The venerable "best bets for the new year" critic's post always carries with it the uncertain odor of the racetrack tout. Even the seeming sure things -- the NYC-anointed, blue-chip transfers of Broadway hits -- are too often diminished by dispiriting changes in the cast or production design that can leave one wondering what all the fuss was about. Worse, invariably some inspired dark horse production will emerge in the year's homestretch to sweep the field and make liars of us all.
Those caveats aside, the following represents what promises to be, to this critic at least, the top ten no-brainer ticket wagers for L.A.'s 2012 theater season:
10. El Nogalar (The Pecan Orchard)
Tanya Saracho sets her adaptation of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard against the contemporary social upheavals of Mexico. This West Coast premiere (it originated at Chicago's Goodman Theater) is being directed by Laurie Woolery (with dramaturgy by Luis Alfaro), and stars Sabina Zuniga Varela, Yetta Gottesman, Isabelle Ortega, Diana Romo and Justin Huen. It opens at The Fountain Theatre on Jan. 28.
9. All-Night Barbecue
I was going to plug Jon Robin Baitz's searing family import, Other Desert Cities, set for the Taper in November, but then I heard that Justin Tanner had a new, original comedy in the works. It's set during a prolonged blackout at an L.A. apartment complex and stars Jonathan Palmer, Danielle Kennedy, Tom Fitzpatrick, Melissa Denton, Chloe Taylor, Maile Flanagan, Gary Holland and Tanner himself. The laughter is tentatively scheduled to erupt at The Odyssey this summer.
8. Waiting for Godot
Veteran Beckettians Alan Mandell and Barry McGovern are slated to take on Didi and Gogo, with the marvelous Michael Arabian directing, in an all-too-rare original production by the Taper. Reportedly, Mandell wanted to do End Game, but the CTG powers were afraid it was too esoteric for we provincials. Godot is scheduled to open in March.
7. The Internationalists
Studio SCR is the really exciting news on our regional stages this year. Courtesy of South Coast Rep's new artistic director, Marc Masterson, and curator Oanh Nguyen, this series of edgy, off-the-shelf work culled from local companies means an opportunity to catch up on of some of the best L.A. theater of recent years. In this show, director Jesse Bonnel and Poor Dog Group will be "re-imagining" their outlandish, deconstructive, 2009 stage confabulation of the Cold War space race. It played Poland's Grotowski Festival in 2009; it plays at SCR March 2-4.
6. Anton's Uncles
Also from Studio SCR, this scintillating dance-theater adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya by L.A.'s Theater Movement Bazaar and director Tina Kronis was a 2010 L.A. Weekly Award winner and wowed the judges at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Don't miss the SCR Studio encore, June 8-10.
5. The Past Is A Grotesque Animal (El pasado es un animal grotesco)
South American stage auteur Mariano Pensotti's inventively kaleidoscoped take on the cataclysmic collapse of Argentina' economy in the 2000s and its impact on a generation of Argentineans opened this month at NY's Public Theater. You can save the plane fare by seeing it at REDCAT, February 23-26.
4. Rome at the End of the Line
Acclaimed Mexican director Alberto Lomnitz brings his staging of playwright Daniel Serrano's whimsical and poignant study of friendship to 24th Street Theater in September. Artistic Director Debbie Devine describes it as "a lifetime of friendship at a railroad crossing (in 75 minutes)." That's good enough for me.
3. Urban Death
I came relatively late to director Zombie Joe's delirious, funny and jaw-dropping evening of Gothic horror vignettes. Now I can't rest until every Angeleno gets out to NoHo to see this indescribable hour of pure theatricality and magical stage genius. It re-opens at ZJU in March.
2. Our Town
In 2009, director David Cromer blew the dust off Thornton Wilder's philosophical paean to homespun, small-town America and wound up blowing the NYC critics away. For some, Cromer's name alone makes this Off-Broadway import a must-see. For others it is Helen Hunt, who is reprising her star turn as the Stage Manager from the New York run. It opened at the Broad Stage earlier this week.
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Perhaps the high point of the year will come when Poor Dog Group finally gets to officially premiere their wickedly subversive and visually spellbinding re-imagining of a Greek satyr play. I caught it last year in Jesse Bonnel's meticulously directed one-day workshop staging and thought it the best thing I saw all year. You can judge for yourself when it gets a run at Getty Villa in November.
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