Theater Review - The best scenes of 2010's best plays

The flips, fights and feats that made for Atlanta's most memorable theater moments

1. Becky Shaw, Actor's Express: The double date

Playwright Gina Gionfriddo smartly reinvents the date-from-hell clichés of conventional romantic comedies in Becky Shaw. Newlyweds Suzanna and Andrew (Jill Hames and Tony Larkin) fix up Suzanna's aggressive brother (Andrew Benator) with the painfully self-conscious title character (Veronika Duerr). When Suzanna tells Becky "Just be yourself," Andrew alarmingly adds, "Don't show any weakness." Director Freddie Ashley conducts the cast like a quartet of chamber musicians, with each role's quirks capable of sending the encounter into another hilarious, uncomfortable direction.

2. The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years, Alliance Theatre: A bumbling blackmail attempt

When well-intentioned, middle-class Alpha Jackson (Tonia Jackson) attempts to blackmail snobbish Gracie Dunbar (Naima Carter Russell), the scene could play as melodrama. Instead, playwright Pearl Cleage and director Susan V. Booth emphasize the farcical elements: Alpha improvises her claim to possess an incriminating letter, while Gracie hilariously exaggerates her shock to manipulate the other woman. Cleage's best play to date never loses sight of the Civil Rights Movement, while maintaining a riotous sense of humor.

3. Tranced, Aurora Theatre: Dr. Malaad hypnotizes Azmera

A Washington, D.C., hypnotherapist (Maurice Ralston) treats a skeptical African graduate student (Naima Carter Russell) for minor ailments, and the first act culminates with the revelation that she's suppressed her memory of a ghastly massacre. The sequence avoids the melodramatic clichés of hypnotism, while Russell's quiet, measured delivery draws out the horror of the events, as if discovering a heart of darkness in her memory.

4. The Last Cargo Cult, Alliance Theatre: Free money

Monologuist Mike Daisey left audiences spellbound with two superb one-man shows last spring. For The Last Cargo Cult, he illustrated his ideas about the subjective value of money by giving away his payment for the performance to the audience every night, then asking for it back at the end. Atlanta audiences left him more in the red than usual.

5. Lookingglass Alice, Alliance Theatre: Humpty Dumpty's great fall

Lookingglass Theatre applied circus arts to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland for its loose, fascinating vision of the story. Perhaps the most breathtaking moment came when Humpty Dumpty plunged from atop a ladder to disappear into a trapdoor in the stage floor, a feat that took spectators' breath away, but also provided a key step in Alice's metaphorical coming-of-age, giving her a chance to face death and move on.

6. Frankenstein, Theater Emory/Center for Puppetry Arts: Frankenstein goes to college

Theater Emory's revival of Jon Ludwig's avant-garde retelling of Mary Shelley's classic used puppetry and voodoo imagery for a delirious, ecstatic meditation on the tensions of life vs. death and faith vs. science. A musical flashback to Victor Frankenstein's college days featured a raucous drinking song while a frog-headed professor demonstrated how electricity can reanimate a cat, the feline joining in the chorus with every zap.

7. Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery, Horizon Theatre: A spitting image

Horizon brought back its 1988 production of its warm tale of a girl on the cusp of womanhood raised by aunts and Big Mamas. The earthy comedy gives way to harrowing accounts of the Jim Crow South, particularly when a frantic maid (Marguerite Hannah) desperately spits tobacco juice out the window of a bus, only to strike a white woman and bring down the wrath of a racist police officer on all the bus' passengers.

8. Tennis in Nablus, Alliance Hertz Stage: Palestinian ball boys

At one point in Ismail Khalidi's drama about the British occupation of Palestine in the late 1930s, an English captor shackles together the ankles of two Palestinian prisoners — rebellious Yusef (Demosthenes Chrysan) and assimilation-minded Tariq (Bhavesh Patel) — and forces them to be ball boys in a tennis match. Amid the sounds of bouncing tennis balls and rattling chains, the tableau conveys the imposition of one culture atop another, as well as the ties that bind two politically opposite Palestinians.

9. Singin' in the Rain, Aurora Theatre: Cosmo's back flip

Stage plays based on famous movies or television shows can both cash in on familiarity with the source material, and suffer from comparisons to the original. Aurora's sunny adaptation of the beloved Gene Kelly musical generated some suspense in Jeremy Wood's "Make 'Em Laugh" number. As he imitated classic bits of physical comedy — "swimming" atop a plank, wrestling with a dummy — we wondered if he'd make a live attempt at Donald O'Connor's backflip. Wood's successful flip at the end left the audience audibly gasping.

10. Griefers, Dad's Garage Top Shelf: Male bonding over virtual gaming

Griefers ingeniously and entertainingly captured the mind-sets of game-obsessed young men. While the characters played online games such as "Jungle Murder," the actors, representing their computer avatars, would stand with toy guns before video-projected backgrounds. Their chat about the mundane challenges of real-world relationships proved incongruously casual as they blasted away at ravenous zombies.

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