Seat Filler: Best NYC Theater of 2011

By Brandon Voss

Originally published on Advocate.com January 02 2012 1:39 PM ET

10. Camp Wanatachi
Created by star Natalie Elizabeth Weiss and featuring soul-stirring electro beats by Machinedrum, this uplifting and endlessly impressive musical starred Marissa O’Donnell as Jana, a 13-year-old whose pious Christian beliefs get rocked by her unlikely romance with new camper Titi O’Malley, a slutty bulimic played by Krystina Alabado. Like Skins meets Saved!, it was a smart, surprisingly respectful satire of sexuality and spiritual faith.

La MaMa E.T.C., closed February 6.

 ONE ARM (CARBONI) | ADVOCATE.COM
9. One Arm
Adapted by out director Moisés Kaufman with narration recalling Tom from The Glass Menagerie, an unproduced 1967 Tennessee Williams screenplay came hauntingly to life courtesy of the New Group and Tectonic Theater Project. You couldn’t take your eyes off hunky out actor Claybourne Elder, which made him ideal to play Ollie, a boxer who becomes a gay-for-pay hustler and death row inmate after losing an arm in an accident.

The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, closed July 2.

1 PIXEL GIF | ADVOCATE.COM SOUTHERN COMFORT X390 (MATTHEW MURPHY) | ADVOCATE.COM

8. Southern Comfort
At turns uplifting and devastating, this folk-bluegrass musical by Julianne Wick and Dan Collins — based on Kate Davis’s 2001 documentary — celebrated a “chosen family” of trans friends in rural Georgia who debate whether gender is in the head or between the legs. Annette O’Toole was a revelation as Robert Eads, a trans man denied care for ovarian cancer, and Jeff McCarthy found the humor and heart in his trans girlfriend Lola.
CAP21 Black Box Theatre, closed October 29

SONS OF THE PROPHET X390 (MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

7. Sons of the Prophet
Out playwright Stephen Karam's poignant dramedy lyrically explores human suffering in Roundabout’s phenomenal production. Opposite the great Joanna Gleason as a loopy, manipulative boss, Santino Fontana and Chris Perfetti have touching chemistry as gay Lebanese-American brothers coping with odd ailments and their father’s death. Charles Socarides plays a gay journalist — and love interest — covering the family’s story.

Laura Pels Theatre, through January 1.

1 PIXEL GIF | ADVOCATE.COM VIEUX CARRE X390 (FRANCK BELONCLE) | ADVOCATE.COM

6. Vieux Carré
Audaciously directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, Wooster Group’s exhilarating revival used experimental artistry to reveal the cigarette-stained soul of a 1977 Tennessee Williams flop. As a gay writer in a seedy ’30s New Orleans boardinghouse, a terrific jockstrap-clad Ari Fliakos interacted with a violent young stud and a tubercular gay letch, two neighbors both played by Scott Shepherd with a strap-on that highlighted the ugliness of lust.
Jerome Robbins Theater at Baryshnikov Arts Center, closed March 13.

 PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT X390 (MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

5. Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Adapted from the 1994 film about a trans woman and two drag queens busing across the Australian outback, this infectious jukebox musical will wipe the puss off any face. The relationship between Will Swenson’s Tick/Mitzi and his son was beefed up on the road to Broadway, but it never detracts from the shameless flamboyance of Tony Sheldon's Bernadette, Nick Adams' Adam/Felicia, and a birdcage of hot boys in dazzling outfits.

Palace Theatre, open-ended.

1 PIXEL GIF | ADVOCATE.COM BOOK OF MORMON X390 | ADVOCATE.COM

4. The Book of Mormon
As smartly crafted as it is crass, this show from South Park’s creators about mismatched Mormon missionaries in Uganda almost lives up to the buzz heralding it as a musical messiah. Making a gold plate — Mormon joke! — of a modest meal, out Broadway Impact cofounder Rory O’Malley is glorious as Elder McKinley, a closeted missionary who leads a pink-sequined chorus in “Turn It Off,” a showstopper about urge-squelching.
Eugene O’Neill Theatre, open-ended.

 RENT X390 (MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

3. Rent

The trend of Broadway shows reopening off-Broadway continues with Jonathan Larson’s rock musical masterpiece, which resets La Bohème in the AIDS-addled East Village. Reinvigorating the show with new visuals and an age-appropriate cast — you betta work, MJ Rodriguez as Angel — returning director Michael Greif cements the action in 1991 and brings realism to what bordered on caricature. Rentheads should be over the moon.
New World Stages, open-ended.

1 PIXEL GIF | ADVOCATE.COM THE NORMAL HEART X390 (MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

2. The Normal Heart

Directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe, Larry Kramer’s gut-punching 1985 drama about the AIDS crisis beat mightily with breathtaking performances by out actors Joe Mantello as activist Ned Weeks and John Benjamin Hickey as his ill lover. I found some directorial choices questionable — unnecessary scenic projections, for starters — but it’s best not to quibble with an impassioned treatise so cherished that it transcended theater.

John Golden Theatre, closed July 10.

 GO BACK TO WHERE YOU ARE X390 (MARCUS) | ADVOCATE.COM

1. Go Back to Where You Are
This ingeniously surreal, self-aware comedy could have only come from the odd mind of out actor-playwright David Greenspan. The quirky Some Men star played a shapeshifting chorus boy from ancient Greece who falls for a handsome widower — Brian Hutchinson, who last played gay in Looped — when god-sent to present-day Long Island. Helmed by out director Leigh Silverman, it was the sweetest, strangest gay love story of the season.

Playwrights Horizons, closed May 1.

HONORABLE MENTION:

Unnatural Acts
The Judy Show – My Life as a Sitcom
The Submission
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures