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Best (and worst) of 2001
5 Winners & 5 Losers in Theater

 
BY JOHN SIMON
 

Winners

The Credeaux Canvas
About art, its practitioners, purchasers, and parasites; and about the heart, its convolutions, connivances, and convulsions. It is even inexpensive to put on. So only the total blindness and deafness of producers can explain why Keith Bunin's perceptive, witty, bittersweet play did not transfer.

Elaine Stritch: At Liberty
Stritch is only one woman, but what she did or didn't do -- her triumphs and bloopers -- seems to cover 50 years of our theatrical history. She is by turns rib-tickling, gut-splitting, and heart-wrenching.

Lobby Hero
Even second-best Kenneth Lonergan has all of Neil Simon's wit along with a surer sense of construction, a finer ear for how we talk now, and an unsentimental but compassionate feel for confused but endearing bumblers.

The Spitfire Grill
Here, alas, the reviewers were at fault for not spotting, under some minor imperfections, an intimate musical whose heart and ear were very much in the right place. Simplifying the movie on which it was based, this tale about second chances and overcoming small-town prejudice would have been a genuine crowd-pleaser.

The Syringa Tree
A one-woman show whose author-performer, Pamela Gien, managed to encapsulate a world: the grim history of apartheid as seen through the eyes of a bright little white girl growing into a brilliant young woman.

Losers

Chuckmeesery
You can count on Charles L. Mee for pretentious, hollow, kinky leachings off Greek drama or second-childhood pornography in his pseudo-trilogy First Love, True Love, and Big Love.

Harold Pinter Retrospective
H.P. is not only a phony in himself but also the cause of phoniness in his epigones. Clever productions and good acting, imported from England, should not disguise Pinter's emptiness, mean-spiritedness, and tiresome repetitiveness.

The Play About the Baby
There is a good Albee, but this was by Edward's worthless twin, with nothing up his sleeve except obfuscatory arrogance. It is all meaningless attitudinizing; not only were there no new clothes, there wasn't even an emperor.

Thou Shalt Not
Zola's novel -- material unfit for a musical -- brought out the worst in everyone involved: The oppressive claustrophobia of the tale was not so much conveyed as imposed on the viewer.

Topdog/Underdog
Two gifted actors (Don Cheadle and Jeffrey Wright) do not a winner make. Suzan-Lori Parks's play about two brothers and three-card monte was itself a con game.

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