New York Theatre Wire Writers Choose
10 Best Shows of 1999-2000 Season

by Philippa Wehle

For the third year, The New York Theatre Wire asked its writers to submit the ten best shows they had seen in the season between May 1, 1999 and May 1, 2000 and to list them in order of importance. In keeping with our tradition, we require our writers to disqualify themselves if they haven't seen a fair cross-section of the season's offerings On, Off and Off off Broadway. (The publisher always disqualifies himself ex officio.) Five of our writers responded with enticing lists of a large variety of shows.

"Top Ten" Shows of the 1999-2000 Season

JAMES JOYCE'S THE DEAD (The Belasco Theatre)

COPENHAGEN by Michael Frayn (Royale Theatre)

WASTE by Harley Granville-Barker (Theatre for a New Audience) American Place Theater

MORNING SONG by Jan Lauwers & Needcompany (Brooklyn Academy of Music)

CONTACT by Susan Stroman and John Weidman (Lincoln Center Theater)

SHOCKHEADED PETER: A JUNK OPERA, by Julian Crouch, Phelim McDermott and The Tiger Lillies (New Victory Theater)

DIRTY BLONDE by Claudia Shear (Helen Hayes Theatre)

DINNER WITH FRIENDS by Donald Margulies, (Variety Arts Theater)

FULLY COMMITTED by Becky Mode (Cherry Lane Theatre)

THE REAL THING by Tom Stoppard (Barrymore Theatre)

Because of the prevalence of revivals on Broadway this season, the voters were charged to offer their perceptions on the alleged dearth of new creative work of substance this season. Those who chose to address this question were indignant at the suggestion that this has been a creatively low year. One reviewer wrote, "I think I have seen more new plays in New York this season than in several years past." Another stated unequivocally that in his view, "production of new works was unceasing this year." According to two of our writers, however, the new plays seen were not seen on Broadway but rather in out-of-the-way spaces in New York, in Louisville or elsewhere outside of Manhattan.

The reason for this, in the view of two of our writers, is that some of the more interesting new works have only limited engagements in Manhattan and that audiences have to be creative in order to discover new work. Speaking personally, the exciting new works I have seen this season--notably "Jet Lag" by the Builders Association at The Kitchen, "Another Telepathic Thing" by Big Dance Theater at Dance Theater Workshop and "Showy Lady Slipper" by Richard Maxwell at PS 122--were short lived runs in Off-off Broadway venues. In order to catch this kind of experimental work, one has to be willing to take chances.

One of our writers blames the inability of the theater establishment to come to grips with what is the reality of new theater work. From dance-driven shows such as "Contact" to adapted classics ("Sueno" or "Marie Christine"), which connect the past with the present while reflecting the contemporary artist's own sensibilities, there are as many definitions of new theater work as there are artists involved in creating them. This raises the question of how much the problem lies with the critics. Our man declares, "Instead of trying to make aesthetic sense of how dance as an art form is changing the face of the Broadway musical, for example,... what we get instead are boring trend essays, know-nothing tirades against dancing as spectacle."

He continues that attention is not being paid to what is really happening with today's playwrights, choreographers and composers. "There is a lack of understanding that an organic process can constitute what may be considered new." So what if "Jitney" was written in 1973? It is "one of the most mature and truthful dramas to have come out of this or any other decade that deals with the human struggle to live, love, survive and accept responsibility." And lastly, he avers "this season is proof that even a 100 year old play ("Waste") can be so vital and so extraordinary that it echoes from the past and casts the present in a new light." [Wehle]

© copyright 2000 Metro New Media, Inc.

Further information email: Philippa Wehle, author of this article, or send a letter to the editor.

Senior Columnist: Glenn Loney. Feature Writer: Jerry Tallmer. Theatre Critics: Margaret Croyden, Lucy Komisar. Columnist-at-large: Randy Gener. Contributors: Philippa Wehle, Brandon Judell, Melinda Guttmann, Ed Rubin, Henry Baumgartner. Columnists: Marilyn Abalos (Asian Theatre), Susan Haskins (Broadway), Larry Litt (Comedy). Senior Editor: John Hammond. Listings Editor: John Hammond.

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