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The Best Plays Theater Yearbook

New! Best Plays of 2007-2008| Best Plays of 2005-2006|Best Plays of 2003-2004|Best Plays of 2002-2003|Best Plays of 2001-2001|Best Plays of 2000-2001|Best Plays of 1996-1997|
Since my first review, this annual reference work has undergone some major changes. What has remained unchanged is that it's meticulously researched and a mother lode of facts about the theater season just passed. I've merged past and present reports on these volumes so that you can look up what's new in each volume without clicking beyond this page. The page begins with the most recent addition.

Best Plays of 2007 - 2008
The annual Best Plays Theater Yearbook is one of those rare reference books that can lay claim to fitting that inelegant but apt phrase "a good read." If you've seen the plays dubbed with the "best " tag, reading this annual's essays about them will evoke vivid memories of the experience.

Even if you don't agree with the choices, the essays are persuasive enough to make you wish you could have a second look in order to consider the highlights pointed out by the essayists — many of whom are Best Plays regulars, and all of whom are also theater critics. These writers obviously, and understandably, relish the freedom to write about their chosen play at length and to include plot details that would bring cries of "spoiler" if published while a play was still on the boards and the comments were being read as a consumer guide as well as an assessment of the play's merits. (For more about the difference between a theater essay and a theater review, see Best Plays of 2006 - 2007.

Since one of the distinguishing features of the reviews in the online theaterzine I publish is to introduce each with a pertinent quote, one of my favorite things about the Best Plays. . . essays is that they're so generously seasoned with snippets of dialogue. Those dialogue excerpts not only enliven the essays but serve to unify the various authorial voices. For Charles Wright a quotation from his previous essay also served to connect his focus on Tom Stoppard's work two seasons' running. The quote, which concludes his piece, is equally apt for Salvage/Coast of Utopia (2006-2007 season) and the new volume's Rock 'N' Roll— "Our meaning is in how we live in an imperfect world, in our time. We have no other."

Speaking of unifying connections, Horton Foote whose Dividing the Estate is included in the 2007-2008 volume is no longer with us — but his work is very much part of the current theater season. The assemblage of nine Foote plays under the umbrella title The Orphans' Home Cycle promises to be a major event, shades of Stoppard's Coast of Utopia. And, while a spectacular success often paralyzes a writer for fear of not being able to live up to that success, Tracy Letts refused to have that happen to him. No sooner had August: Osage County ended its long run on Broadway and gone on the road, than Superior Donuts followed the same Chicago to Broadway trajectory. A smaller but very worthy play, it hasn't met with the same enthusiastic response and is closing earlier than anticipated. Its lack of celebrity actors may have cut short its Broadway run, but it may well be a plus in terms of a future life in regional, less name-conscious theaters.

While the essays represent the "good read" aspects of these handsome reference volumes, the always astounding wealth of statistics and the extensive index to make all that information easily accessible provide the browsing appeal that makes this a reference that doesn't just sit on one's library shelf-- but gets used regularly.

All the selections have been reviewed at Curtainup and so links to these reviews are included as they have been in the past. Several have been reviewed more than once either in pre-Broadway production or at different locations and links to these additional texts can be found at the end of each review.
Adding Machine, by Jason Loewith and Joshua Schmidt Curtainup Review
August: Osage County, by Tracy Letts Curtainup Review
The Farnsworth Invention, by Aaron Sorkin Curtainup Review
Dividing the Estate, by Horton Foote Curtainup Review
Eurydice, by Sarah Ruhl Curtainup Review
100 Saints You Should Know, by Kate Fodor Curtainup Review
The Receptionist, by Adam Bock Curtainup Review
Rock 'n' Roll, by Tom Stoppard Curtainup Review
The Seafarer, by Conor McPherson Curtainup Review
Yellow Face, by David Henry Hwang Curtainup Review
SPECIAL CITATION: Peter and Jerry, by Edward Albee Curtainup Review.

The Best Plays Theater Yearbook 2007-2008
Edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
Published by Limelight Editions
Hardcover: 577 pages, including index
List price: $49.95

Best Plays of 2006 - 2007
Another fine, fat volume of The Best Plays Theater Yearbook series has arrived. Though, this annual does underscore time's somewhat scary fleet-footedness, there's also something reassuring, about adding the latest information packed yearbook to my bookshelf. After all, the fact that each year brings enough plays for editor Jeffrey Eric Jenkins and his compatriots to select ten they liked best from the many more seen and read puts to rest the dour predictions about the theater's lack of talented new as well as seasoned theater professionals. Like the law books that serve as a backdrop for television interviews with lawyers and politicians, the matching covers of the collected Best Plays lend solidity to any theater enthusiast's book shelf. What's more, unlike so many books that once read simply gather dust, these books invite their owners to refer to them again and again.

