It’s fashionable to write off Off and Off–Off Broadway—hey, I do it all the time, for fun and profit. But 2011 made that a difficult proposition: My favorite shows of the year, as a bloc, were those wee, untransferable gems and oddities from smaller theaters throughout the city, the sorts of shows that regularly blow in and out of town in two-week runs. Most of the time, frankly, two weeks is far too generous a cushion. Not this year, not for these ephemeral, yet unforgettable events.
I’ve made Sweet and Sad my No. 1 pick for 2011, but it’s just a tributary to a giant, churning underground reservoir of nanoscale theater-art. I thrilled at a revival of Howard Barker’s furious Restoration anarch-omedy Victory: Choices in Reaction, starring the great Jan Maxwell, which spoke directly to our present viciousness, revanchism, and social cannibalism. The Method Gun, a nothing-short-of-magical mousetrap rigged by Austin’s excellent Rude Mechs troupe, purported to tell the story of an acting guru named Stella Burden and her cultlike teaching techniques, but really massaged the old American ache for purity in theory and practice—and made the stakes of an elaborate theater-game feel like life and death. Itamar Moses’s highly underrated Completeness, where machine logic and molecular biology stand in for the subtler sciences of sex and love, took a young playwright beyond even his grandest Stoppardian ambitions and into a brainwarming, heartbending style all his own, and Invasion!, a dark comedy of xenophobia brilliantly translated/transmuted from a Swedish work, felt like a homegrown New York original: punky, playful, uninhibited.
There were more: the cool sizzle of Colt Coeur’s Fish Eye, the Oresteia–in–South Africa nightmare MoLoRa, Steven Hoggett and Scott Graham’s dance-theater masterpiece Beautiful Burnout (a brutal jewel of a show about the trials of small-time Glaswegian boxers) Moisés Kaufman’s fabulously simple adaptation of the unproduced Tennessee Williams screenplay One Arm, and Septimus and Clarissa, a whirling incantation of Mrs. Dalloway. Here and gone, all of them. I don’t say this to torture you: I saw it and you didn’t! I say it to encourage active foraging. You will be rewarded. Sic transit gloria theatri! That’s Latin for: Keep your eye on the listings.