Stage might

Upstage/Downstage Awards: theater's best and worst of 2012

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From The Hundred Flowers Project
PHOTO BY PAK HAN

arts@sfbg.com

YEAR IN THEATER In addition to Christmas lights, the seasonal landscape would not be the same without a thick, shiny coating of awards. We reflect on some highs (and a few lows) from the year in theater with a nod of appreciation here, a nod of respect there, or just a nod, short and involuntary, before the house lights jolt us awake again.

Best theme, or, the year of living nervously Every year it seems like an unplanned, unintentional theme emerges from the collective theatrical hive mind, and this year it was definitely our ever-uneasy relationship with technology. From Mugwumpin's Future Motive Power, an electric ode to the oft-overlooked genius of inventor Nikola Tesla; to Josh Costello's dynamic adaptation of Cory Doctorow's tech-age YA novel Little Brother at Custom Made Theatre Co.; to a stunning revival of Philip Glass' 1976 opera Einstein on the Beach — technology's omnipresence seeped onto the stage.

An incomplete list of other plays that variously explored this theme in 2012: Machine at the Crucible, FWD: Life Gone Viral at the Marsh, The Hundred Flowers Project at Crowded Fire, Status Update at Center REP, She Was a Computer by Cara Rose DeFabio, Zombie Vixens From Hell by Virago Theatre Company, and a quintet of newly-translated August Strindberg chamber plays at Cutting Ball Theater. (Nicole Gluckstern)

Best ensemble Choreographer-performer Keith Hennessy's experimental project Turbulence (a dance about the economy) was the most unusual and fascinating piece to appear this year, hands down, and it featured a deceptively chaotic eruption of performances by a highly skilled ensemble of artist-generators whose sheer present-mindedness made me toss out my zafu in frustration. (Robert Avila)

Best "The Peasants are Revolting!" Just like a case of herpes, you just can't keep a good revolution down, and who better to tackle the over-the-top outrageousness and poke-to-the-establishment's-eye of Peter Weiss' Marat/Sade than the wild and wily Thrillpeddlers? Set in a dilapidated insane asylum spray-painted with "Occupy" slogans and bathroom humor, starring the Marquis de Sade (Jeff Garrett) and a fully engaged complement of rabble and aristocracy, and stuffed with show tunes and moments of questionable taste, Marat/Sade played out like it was written expressly for the notoriously ribald and exhibitionistic Thrillpeddlers, right down to the "copulation pantomime." (Gluckstern)

Pithiest acronym for a musical: Actor-musician-playwright DavEnd's rowdy and saucy and smart new musical F.A.G.G.O.T.S. the Musical, directed by D'Arcy Drollinger, had a very long title (Fabulously Artistic Guys Get Overtly Traumatized Sometimes: The Musical!) but all too short a run when it premiered this year at CounterPULSE — so it was great to learn it's coming back in February 2013. (Avila)

Best armchair cultural revolution The experience of watching The Hundred Flowers Project at Crowded Fire was like being trapped in a distilled version of Mao's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and all its ostentatious unpredictability. An unstable yet mesmerizing territory of shifting alliances and heightened paranoia, implicating even the colluding silent majority of the audience, Christopher Chen's epic sprawl created a landscape of Big Brother totalitarianism with the deceptively innocuous building blocks of social media technology and theatricality. A recurring theme in the piece is that of zeitgeist, and Chen admirably captured the nervous implications of our own. (Gluckstern)

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