South Florida’s year in theater in 2012 was marked by gain and loss. On the plus side, artists pushed and challenged themselves, the region’s playwrights crafted a number of impressive (and often funny) world premieres, and the production of Pulitzer Prize-winning works led to many of the year’s richest theater experiences. The most devastating minus was the loss of three important local companies — and, by extension, dozens of jobs and hundreds of engaging nights at those theaters.
Certainly, Broadway shows are a first choice for many theater lovers, and the best of 2012 were The Lion King at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, and Billy Elliot and South Pacific at the Broward Center. Spanish-language theater got a boost this year with the University of Miami’s festival celebrating Cuban playwright Virgilio Piñera and the shipping-container microtheater productions at Centro Cultural Español, in addition to the annual International Hispanic Theatre Festival and the locally focused TEMFest. Mad Cat blurred artistic boundaries with Paul Tei and Jessica Farr’s 21st century take on a Shakespeare classic, The Hamlet Dog and Pony Show. And the Arsht gave its summer audiences another splashy theater-as-event experience in The Donkey Show.
There’s nothing wrong with touring productions (I, for one, can’t wait to see War Horse at the Broward Center in May). But what makes South Florida theater distinctive, what gives its partisans reasons for pride and worry, are its local productions. Here, in random order, are the top shows, playwrights, developments and trends of 2012.
1. Sometimes, the most significant events aren’t happy ones. South Florida lost three important theater companies in 2012, two of them from an already theater-sparse Broward County. The reasons for each closing differed — burnout, fund-raising fatigue, debt, personal concerns. But the loss of Davie’s Promethean Theatre in March, Boca Raton’s 37-year-old Caldwell Theatre Company after Working closed April 1 and the shutdown of Plantation’s Mosaic Theatre this month means three fewer first-rate companies in the region — and three fewer places for top-tier talent to work.
2. Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined finally made its way to South Florida in an enlightening, moving, devastating production by GableStage in September. Artistic director Joseph Adler’s much-honored company had a typically strong and impressively acted 2012 lineup, one that included Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Motherf**ker With the Hat in January, Keth Huff’s A Steady Rain in March and Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still in May. But the actresses playing the women of Ruined — Lela Elam, Renata Eastlick, Jade Wheeler and Trenell Mooring — illuminated what it means to be female in war-torn Congo with an artistry that was simply haunting.
3. Actors’ Playhouse began 2012 with its superb production of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal. Jodie Langel was brilliant as Diana, a wife and mother with bipolar disorder, a woman whose personal losses just keep piling up. The rock-driven score and serious subject made for unusually riveting musical theater. At the other end of the stylistic spectrum, Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria’s guy-friendly world premiere revue Real Men Sing Show Tunes…and play with puppets creatively married comedy, insight and poignant moments (not to mentioned a “mixed” cast of humans and puppets) to emerge as a show with a future.