If, like me, you've seen the plays that made the top ten list, you'll enjoy re-living them through the always excellent essays. While Passing Strange wouldn't have made my list (I thought the music was terrific, but wasn't bowled over by the story), Alissa Salomon made a strong case for it. Spring Awakening, the second musical to make the cut this year, struck me as much more deserving on all counts-- no doubt helped by the fact that the book was based on Frank Wedekind's 1891 play, Fruehlingserwachung. There were several other choices I would not have made, but as with Passing Strange, reading the often passionately positive opinions did make me give them some second thoughts.

As a theater critic who posts reviews around the time of a play's official opening, I'm often a bit envious of these essayists. That said, I suppose is as good a time as any, to clarify the difference between reviewing a play for an online or in print publication and writing an essay about it for a book like The Best Plays Theater Yearbook.

Critics writing about a play during its run have the double function of critic and consumer guide. They must evaluate the play's strengths and weaknesses — that evaluation covering the script, the performances, the direction and staging. Their mission is to reflect on the play's cultural relevance, and provide just enough detail and interpretation to help the reader decide whether to see the play and to enhance that experience. While some theater goers hold on to a review, and read it in detail only after having seen the play, anyone who details all the plot elements is considered "spoilers." Most critics with steady beats do know how to write c compellingly and in depth without giving in to the temptation to discuss a play's twists and turns.

Theatrical essayists are not constrained by the need to be both critic and adviser since their words will be read after a play has made its stage debut and is fair game as a scholarly treatise, without concerns about spoiling any surprises. Thus the Best Play analysts (most of whom are also critics) take advantage of writing with their essayists' hats in place. They also have more space than most print publishers currently allot to critics, to give readers a more generous sampling of dialogue.

Speaking of space. The essay taking up the most space in the new Yearbook is the one by Charles Wright about The Coast of Utopia. If any play is an indisputable entry into the Best Play ranks, it's Tom Stoppard's trilogy. It was the event of the theatrical season, not just because of the snob appeal attached to it, but because it really was a thrilling and genuinely satisfying experience. Small wonder that Wright (who unlike the other writers does not have a critic's beat) has gone all out to wrote a tour de force essay about this tour de force play's background, text, performances and staging.

And if I seem to be devoting a lot of space to the essays, not to worry. Editor Jenkins and his editorial elves have again amassed a mind-boggling array of fascinating facts one has come to expect to find in these books. The index alone is a model of the indexer's craft.

With all of the books that Jenkins has edited now taking up almost a foot of shelf space in my office bookcase, the arrival of the latest volume also makes it fun to take out some past editions and see if any recent selections are making news. And so, arriving as it did at the same time as Public Television aired a wonderful documentary about Grey Gardens, the latest Best Plays prompted me to check it out in last year's edition. It was also interesting to re-read last year's The Lieutenant of Inishmore essay, now that The Cripple of Inishman, which it previously eclipsed has finally come into its own. Frost-Nixon, is the 2006-2007 choice that's still very much in the news now that it's metamorphosed into a film that's a good bet to give Frank Langella an Oscar to put next to his Tony. It's this sort of ability to track new plays through the years that makes The Best Plays Theater Yearbook such a valuable addition to any theater buff's library as it not only gives details about Broadway and Off Broadway productions-- but about cast replacements, touring companies, off-off Broadway productions and the season around the United States.

For the record, here is the list of the Best Plays of 2006-2007 (in alphabetical order):
All the selections have been reviewed at Curtainup and links to these reviews are included. Several have been reviewed more than once either in pre-Broadway production or at different locations and links to these additional texts can be found at the end of each review.

