There were several things to gush about last season. Forget the spectacular sets (like that turntable one for Birdy at the Philadelphia Theatre Company); forget the clever stagings (like Jiri Zizka's for On the Razzle at the Wilma). When I relive the pleasures of last year, I remember acting. And with one notable exception, the performances I remember most are not those of individuals, but of pairs, trios and ensembles.
That exception is Jarlath Conroy, who dominated every moment of The Steward of Christendom at Lantern Theatre. Conroy, as the Lear-like institutionalized Dublin police commander looking back on his role in The Troubles and on the troubles with his daughters, dominated the stage not by raging, but by looking on - at his own life and loves and times, ever-present, intermittently lucid, always riveting.
When I look back at Hedda Gabler at the Arden, I remember not just Grace Gonglewski's splendid performance (when you saw it, did you know that it was about child abuse and repressed memory? Me neither!!), but the ways her character shuttled between her suffocatingly ineffectual husband, played by Greg Wood (whose performances can never be accurately described as merely "supporting") and Tom Teti's serenely predatory Judge Brack.
I remember the nuanced performances of Alda Cortese and Ceal Phelan in A Perfect Ganesh at People's Light and Theatre, and Leonard Haas' quiet, simple and touching presence in his interconnected multiple roles.
I remember Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller turning into trees together at the end of their anthology, Mating Cries, at the Independent Eye.
I remember not one but two pairs of haunted not-quite-lovers sitting in the moonlight in not one but two different productions of O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten: Janis Dardaris (the single finest performance by a woman last season - I guess I am making choices after all) and Charles Roney at Venture Theatre (in Harriet Power's last production there before stepping down as artistic director), and Gonglewski and Wood at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.
I even have fond memories of performances in plays that didn't quite work: of Cortese and Carla Belver in Michael Hollinger's Tiny Island at the Arden (I didn't see the probably-not-the-last revision of it at People's Light); of Paul Meshejian and Kathryn Petersen in the neo-Strindbergian Jack and Jill at People's Light; and of Jeffrey Coon, Jilline Ringle and Tony Freeman in Merrily We Roll Along at the Arden, doing their best with impossible roles that are both horribly underwritten and perilously overwritten (composer/playwright Steven Sondheim asks the actors for too much Acting, with a capital A, when we know too little about the characters, and then wants us to care about them after we've learned to hate them).
I've saved two of the best on my memory list for last, and I've cheated a bit about ensembles outweighing solo performances among my fond memories: Dito van Reigersberg in Poet in New York (Pig Iron Theatre Company), and Robert Christophe in Michigan Impossible (Venture Theatre). Sure, these were both solo performance pieces. But each actor created so complete a world, and so wide a range of characters and tones, that I felt as though I were watching a stage full of actors.