There must be a better way to sum up 2018 Bay Area Theater than flying away from the scene of the crime, but since I’m actually on a shaky Jet Blue flight on the eve of the New Year I’ll have to accept the situation. And accepting the situation is what this list is about: the situation of the country, the situation of a theater and performance culture that is too often automated and soulless, and, most depressingly, the situation of a great art form that still manages to gather sizable audiences, but to rather aesthetically and politically questionable ends.
There were moments of fire and passion and real insight in 2018, but over and over again they felt like dying stars in distant galaxies. These five stars burned the brightest and in many ways all of them were Black Swans, miracles of happenstance, the outliers of an increasingly dark age of false outrage, preening conformity, and aesthetic timidity. Yet, if you pay attention, there was always an individual—the playwright, the director, the choreographer, an actor, and in the case of our best production of the year, a company (albeit German but brought to us by the engaged presenters at Cal Performances) that just refused to accept the world in its present state.
If An Enemy of the People is a battle about truth, both play and production relentlessly pursue its aesthetic correlative: how to depict reality. Today, Ibsen’s realism has become—in a greatly diluted form—ours. By embracing aggressive, non-realistic staging techniques, Ostemeier re-imagines Ibsen’s most radical goals of representing the world, and in fact demands that his production make us feel the shock of it, the shock of what is actually in front of us.
In a fundamental way, the enthusiasm for "Ghostlight" is its own defense, though it leaves many troubling questions unasked. The chief among them is content: what types of productions should this community produce going forwards? And in what ways? And why should anyone care?
Storytelling is an essential aspect of human consciousness. Without it we’d find ourselves trapped in the infinite daze of animal survival. With each new story, we evolve, often imperfectly, but sometimes with great hope.
Every end-of-year-theater list is a lie and a dream. A lie because they’re always wrong, and a dream because you forget almost everything. What we’re left with are the shards and fragments of lasting feelings -- the stuff that you can’t shake months, years or even a lifetime later.