Blackbird by David Harrower (essayist, David Cote) Curtainup Review
The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl (essayist, Anne Marie Welsh) Curtainup Review
The Coast of Utopia by Tom Stoppard (essayist, Charles Wright) Curtainup Review
Dying City by Christopher Shinn (essayist, Charles Isherwood) Curtainup Review
Frost/Nixon by Peter Morgan (essayist, Charles McNulty) Curtainup Review
The Pain and the Itch by Bruce Norris (essayist, John Istel) Curtainup Review
Passing Strange by Stew and Heidi Rodewald (essayist, Alisa Solomon) Curtainup Review
Radio Golf by August Wilson (essayist, Christopher Rawson) Curtainup Review
The Scene by Theresa Rebeck (essayist, Chris Jones) Curtainup Review
Spring Awakening by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik (essayist, Michael Feingold). Curtainup Review
The Best Plays Theater Yearbook 2006-2007
Edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
Published by Limelight Editions
Hardcover: 544 pages, including index
List price: $49.95
For discount orders at our book store: go here

>Reviewed by Elyse Sommer

Best Plays of 2005-2006
The latest Best Plays edition arrived just as Curtainup's on and off-Broadway listings pages are beginning to bulge with new shows to open during the 2007-2008 season. Our Broadway listings point to a heartening preponderance of straight plays over musicals (don't get me wrong, I love musicals, but not at the expense of their non-musical cousins). But , editor Jeffrey Eric Jenkins' sobering statistics about shows running at the beginning of the 2005-2006 season but gone before it ended, serve as a caveat about the difficulties of mounting any show for the long haul. Of course, a point made by Jenkins which applies now as in the season he just surveyed, is that many shows are produced as limited runs. This is especially true for straight plays cast with box office drawing actors.

While Best Plays is a celebration of the theater, the loss of some major theatrical voices led to a somewhat melancholy beginning for Jenkins' always insightful introduction. With three playwrights old enough to collect social security — Edward Albee, Horton Foote and Tom Stoppard— very active and visible in the forthcoming season, one can't help wondering what Wendy Wasserstein and August Wilson might have written had they been given a chance to live fuller life spans. The passing of these and other theatrical greats understandably has Jenkins ponder the question "when is it ever the right time to lose someone we value or love?"

As usual, I don't agree with all ten choices, but found all the essays about them superb examples of theatrical journalism. John Istel gets my vote for the cleverest and most on the mark opening. His essay for Martin Mc Donagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore begins with a list of the props —dead black cat; live black cat; ginger cat; dead ginger cat; telephone; cat's collar and name tag; 3 guns; wooden cross; cat basket; dismembered corpses — which, as he astutely observed, conveyed the play's dark humor better than any quotation.

Of course, there are also enough snippets of dialogue quoted in Istel's essay and the nine others. Michael Feingold's essay on Grey Gardens and Charles McNulty's on The History Boys, reinforced my own love affair with those productions.

I was once again bowled over by the sheer depth and breadth of the statistics included in these volumes. There's probably a data base wizard who made it possible for all these facts to be massaged and incorporated into readable, fun to read prose. Whoever he/she is, a round of applause!

For the record, here's the 2005-2006 Best Play list with links to Curtainup's reviews and including the names of the authors and eassayists:
Grey Gardens by Doug Wright, Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (Essay by Michael Feingold)
The History Boys by Alan Bennett (Essay by Charles McNulty)
n the ContinuumI by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter (Essay by Anne Marie Welsh)
The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow by Rolin Jones (Essay by Charles Wright)
The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh (Essay by John Istel)
Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire (Essay by Michael Sommers)
Red Light Winter by Adam Rapp (Essay by Chris Jones)
Shining City by Conor McPherson (Essay by David Cote)
Stuff Happens by David Hare (Essay by Misha Berson)
Third by Wendy Wasserstein (Essay by Anne Cattaneo)

The Best Plays Theater Yearbook 2005-2006

Edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
Published by Limelight Editions
Hardcover: 543pages, including index
List price: $49.95
To order from our book store: go here
>Reviewed by Elyse Sommer

Best Plays of 2003-2004
When the latest volume of Best Plays arrived I was reminded of an interview with Kitty Carlisle in which she quoted her mother as saying "you know you're getting older when every day is Monday." To paraphrase just a bit, you know that time's zooming by when it seems you've just finished absorbing all the statistics and essays in one Best Plays Yearbook as a new volume arrives.

Though I might have chosen a few plays that didn't make the cut in favor of some, like Omnium Gatherum, that did, most of the selections dovetail with my own most memorable theater experiences of the season being evaluated. Overall, this 85th edition once again leaves me awed by the sheer volume of data Editor Jeffrey Eric Jenkins and his capable wife Vivian have gathered and presented in such shapely, easy to peruse fashion. Best of all, the essayists who contribute their thoughts about the chosen plays prove that thoughtful criticism is no more a dying invalid than the theater they write about.

