A legendary drag queen, an embattled real estate agent, and a son who kills his father were the subjects of some of the finest plays produced in Portland during 2019—and none of them made my top 10 list. I saw 37 plays during the past 12 months, and while there was the occasional stinker, the majority were transcendent or at least transportive. That meant drafting a top 10 list was tough, and more than a few favorites were relegated to honorable mention.
Which is a lovely problem to have. The performers and craftspeople in the Portland theater scene showed incredible ambition and reached imaginative highs this year—particularly by representing the experiences of people from places as different as Missouri, Ireland, Thailand and the Dominican Republic.
Since the following plays have completed their runs, think of this list not as a recommendation, but a reminder that the world of theater in Portland remains thrillingly multifaceted. Then start looking ahead. 2020 awaits.
1. How I Learned to Drive
Twilight Theater Company
Paula Vogel wrote this tale of a Maryland teen who is sexually abused by her uncle. Twilight's rendition was a haunting duet between its fearless stars (Adria Malcolm and Michael J. Teufel) and a reminder that the play's themes—shame, gaslighting, rebirth—reach far beyond the story of one predator and one survivor.
2. From the Ruby Lounge
This production had an astonishing rush of colors, movements and emotions that brilliantly blurred the line between the theater and the strip club.
3. Until the Flood
Portland Center Stage at the Armory
Playing characters both young and old, black and white, performer and playwright Dael Orlandersmith took us on a revelatory journey through the aftermath of Michael Brown's murder.
4. The Delays
Set in a single airport on three separate New Year's Eves, Sara Jean Accuardi's masterpiece journeys backward through time and deep into the souls of its flawed and beautiful characters.
5. How to Keep an Alien
The title may make it sound like a Martian sitcom, but Sonya Kelly's autobiographical play is a wonderfully cheeky and sentimental romance between two humans.
6. Melancholy Play
Third Rail Repertory Theatre
An uproarious "chamber musical" that featured a magnificent cast of brooders, including Nick Ferrucci as a man so obsessed with his girlfriend's tears he collects them in a vial.
7. The Brothers Paranormal
CoHo Productions/Media Rites' Theatre Diaspora
A Thai American ghost hunter comes to the aid of an African American couple with a supernatural problem in this touching (and terrifying) exploration of familial bonds and cultural heritage.
8. The Baltimore Waltz
A European vacation, a noirish conspiracy and a Vienna urologist figure into Paula Vogel's zany, rueful comedy, which is both a riot and a heart-shattering tribute to her brother, who died of AIDS.
9. La Ruta
Artists Repertory Theatre
This production of Isaac Gomez's unsparing chronicle of the mass murders and disappearances of women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, was almost unbearable to watch—and impossible to look away from.
Part scavenger hunt, part art installation and part food fight, this all-ages show was a weird wonder. It was also one of the sweetest and funniest plays of 2019.
Darcelle: That's No Lady
Dealing With Clair
Public Citizen Theatre
Into the Woods
Broadway Rose Theatre