Badass Theatre Company’s inaugural production boasted the year’s most surprising moment, a scene that screwed with audience expectations while spurring genuine panic. But that’s not the only reason it tops this list. Invasion! is a wondrous shapeshifter: It zings from lowbrow comedy to raw emotion, all the while excavating issues of national, ethnic and religious identity, and Badass’ quartet of actors absolutely devoured it. John San Nicolas deserves special mention for a torrential monologue that left him—and us—gasping for air.
San Nicolas wasn’t the only actor delivering crazy monologues in 2013. Isaac Lamb had one that consisted of a single word: “ladder,” which he repeated over and over and over again, in a manner hypnotic, horrifying and heartrending. This haunting production was light years ahead of other companies’ bumbling, uninventive attempts at naturalistic theater.
This sucker punch of a show made me want to dance and cry. An original non-narrative work exploring love at all its stages, it harnessed performers’ ingenuity to exuberant and poignant effect.
Upending all notions of Our Town as sentimental schlock, Liminal staged a deeply unusual production of the classic play, featuring imaginative touches such as closed-circuit video and a metronome ticking at various speeds. Kudos to Liminal for challenging audiences while proving that “avant-garde” needn’t be synonymous with “awful.”
Runners-up: The Huntsmen (Portland Playhouse), The Lover (Imago Theatre), Clybourne Park (Portland Center Stage). REBECCA JACOBSON.
1. Alchemy (Lindsey Matheis)
Portland has no shortage of young creatives looking to collaborate with each other, but not all have the necessary technical chops. That’s why Alchemy by Lindsey Matheis, a Northwest Dance Project member, stood out for both its nerve and mastery. Matheis assembled dancers from Portland’s best companies and turned the city’s typical dance show on its head. The audience sat in a circle and was encouraged to interact with the dancers—even to take pictures. The result was a show that abandoned stuffiness and embraced Portland’s spirit of revelry.
Dance presenter White Bird brought in several companies this year, from the confounding Maguy Marin to the underwhelming Illstyle & Peace. But perhaps no show was as well-received as MOMIX’s stunning fantasy. Performers took the shape of flora and fauna and interacted with towering puppets, including a triceratops skeleton made by Portland’s Michael Curry. Though more about illusion than technical skill, the visual buffet was captivating.
Much dancerly performance art in this town borders on lazy. Sure, audiences should derive their own meanings from abstract performance, but dancers are often overly reliant on ticket buyers’ open-mindedness. Desierto took things in the other direction with this uber-literal critique of America’s underbelly. Packed with star-spangled accoutrements and pop-culture references, it was a brazen take on the usually minimalist dance form of butoh. The literalism was intentionally absurd, but others should still take note: Sometimes instead of giving audiences credit, you should give them some help.