Not surprisingly Off-Broadway once again was the seedbed for most of the selections. Frozen and Caroline, Or Change) were transfers from Off-Broadway. Richard Greenberg's The Violet Hour, had its NY opening on Broadway, but played first at South Coast Rep in California and later at Steppenwolf Theatrey in Chicago. Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize winning Anna in the Tropics opened even further from the Great White Way, in Coral Gables, Fla.

The dedication to Isabelle Stevenson, whose efforts on behalf of live theater will be sadly missed, also reminds us that this compilation contains the last of Mel Gussow's invaluable essays about the Off-Broadway scene. While the Yearbook still features plenty of photographs, I miss the instantly recognizable illustrations from the late, great Al Hirshfield a.k.a. as the "Line King." Mr. Jenkins might consider asking another veteran cartoonist, Sam Norkin, to contribute some of his illustrations to the next volume.

Michael Feingold's pungent essay about Richard Greenberg's The Violet Hour, makes one hope for a chance to see this play again when it's not as beset with casting problems as Manhattan Theater Club's premiere production was. Another Michael, Michael Sommers, makes a compelling case for the cleverness and power of Lisa Kron's Well.

Editor Jenkins' own introductory chapter is full of interesting back stage tidbits to make it entertaining and informative, but managing not to succumb to being too crowd pleasingly gossipy. His explanation as to why a solo play like I Am My Own Wife can be considered as a Best Play while Golda's Balcony especially interesting. As Jenkins sees it the structure of I Am My Own Wife is such that it interweaves characters in a manner that shift it from monologue to play making it feasible for future productions to feature an ensemble of actors to perform the dozens of characters inhabited by Jefferson May. Golda's Balcony, on the other hand, focuses on a single character and is more a case of a play needing "a force of nature to play a force of nature."

I could go on citing observations from this essay or that but you get the idea. As it has since it's inception, The Best Plays Theater Yearbook deserves a spot on the book shelf of anyone with a serious interest in the theater.

To conclude, here's the list (with links to our reviews) of the Best Plays for 2003-2004:

Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz (Essay by Christine Dolen)
Caroline, or Change by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori (Essay by John Istel)
Frozen by Bryony Lavery (Essay by Anne Marie Welsh)
Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage (Essay by Lenora Inez Brown)
Living Out by Lisa Loomer (Essay by Charles Wright)
The Long Christmas Ride Home by Paula Vogel (Essay by Tish Dace)
Omnium Gatherum by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros (Essay by Chris Jones)
Small Tragedy by Craig Lucas (Essay by Charles Isherwood)
The Violet Hour by Richard Greenberg (Essay by Michael Feingold)
Well by Lisa Kron (Essay by Michael Sommers)
The Best Plays Theater Yearbook 2003-2004

Edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
85th Edition, Published by Limelight Editions
Hardcover: 526 pages, including index
List price: $49.50
To order from our book store: go here

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer

Best Plays of 2002-2003
All the selected plays were once again reviewed at CurtainUp; therefore the list with links to those reviews: :

Book of Days by Lanford Wilson
Dublin Carol by Conor McPherson
I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright
Imaginary Friends by Nora Ephron
The Mercy Seat by Neil LaBute
Our Lady of 121st Street by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Stone Cold Dead Serious by Adam Rapp
Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg
Talking Heads by Alan Bennett
Yellowman by Dael Orlandersmith

As usual, there are plenty of photographs of the plays and cast members. The sad note struck by this edition is that it's the last one to be lavishly illustrated by the irreplacable Al Hirschfeld. The "Line King"'s final contribution to the series are, as always, wonderful. They personify Hirshfeld's own comment quoted on the dedication page:

"When other books have been forgot
Our book will still be hot." 500 instead of 528 pages 75 page index but index is 7 pages longer the amazon # is correct This represents title change from The Best Plays of to The Best Plays Theater Year Book

Best Plays of 2001-2001
The second Best Plays anthology under the editorship of Jeffrey Eric Jenkins is as chockablock full of theatrical statistics as the last. The essays that take a look back at the season and evaluate the plays being honored in depth once again illustrate theater writing at its most observant. My positive response to the format changes introduced by Jenkins in the previous edition (The Best Plays of 2000-2001) holds up this second time around. Whether this is part of a Best Plays collection or the first of possible others, the new edition is a worthwhile investment for any serious theater lover.

