-perfect, especially Steven Perkins as Youth and LaNisa Renee Frederick as his mother.  As with last year’s Merrily We Roll Along this is the rare revival that made me wish so badly there was a recording (any bootleggers, get at me) and when I listen to my original cast recording these are the faces I see.
3.  Skyscrapers of the Midwest by Matt Slaybaugh, adapted from Joshua Cotter (Available Light) - A meditation on growing up, with its intertwined braids of sex, pain, and death.  The way the town you grow up in can hem you in and suffocate you but always takes you back.  With dinosaurs and robot heroes!  As pure a jolt of fizzy adrenaline, mainlined sugar with just enough sour to keep its edge, as anything I’ve ever seen.  And a great middle finger to anyone who says comic books don’t make good theater.
4.  A Short History of Crying by Sanja Mitrovic (La MaMa ETC, NYC) - Sanja Mitrovic’s one woman show at La Mama (as part of a Croatian theater festival in New York) was the most physical, immediate thing I saw all year.  If she’d grabbed me by the collar and performed the work right into my face it wouldn’t have been more striking.  Different narratives that all illuminate the different reasons for/meanings of crying  through epic political tragedy and folk songs.  The different ways to be broken are dealt out, seemingly at random, until the mosaic she was building all along is clear.  This is hobbled by its last 5 minutes (in this case, celebrity impressions), but everything up to that is so good it can charge that to the game.
5.  L’Effet de Serge by Philip Quesne (Vivarium Studios, Wexner Center for the Arts) – This is exactly the kind of thing that makes the Wexner Center invaluable to Columbus.  A French play that left me walking out the door (and the couple miles home) skating on air.  A gorgeous ars poetica that puts the common every day and simple, childlike play at the very core of art.  Which we should all do well to remember, whatever our individual art is.
6.  The Rehearsal: Playing the Dane adapted from William Shakespeare (Pan Pan, Wexner Center for the Arts) – I wasn’t the biggest fan of Pan Pan’s punk rock Oedipus that came through town a couple of years ago that felt to me like more sizzle than steak, but this made up for that big.  A deconstructed Hamlet with the requisite in-jokes (a great dane that maybe is only there because he’s a great dane, but cute dogs are almost never wrong on stage).  However, the look at different interpretations in the first act turning into a really moving, condensed take on Hamlet and the acid trails of interpretations that could have been in the second was satisfying as a riff on Shakespeare, satisfying as a riff on theatrical history, and satisfying as a piece of theatre in its own right (though I wouldn’t recommend seeing it unless you already know Hamlet a little bit).
7.  Southern Bound Comfort by Gregory Maqoma and Sid Larbi Cherakoui (Wexner Center for the Arts) - One of the best examples I’ve seen of the way dance can subvert and transcend the body even while making the rest of us more aware that we’re living in our own skin.  The noose tree and the noose baby were provocative, powerful images but the way they were arrived at and then worked with was so fresh and the movements so subtle they were even more shocking in the aftermath of the dance.
8.   Just Kids by Sean Lewis (Available Light) - Everything I see Sean Lewis in trumps the last thing which already hit me so hard my teeth rattled.  And this take on his father through different stages of his life is a damn tour de force.  His portrayal of “Rick” is searing but with a deep empathy and massive amounts of charm, and the way tape is incorporated is better than anything this side of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape.  The writing crackles like everything he does but there’s a much stronger use of space and silence this time, the pauses make everything feel lived in and Matt Slaybaugh’s direction balances that without letting the audience catch our breath.
9.  How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe by Jennifer Fawcett and Matt Slaybaugh, adapted from Charles Yu (Available Light) - Available Light’s second comic book adaptation in a 12 month period (different seasons) and it’s also a home run.  Elena Perantoni-Fehr’s a wonder as always and her work as the computer who is almost as emotionally stunted as the protagonist is funny, flirty, and very moving.  Ian Short’s perfect as the nerd forced into becoming an active participant in his own life, a grippingly physical performance.  Jennifer Fawcett and Matt Slaybaugh’s adaptation is just about flawless, Dave Wallingford’s technical cues went off seamlessly (except when showing the seams made it more immediate).  The work pulls its punches with an easy moral and too much explaining in the last few minutes, but everything up till then is a great Dr. Who episode written by Samuel Beckett.  Your inner child is sadder than you remember.
10. House/Divided by James Gibbs, Moe Angeleos, and Marianne Weems (Builders’ Association, Wexner Center for the Arts) - I already wrote at length about this show, but Builders Association attempt to draw connections between the dustbowl (via Grapes of Wrath) and the digital dust bowl the country’s facing now was mostly a worldbeater.  The contemporary stuff had some flaws in the specifics but the Steinbeck was perfectly realized and the technology was magnificent.  Giant spectacle that was always underpinned by a crushing sadness, the scope only intensified the pain and desperation.  Muddy water takin’ back the land.