"The World is Round"
"The World is Round" (Courtesy/Anna Fitzgerald)

1. "The World is Round" (Acme Corporation/Annex Theater) Director Lola B. Pierson zeroed in on the grown-up anomie lurking just below the surface of Gertrude Stein's unorthodox children's book "The World is Round" for this imaginative adaptation. What made the brisk play so potent is how Pierson and her game cast wrapped this existential dread inside playful, childlike entertainment. Cricket Arrison's Rose is a young girl discovering how words describe and define the world in which she lives, which the play animates through a series of songs, skits, and tomfoolery. Rarely do such theatrical bursts of outright silliness land with such tender poignancy. (Bret McCabe)

2. "One Night in Miami . . ." (Center Stage) When this Center Stage production, wherein four black men talk about what it takes to survive in 1960s America, opened in January, the so-called national conversation about race was only just getting started. Director Kwame Kwei-Armah delicately tapped into that cultural tension, but credit the sublime cast—Tory Andrus as Malcolm X, Sullivan Jones as Cassius Clay, Grasan Kingsberry as soul star Sam Cooke, Esau Pritchett as footballer Jim Brown—for making this "Night" impossible to forget. Their muscular performances made playwright's Kemp Powers' heady discussions about class, politics, and history thrilling, moving, and, in the end, haunting. (BM)


3. "Phoebe in Winter" (Single Carrot Theatre) For Single Carrot's contribution to the regional Women's Voices Theatre Festival, playwright Jen Silverman took war into the home of four men, tearing at the structures of domesticity and masculinity. The play was ripe with rebellion, gender-fucking, and actual explosions, with clever staging, provocative writing, and all-around strong performances. By the end of the play, each character—the titular Phoebe (Lauren Erica Jackson), a young woman who fled from a distant war zone to conquer a new home, plus three soldier brothers, their father, and their maid—had unraveled into warmongers and the stage into a literal war zone. (Maura Callahan)

4. "Insurrection: Holding History" (Annex Theater) Director Kyle A. Jackson's interpretation of Robert O'Hara's time-travel play cleverly visualized toxic racial stereotypes and human enslavement in a sequined, rainbow-hued, and distinctly Oz-ian Nat Turner-era South. The stark contrast between the play's poppy image and traumatic content was a sharp critique of the human tendency to sugarcoat history, and the layered and remixed storyline paralleled the modern world's warped interpretations of the past. Moreover, the cast was the best ensemble we'd seen all year, as the actors flung the audience between laughter and extreme (but completely necessary) discomfort, forcing us to confront America at its worst. (MC)

5. "Garbage, Death and the City of Baltimore" (Psychic Readings) In many productions you can spot a green actor easily, but in Ric Royer's "Garbage, Death and the City of Baltimore"—where a future Baltimore was trashed and run ragged by pimps and prostitutes, the poor folks left in squalor after the rich moved out—you couldn't tell as each character acted out their id among all of the drunkenness and sex and filth and violence. The two-night run of this play took place while Psychic Readings was mid-construction (in the play, it read as mid-destruction), which only added to the chaotic and potentially prophetic feel, as we consider the ongoing expensive development of our city (particularly in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, where rent is rising) and the continued disinvestment of neighborhoods outside of the prosperous "White L." (Rebekah Kirkman)

6. "Titus Andronicus" (Chesapeake Shakespeare Company) A production that sets a Shakespeare play in a dystopic, Quentin Tarantino-inspired vision of the 1980s has plenty of potential to go terribly awry, but the world that Chesapeake Shakespeare Company created for its production of "Titus Andronicus" pulled off that vision impressively. The change in setting gave audiences a new lens through which to understand the borderline-nonsensical obsession with violence and revenge in "Titus Andronicus." Of course, world-building also depends on the quality of the acting, and this production benefited greatly from talented actors, particularly Gregory Burgess as the unnervingly evil Aaron and Rachael Jacobs as the brutally attacked Lavinia. (Anna Walsh)

7. "In the Jungle" (Baltimore Theatre Project) Stephanie Barber continued her ongoing evolution into one of Baltimore's most empathetic dramatists with this update of her 2009 solo performance piece, which follows a botanist's journey deep into some uncharted jungle for fieldwork. On paper the play reads like a formal consideration of language's descriptive power; with Cricket Arrison—playing her third female explorer on local stages this year—in the lead, "In the Jungle" became a wildly imaginative, deeply touching meditation about what it means to look for answers to human foibles in the natural world. (BM)

8. "Jitney" (Arena Players) Directed by David D. Mitchell, the Arena Players' superb production of "Jitney," part of August Wilson's Pittsburgh cycle, addressed a lot of issues Baltimore needs to talk about right now: gentrification, race, violence, home ownership, and transportation. But it didn't feel like an "issue play." The characters, who are all attached to a cab company that serves the African American community, are complicated and conflicted. (Baynard Woods)

9. "A Little Bit Not Normal" (Cohesion Theatre Company) The premiere production of playwright Lillie Franks' comedy (originally slated to be workshopped through Cohesion's Trans* Voices Workshop Series before it was pushed to a full staging) was a little rough and could be more refined, but for a play that dealt so honestly with one of the biggest civil rights issues of our times, we didn't really care. Written by a trans woman, starring a trans woman (Erica Burns), and directed by a trans person (Cohesion co-founder Alice Stanley), "A Little Bit Not Normal" exercised the utmost empathy toward the main character, Devon, as well as her estranged father as he grapples with his child's transition and rejection. And we loved how Franks normalized the "trans issue" by juxtaposing it with a talking cat and a god who happens to date said cat and who has relationship issues with her brother, an off-brand Superman. (MC)

10. "Stinney" (Frances Pollock) In a year full of conversations and protests about police brutality against African-American people, social-justice opera "Stinney" felt unfortunately timely. "Stinney," written by Frances Pollock, tells the story of George Stinney, a 14-year-old African-American boy who in 1944 was wrongly convicted and executed for the murder of two young white girls. While the setup at 2640 Space made it difficult for the audience beyond the first few rows to see the actors, the music was at times hair-raisingly beautiful and the crushing story, which Pollock decided to tell from the perspective of the two murdered little girls, reminded us how much work we still have to do to end racism and state-sanctioned violence against black people. (AW)