Jenkins' own overview of the Broadway and Off Broadway season is thorough and thoroughly readable. Besides discussing the commercial situation, he comments thoughtfully on the theater as a reflection of life generally. As Jenkins puts it "The beauty and heartbreak of the theater is in its essence as a vanishing act" so that " as in life itself, theater is forever slipping away, living on only in memory." This in many ways explains the "loving embrace of nostalgia" which, in the theater is the memory of a great performance like the surveyed season's performances by Alan Bates and Frank Langella in Fortune's Fool. . This being a volume that overlooks nothing, there's also an excellent overview of the Off Off Broadway season by the New York Times culture writer Mel Gussow

The essays about the selected best play include some return engagements-- e.g., Bruce Weber (writing about sic) and John Istel (writing about Big Love). If I had to pick my own best or favorite essays they would be Donald Lyons' on The Dazzle, Charles Isherwood's on The Goat, or Who is Sylvia and Charles Wright's on Franny's Way.

Mr. Lyons' essay points to a fact of life about theater criticism for a daily newspaper like The New York Post where a writer must often dash off a piece and either write in summary terms and/or have copy chopped down by a desk editor. The analysis of The Dazzle shows a writer luxurating in the freedom to reflect at leisure -- and be inspired by an awareness that these thoughts will have life on the bookshelf rather than as tomorrow's fish wrapper. Charles Wright, who writes about books as well as theater, has some fascinating things to say about the links between Franny's Way ande the writing and era of Salinger. Charles Isherwood, an elegant writer whether given little or generous space, sheds much light on Albee's play about a shockingly unusual extra-marital affair.

Since all the selected plays were reviewed at CurtainUp, I am once again linking those reviews to the list below:

Big Love by Charles Mee
Breath, Boom by Kia Corthron
The Dazzle by Richrd Greenberg
Franny's Way by Richard Nelson
The Glory of Living by Rebecca Gilman
The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? by Edward Albee
Homebody/Kabul by Tony Kushner
Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman
[sic] by Melissa James Gibson
Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks

As usual, there are plenty of photographs of the plays and cast members. The sad note struck by this edition is that it's the last one to be lavishly illustrated by the irreplacable Al Hirschfeld. The "Line King"'s final contribution to the series are, as always, wonderful. They personify Hirshfeld's own comment quoted on the dedication page:

"When other books have been forgot
Our book will still be hot."

The Best Plays of 2001-2002

Edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
83nd edition, June 2003, published by Limelight Editions
Hardcover: 525 pages, including 68-page index
List price: $47.50
To order from our book store: go here

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer

Best Plays of 2000-2001
You can only close if you opened. We were there. You're not going to stay open forever
---Brian Stokes Mitchell's philosophic acceptance when asked if he was disappointed at the short Broadway run of King Hedley II, a 2000-2001 Best Play.

Burns Mantle  and John Chapman
Best Plays founder Burns Mantle (right) and his editor John Chapman. Imagine putting together all this material with a manual typewriter!
(Photo: Ossie Levin )
The Best Plays anthology honoring the year's ten best plays produced in the previous has had a run that any theater producer would envy. Since 1920 these sturdy volumes have chronicled excellence in American theater.

The 2000-2001 edition is, as usual, packed with a mind-boggling array of theater statistics as well as illustrations (black and white photos and Hirshfeld drawings). Thanks to Jeffrey Eric Jenkins' creative and insightful editing the latest volume is an authentic knowledge base that makes for compelling reading as well as browsing.

Without sacrificing an iota of reference value or changing the overall look of the book, the new editor has sent the readability quotient soaring by presenting the honored plays through thoughtful background essays instead of excerpts. The increasing availability of plays in their entirety has made the excerpt format somewhat superfluous and the essays are a timely and, given the excellent choice of essayists, a superior alternative. Having myself edited two reference works with innovations tied to a publisher's established format, I can appreciate more than most readers how this edition managed to introduce something new without relinquishing the best of what's been a proven success.

Besides marshalling all the data and surrounding himself with a well qualified editorial board, Mr. Jenkins, who follows in the footsteps of founder Burns Mantle, John Chapman, Louis Kronenberger, Henry Hewes and its longest-serving editor Otis L. Guernsey Jr. (1964 to 2000), has also written an outstanding essay of his own. That essay, "The Season On and Off Broadway manages to touch on everything worthy of note about productions of plays that opened between Jun 1, 2000 and May 31, 2001.

The contributing writers represent a broad geographic range. Their essays are filled with keen observations, interesting background details and quotes from the plays. There's also the occasional comment from a playwright, an actor and, in the case of The Producers, an irate letter writer to The New York Times. Some of the essayist, like Charles Wright in his piece on The Invention of Love and John Istel in his on Mnemonic, are not averse to adding a few quibbles. It all makes for lively theater journalism.

