It was a big political year, and that was reflected on stage, where powerful pieces inspired by the Iraq war came from three separate countries. Elsewhere, Soulpepper added some soulful colour to their lineup, One Yellow Rabbit delivered more poetry in motion, and a cult rock opera became one of the year's hottest tickets.
1. THE BLACK RIDER
Tarragon/November Theatre, October 8-November 16
Who knew that a German-folk-tale-inspired rock opera by the unlikely trio of Tom Waits, Robert Wilson and William S. Burroughs would produce such wicked fun? Director Ron Jenkins, a top-notch cast in whiteface and a nimble band revelled in making cabaret contemporary, catchy and oh ?so ?cool.
2. STUFF HAPPENS
Studio 180, February 29-March 29
Stitching together transcripts, documents and behind-the-scenes boardroom sessions courtesy of a bit of poetic political licence, David Hare looked at how the world got sucked into fighting Iraq. Using intelligence and humour, director Joel Greenberg and Studio 180's starry cast revealed truth and lies with the urgency and weight they deserve.
3. A RAISIN IN THE SUN
Soulpepper/Theatre Calgary, October 15-November 15
Lorraine Hansberry's 50-year-old script about an African-American family trying to get a leg up in Chicago glowed with beauty and timelessness under Weyni Mengesha's assured direction and with a glorious cast's talents. Even if 2008 weren't the year of Obama, this show still would've resonated deeply.
4. PALACE OF THE END
Canadian Stage, January 14-February 23
In a trio of monologues by people caught up in the Iraq conflict - an American soldier, a British scientist and a mourning Iraqi mother - playwright Judith Thompson and director David Storch gave dignity, sometimes flawed humanity and an unexpectedly poetic voice to the horrors of war. No surprise Thompson won a Dora for her script.
5. IF WE WERE BIRDS
SummerWorks/Groundwater, August 8-17
The sold-out hit of SummerWorks, Erin Shields's update of a Greek myth commented incisively on violence and family ties. It had all the strength of Greek tragedy and the immediacy of today's headlines. Under director Alan Dilworth, the poetic, gutsy production moved us in August and still haunts us today.
Theatre Passe Muraille, October 23-November 15
New talent Anusree Roy wowed audiences and won two Dora Awards for her simple yet engrossing tale of a young Indian untouchable who loses her dreams when she becomes an adult. With the help of director Thomas Morgan Jones and lighting designer David DeGrow, Roy gave rich humanity to characters most North Americans know nothing about.
7. SYLVIA PLATH MUST NOT DIE
One Yellow Rabbit/Young Centre, December 2-13
And she won't, thanks to One Yellow Rabbit's imaginative resuscitation of the author and her colleague in poetry and suicide, Anne Sexton. Using movement, music and nuanced readings of well-known and obscure poems, the company celebrated the contrasting artists whose complex inner lives found expression and validation on the page.
Tarragon, November 26-December 28
A battle royal between the forces of comedy and tragedy - personified by playwrights Molière and Racine - defined Sabina Berman's epic story of court intrigue, love and the importance of laughter. Richard Rose's ambitious production came vividly to life in the hands of a large cast, with Richard McMillan and Rick Roberts sparring brilliantly as representatives, respectively, of laughter and tears.
9. NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
Mirvish/Chichester, February 23-April 20
For its sheer exuberance and storytelling fun, it was hard to match this two-part adaptation of Charles Dickens's novel about a separated family trying to brave injustice, evil and poverty. Its over-the-top play-within-a-play version of Romeo And Juliet was as funny as its look at illness and charity was moving.
10. BLACK WATCH
Luminato/National Theatre of Scotland, June 6-15
Based on interviews with Scottish troops who fought in Iraq, Gregory Burke's Black Watch showed audiences the men behind the soldiers. Filled with testosterone, jaw-dropping physical theatre and the candid views of guys who weren't always sure what they were fighting for, the show was a highlight of the second Luminato Festival.
Waiting For Godot; Festen; Minotaur; The Way Of The World; Invisible Atom; Acis And Galatea; Any Night; Getting Married; The Taming Of The Shrew; The Sound Of Music; War And Peace; Avenue Q
Uncle Vanya; Under Milk Wood; [boxhead]; Legoland; A Christmas Carol; The Gladstone Variations; The Russian Play/Essay