4. The Motherfucker With the Hat, at GableStage. Fast-talking plays aren't easy, which is why you rarely see amateur theaters take on Mamet. They would similarly be best to avoid Stephen Adly Guirgis's profane Tony-nominated The Motherfucker With the Hat, a hilarious ensemble piece about drugs, sex, infidelity, and a certain piece of headwear that wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Never a theater to shy away from a challenge, GableStage mounted its production at the beginning of the year and hit it out of the park. This is what it looks like when a show fires perfectly on all cylinders, with its infinitely engaging cast owning every skeevy, scuzzy line of dialogue with inexhaustible aplomb.

3. Death and Harry Houdini, at House Theatre of Chicago at the Arsht Center. The House Theatre of Chicago has continued to impress in its vacation home at the Arsht Center. Its spectacular take on this Harry Houdini biography was its best effort yet, taking a somewhat pedestrian story line and creating magic onstage, in more ways than one. Elaborate costumes and choreography, video projection, smoke machines, stilt walkers, and dramatic props — including a re-creation of Houdini's notorious padlocked plunge into a foreboding booth of water — engendered a palpable sense of spectacle that few productions from this or any year matched. An extra bravo to Dennis Watkins, whose amazing magic was complemented by more-than-capable acting.

2. Next to Normal, at Actors' Playhouse. The year's finest production of a musical was a far cry from the frothy, escapist classics proffered by other theaters (including, at times, Actors' Playhouse). Jodie Langel delivered a fully believable, empathetic, and nuanced portrayal of a woman suffering from bipolar disorder. The musical surveyed the effects of the illness on an entire suburban family unit, with nary a flaw to be found in the cast. The best of all might have been Nick Duckart, a pliable showman whose best moments brought uproarious comedy to the sobering proceedings. The lovely, hollowed-out domestic set provided an appropriately half-empty blueprint for the action.

GableStage's production of Ruined: The absolute finest.
George Schiavone
GableStage's production of Ruined: The absolute finest.

Location Info

Map

GableStage at the Biltmore

1200 Anastasia Ave.
Coral Gables, FL 33134

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: Coral Gables/South Miami

Roxy Performing Arts Center

1645 SW 107th Ave.
Miami, FL 33165

Category: Community Venues

Region: Central Dade

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre

280 Miracle Mile
Coral Gables, FL 33134

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: South Dade

Pelican Theatre

11300 NE 2nd Ave.
North Miami, FL 33161

Category: Theaters

Region: Upper Eastside/Miami Shores/Biscayne Park

Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

1300 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33132

Category: Music Venues

Region: Downtown/Overtown

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1. Ruined, at GableStage. Choreographer as much as director this time around, Joseph Adler took control of the largest cast ever assembled at GableStage — 16 altogether — to create the year's most riveting production. Discovering crannies of humor in a dispiriting milieu, Lela Elam disappeared inside the character of Mama Nadi, the morally complex barkeep-slash-madam trying to stay afloat in contemporary war-torn Congo. Renata Eastlick and Jade Wheeler were also virtually unrecognizable as two of her "entertainers." Flush with music, dance, violence, romance, and vitality, this production brought out every emotion in Lynn Nottage's extraordinary source material, with scenic and sound design that transplanted audiences to the middle of the horrific action.

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