Since a reference work owes a large debt to a solid index, it should be noted that this volume's 61-page index is a model of usefulness. Play titles are bold faced for quick access and the essay citations are identified with page numbers in italic.

The Best Plays 2000-2001 isn't cheap -- but then neither are today's ticket prices and when you consider that you're probably going to take this book off the shelf more than a lot of others, price becomes relative. To get a better idea of what you're buying, you can read Jeffrey Eric Jenkins' essay on the Best Plays website .

All of the best plays chosen for inclusion and written about have been reviewed at CurtainUp. Consequently, I've linked the list of the featured plays and their essayists to those reviews.
Boy Gets Girl (Chris Jones, essayist)
he Invention of Love Charles Wright, essayist)
King Hedley II by August Wilson (Christopher Rawson, essayist)
Lobby Hero (Tish Dace, essayist)
Mnemonic (John Istel, essayist)
Nocturne (Robert Brustein, essayist)
The Play About the Baby (Christine Dolen, essayist)
The Producers
(Julius Novick, essayist)
Proof (Bruce Weber, essayist)

The Best Plays of 2000-2001br> 82nd edition (April 2002)
Edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
82nd edition, April 2002, published by Limelight Editions
Hardcover: 444 pages, including index
List price: $47.50
To order from our book store: go here 0879109688

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer

Best Plays of 1996-1997
I agree with Cicero that "a room without books is like a body without a soul." For the theater lover no book shelf has a soul without certain basics: a set of Shakespeare's plays and at least a few play anthologies, biographies, and books under the essay and reference rubrik, not to mention your Playbills and irresistible browsables like the recently reviewed Show Time ( see links for review).

To further encroach on your shelf space and book budget, there are anthologies that clock in every few years, chockablock with invaluable facts for theater professionals and those passionate about the theater. The 78-year-old Theater Yearbook covering the previous September to June season is such a reference. Most libraries with a reference department worthy of the name, have it on standing order; apparently so does Harold Prince who, according to the latest volume's cover blurb, is the proud possessor of all its seventy-seven predecessors.

Even if your budget and pace can't accommodate all of this never-ending stream of information, an occasional annual will provide much pleasure and lend luster to your personal library. If you've never owned one of these volumes, the recently published The Best Plays of 1996-1997 offers a chance to own the first to depart from established precedent in the way it selects plays to highlight with plot synopses and dialogue excerpts.

Instead of synopses of the 10 best plays as chosen by the editor, (Otis L. Guernsey Jr who's been at the helm since the 1965-1966 edition), the 1996-97 volume synopsizes six plays that won major awards: Titanic, How I Learned to Drive, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Skylight, Violet, and Old Wicked Songs. The last signals the editors' continued determination to call attention to plays that somehow slipped through the major awards net All but Old Wicked Songs represent choices made by major awards granting groups. The play was included for "prizeworthy excellence in the New York Professional Theater" because it slipped through the major prize net because of its OOB status

As usual there is a terrific summary of the On and Off-Broadway season. In addition to a 33-page visual sum-up by the one and only Hirschfeld there's an excellent essay by David Lefkowitz (this year taking over from Jeffrey Sweet) and a shorter feature on Off-Off Broadway by Mel Gussow. Sandwiched in between the highlighted shows and the very complete index (60 pages) are details about plays produced in New York and regionally complete with indispensable statistics about cast, creative team, where each production played and for how long, and information such as major cast replacements. For example, when I went to see a New York premiere last week, I was able to check out all sorts of helpful facts about its prior life in Kentucky. If you're curious about how some of these awards are granted, the section on the New York DramaCritics Circle'd awards includes details about how various members voted on the first and second ballots.

Oh, yes, there are also lots of black and white photos, so it's worth the inch and a half squeeze on your shelf, to make room. Since these volumes have traditionally been published (by Limelight Editions) in hard cover only, there's no point waiting for a cheaper paperback edition -- but to make biting the bullet of the $47.50 price tag less painful, offers it at a 30% discount which brings it down to a less painful $33.25.

The Best Plays of 1996-1997, 496 pages with photos, line illustrations, chart and index, published by Limelight, December 1997

Links to items mentioned above
Show Time--A Chronology of Broadway and the Theatre
How I Learned to Drive
The Last Night of Ballyhoo
Old Wicked Songs

The Broadway Theatre Archive

South Pacific  Revival
South Pacific

In the Heights
In the Heights

Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide


©Copyright 2008, 2009Elyse Sommer.
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