A sensitive 12-year-old coped with her parents' divorce, an older woman consoled herself with tales of romance and an elderly puppet glimpsed happiness. What wider range -- of emotions, styles and themes -- could we have asked for?
1 I, CLAUDIA (Tarragon, April 3-May 6) One of the surest tests of a play's power is how vividly it stays with you. Kristen Thomson's I, Claudia, with its precocious preteen title character and three other surprisingly interrelated characters, is burned into my mind -- and heart. Using masks, subtle costume changes and a gently nuanced script, Thomson and director Chris Abraham created a poignant look at pain, loss and survival. Don't miss next month's remount, already 75 per cent sold out.
2 THE BALD SOPRANO/THE LESSON (Soulpepper, September 3-22) While Soulpepper's production of Uncle Vanya was equally good, this Ionesco double bill proved the more original coup. Director Jim Warren marked out the banal declarations of The Bald Soprano with clock-like precision, while Chris Abraham suffused The Lesson's chilling look at fascism and power with nervous tension.
3 ELISA'S SKIN (Tarragon, October 16-November 28) Carole Fréchette's lovely script dealt with a neurotic woman (Tanja Jacobs, in an electric performance) obsessed with her skin and stories of romance. But gently tucked into its folds were smart metaphors about aging and the time-defying power of live theatre. Funny, sad and true.
4 YOU ARE HERE (Theatre Passe Muraille/da da kamera, September 20-October 7) Playing with light and shadow, past and present, reality and imagination, Daniel MacIvor's psychological mystery recounted the relationship map of one woman's (Caroline Gillis) life. Not easy watching -- even with superb performances by Gillis, David Jansen, Jim Allodi and others. But chilling in its stark staging, where an upturned glass made the audience wince.
5 THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Mirvish, June 6-July 28) Credit director Daniel Brooks with making Lisa Lambert, Bob Martin, Greg Morrison and Don McKellar's musical parody even funnier and sharper than earlier versions. Amazing what the addition of a character and a couple of songs -- including a hilarious send-up of Asian-themed musicals and a novelty song about a monkey -- can do. Only question: when's the original-cast CD coming out?
6 HAPPY (Canadian Stage/Rink-a-Dink Inc., January 25-March 3) Always an experimenter, puppeteer Ronnie Burkett used a symbolic rooming house full of highly expressive puppets to probe humankind's attempts to find happiness. Surprises included a raunchy MC figure who bitchily dispensed gossip. But what lingers are his poignant looks at people facing life-changing events who must decide whether to dwell on their pain or move on.
7 OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD (Our Country's Good Co-op/ Theatrefront, January 12-28) Director Daryl Cloran brought Timberlake Wertenbaker's literate script set in an 18th-century Australian penal colony to vivid life. His handling of huge ensembles (in the tiny Tarragon Extra Space!) seemed effortless, and he coaxed moving performances from a troupe of talented actors (including Araxi Arslanian, Patricia Fagan, Molly Jane Atkinson and Craig Erickson) whose youth nicely matched the characters'.
8 TUESDAYS AND SUNDAYS (Fringe/D&M Productions, July 5-15) No Fringe or SummerWorks show left as strong an afterimage as this finely etched jewel about two impetuous young rural lovers (played by writers Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn) who meet a tragic end. Haunting.
9 ZADIE'S SHOES (Factory, January 9-February 11) Adam Pettle's funny and occasionally brilliant script about a compulsive gambler (Jordan Pettle) who bets money meant for his sick girlfriend (Kelli Fox) has its flaws, but in Jackie Maxwell's fine production they didn't matter. The ethical dilemmas were laid out clearly, and the cast, including scene-stealers Randy Hughson and Paul Soles (as a Jewish prophet), Pettle and a sympathetic Fox, provided an emotional payoff.
10 IRON ROAD (Tapestry New Opera Works, April 20-28) Composer Chan Ka Nin and librettist Mark Brownell's bilingual opera about the Chinese immigrant experience in 1880s Canada proved that contemporary opera can be dramatically and musically compelling. Tom Diamond's sumptuous production often achieved magical results, soaring as high as the performers' voices.
A FLEA IN HER EAR Director Laszlo Marton failed to weave a cast of first-rate farceurs into the expected roller-coaster ride in this Feydeau comedy. Stop-and-start farce is a bust.
IDOMENEO Originally a Robin Phillips project, this doomed production of Mozart's early opera changed hands, and director Bruce Donnell dropped the ball. Bengt Jorgen's choreography was high-school level.
KOPERNIKUS Claude Vivier's contemporary opera conned the city's pretentious music critics into thinking they were experiencing something new, but most people who saw the show were bored.
MacHOMER -- "THE SIMPSONS" DO MACBETH Rick Miller's one-note party piece combining characters from The Simpsons and Shakespeare's Scottish play shed little light on either work. A tragic waste of talent.
SOLDIER'S HEART David French ran dry in his fifth episode of the Mercer clan tale. The central figure of the earlier works, Jacob, is here a teenager and little more than a plot device.