Curtain Call: 13 Shows That Earned a Standing Ovation in 2014

One-person productions abound in a year that was rich and diverse for local theater

No man (or woman) is an island, but you wouldn’t know it from the year in theater that’s about to end. Solo shows of all kinds dominated 2014. Far from vanity projects, these were productions that challenged, informed, and moved viewers while showcasing the talents of actors and playwrights. But the year’s best theater events weren’t limited to solo shows.

Denis O’Hare in An Iliad at The Broad Stage
Far and away the show that left me more exhilarated than any other was Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson’s adaptation of Homer’s Iliad. Transforming the epic into a one-man show was no small endeavor. Performing the piece several times a week was a Herculean task. O’Hare was utterly compelling as he took on numerous characters in this powerful meditation on the nature of war.

Choir Boy at the Geffen
In Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play an openly gay student at a conservative black prep school is taunted by his classmates, nearly derailing his chance to lead the school choir. Jeremy Pope played the lead but all the performers raised their voices—not only to speak McCraney’s words but also to sing the amazing harmonies of the songs.

GMCLA’s performance of I Am Harvey Milk at Disney Hall
Andrew Lippa, composer of such Broadway musicals as The Addams Family and Big Fish, created a one-hour piece that’s equal parts formal musical and staged performance. Starring as the San Francisco gay rights pioneer in performances with the Gay Men’s Chorus Los Angeles, Lippa made a convincing argument that we all are Harvey Milk. This is a tremendous piece of music that deserves to be performed in concert halls around the world.

Barry McGovern in I’ll Go On at the Kirk Douglas Theatre
Perhaps no one interprets the work of Samuel Beckett better than Barry McGovern. Ample evidence was presented in this one-man show. A remarkable actor he extracted sections from three Beckett novels (Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable) and brought them to life in mesmerizing ways.

Christopher Plummer in A Word or Two
Another one of the great solo shows of 2014. You often hear the phrase, “I could listen to so and so read the phone book.” This wasn’t Plummer reading the phone book, but if he had it would have been just as charming. Plummer is at the top of his craft and this show, which celebrates his love of language, was grace personified.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Actors’ Gang
There were two major productions of Shakespeare’s classic play this year. The first was the Bristol Old Vic/Handspring Puppet Company at the Broad that employed puppets to create the magic. The other used very little in the way of sets or props but was far more entertaining. Under Tim Robbins’s direction, the Actors’ Gang certainly didn’t offend. They inspired and challenged us to use our imagination. It was a production that brought smiles from beginning to end.

Ruth Draper’s Monologues
Men don’t have a monopoly on solo shows as Annette Bening proved in the three Ruth Draper Monologues she performed at the Geffen Theatre. The characters she played in each of the monologues were so varied that it seemed as though a different actress was presenting each one. The result was a sublime evening of theater.

LA Opera’s production of Thais
Chemistry isn’t easy to define, but you know it when you see it. Watching 73-year old Placido Domingo with 31-year old Nino Machaidze in the LA Opera production of Massenet’s Thais was like watching a master class in chemistry. The amazing music that was beautifully sung didn’t hurt. It was no surprise that the two reteamed to open the 2014-15 season in La Traviata.

Buyer & Cellar at MTF
Yes, it’s another solo show. We first saw Michael Urie in Buyer & Cellar at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York. Watching him in the larger space at the Mark Taper made us miss the intimacy of the smaller venue, but Urie’s performance as an employee in Barbra Streisand’s fictional underground mall was still a delight.

Hitchcock at the Bowl/Eva Marie Saint
A tribute to the music found in Alfred Hitchcock’s movies seems like a standard evening for the Hollywood Bowl. But the wonderful insights provided by narrator Eva Marie Saint, who appeared in North by Northwest, made this a special evening that left us Spellbound.

For the Record: Baz Luhrmann at DBA
When For the Record moved to DBA in West Hollywood, the troupe faced the challenge of adapting their shows, which were well-served by the intimacy of Rockwell in Los Feliz, to a much larger space. With a production dedicated to music from Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby, Romeo+Juliet, and other Baz Luhrmann films, they found a way of making a “spectacular spectacular” that still teemed with the emotional wallop of those films.

A Trip to Bountiful at the Ahmanson
As with Buyer and Cellar, we first saw Cicely Tyson’s commanding performance in this Horton Foote play in New York. Never thinking we’d get to see it a second time, we were thrilled when the show came to Los Angeles. This legendary actress was just as powerful a presence at the Ahmanson as she was at the Sondheim Theatre. And the production was vastly improved thanks to the casting of Blair Underwood in the role of Ludie, which Cuba Gooding Jr. originated in Manhattan.

The Importance of Being Earnest at The Lounge Theatre
In Casey Kringlen’s trimmed-down version of Oscar Wilde’s play the two main couples are played by men. The show ran a tight 90-minutes and it was pure joy from beginning to end. Despite the cuts (or maybe because of them) the production made complete sense and the unique staging was a well-deserved hit at the Hollywood Fringe Festival.