Listing awards for "Best This or That" is always a fool's errand — especially for a critic who was in Provincetown for a quarter of the season. But here are 12 productions from 2016 that easily cleared the bar for being entertaining, professional, and just plain wonderful. They are listed alphabetically by title:
All the Way, Cleveland Play House
Director Giovanna Sardelli and actor Steve Vinovich crafted a sly and sometimes disgusting portrait of President Lyndon Baines Johnson in this intriguing piece by Robert Schenkkan. And thanks to Robert Mark Morgan's simple and elegant set, it all played out with style.
An Octoroon, Dobama Theatre
This adventurous play about race, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, was given a startling production by Dobama under the direction of Nathan Motta. Highlights included Ananias Dixon's tour-de-force turn in two roles, one black and one white, and Anjanette Hall as the petticoated barracuda named Dora.
Beauty Queen of Leenane, None Too Fragile
The audience is almost on top of the stage at this theater, and that added to the punch of this script by the renowned Martin McDonagh. Derdriu Ring and Anne McEvoy as mom and daughter danced around each other like scorpions, exposing their shattered dreams for all to see.
Blues in the Night, Karamu
The blues reigned supreme in this lushly designed show, under the direction of Reggie Kelly. Susan Hughes, Nicole Sumlin and Michele Edwards-Whitfield sang the bejeezus out of blues standards such as "Reckless Blues" and "Rough and Ready Man."
Cabaret, Blank Canvas Theatre
It was chilling to revisit pre-war Berlin in this riveting production of the Kander and Ebb classic. Director Patrick Ciamacco hit all the right notes, and the performances by the entire cast were specific and intense.
Fun Home, Playhouse Square
Composer Jeanine Tesori and book author/lyricist Lisa Kron turned the eponymous graphic novel by Alison Bechdel into a deep and engaging look at identity and family dynamics involving, in part, a lesbian daughter and her closeted dad. This touring show found all the emotion with perfection.
Lanford Wilson's Take Five, Cesear's Forum
Director Greg Cesear and his cast nailed five short plays by Wilson, performing with ensemble skill and individual excellence.
Margin of Error, Ensemble Theatre
When Michael Mauldin walked on stage as the bloodthirsty political operative in this tense and witty effort by local playwright Eric Coble, it was an ideal match. As directed by Eric Schmiedl, and supported by Mary-Frances Renee Miller as his aide Daphne, Mauldin captured our current political horror show.
Mr. Burns, Cleveland Public Theatre Based on The Simpsons, this risk-taking production directed by Matthew Wright had it all, including some opera, an irradiated and homicidal Mr. Burns, and pop culture references galore. Not all of it worked, but the parts that did were glorious.
My Fair Lady, Great Lakes Theater
There's nothing better than a classic musical done with professional verve. Director Victoria Bussert and her talented cast, with Jillian Kates as Eliza, landed all the songs and much of the comedy — all suffused with the beauty of Jeff Herrmann's luscious set.
Next to Normal, TrueNorth Cultural Arts
Director Fred Sternfeld took this show, which had been brilliantly done a couple times locally, and added one more star to that record. As the mom dealing with mental illness, Kristin Netzband was a bundle of confusion and determination. And she was matched by Rick McGuigan as her husband.
Proof, Clague Playhouse
Old-fashioned storytelling about a declining math genius won the day in this play by David Auburn. It was highlighted by some fine acting: Rachel Lee Kolis as a simmering, frustrated daughter of the math god, and Robert Hawkes as the father facing undeniable proof of dementia.