As we approach another new year, I thought about all the theater that I have seen. I will be presenting the best of the Equity theaters in my next column, but I have always avoided rating community theaters because they are each so unique and based on a great deal of volunteerism. However, this year for the first time I thought I would share with you the best of each of our area community theaters. Each theater provides an entire season of productions. In my opinion, which is based on how many shows I see at each of these theaters, I believe some stand out from the rest. See if you agree with me. Here’s my alphabetical list of  community theaters and what I considered the best and most memorable of their productions.

Clay and Wattles Theater Company at The Gary-The Olivia Theater in Bethlehem:

More and more audiences are discovering the prowess of this community theater that habitually stages five-star productions. Here’s what I said about the powerfully striking Zorba.

“When an entire audience gasps out loud, you know a production has succeeded in transporting theatergoers directly into the world of the play. So it is with Clay & Wattles Theater Company, where Zorba is …this passionate portrayal of two unlikely friends based on the novel Zorba the Greek.

Eastbound Theatre, Milford:

The charm of this theater never fails to bring audiences to its doors. When it produced the Heidi Chronicles, it brought to light a question that some women still deal with – motherhood vs career. Here’s what I said about the production:

“…Thanks to Michael R. Mele’s direction which gives a nod to history and a contemporary spin, the play is still pertinent. The time-saving element here is a video collection of important moments as well as important women. The video, created by the director, is superior and a pleasure to watch.”

Goshen Players at the Goshen Playhouse:

Who knew that Shakespeare’s tragedies could be so funny.  Yet, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged had audiences laughing out loud when Romeo and Juliet take their lives or when Hamlet kills Ophelia’s father. “While a purist might cry ‘Blasphemy!’ audiences at the Goshen Players production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged cry tears of laughter. So gifted are the three actors who take on this daunting production that it is incredible that they managed to do all of the Bard’s plays in little more than an hour and a half.  There have been many fine productions of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged, but none as fine nor as funny as the one currently playing at the Goshen Playhouse.”

Landmark Community Theatre at the Thomaston Opera House, Thomaston:

Dream Girls received five stars at this theater. Here’s what I had to say about it:

“Dreamgirls not only brought the house down, but earned a well-deserved standing ovation at intermission as well as at final curtain. There were a few times when the audience’s cheers and cat whistles nearly stopped the show. What’s so special about this production? Talent.  Undeniable, incredible, absolute talent. And soul, lots and lots of soul.” There were other great shows this theater, but “Dream Girls” was the most outstanding in my opinion.

Sherman Playhouse, Sherman:

Robin Frome was “Triumphant as Tartuffe.” Here’s what else I said:

“Sticky-looking unkempt hair, dirty and unshaven face, and practically drooling as he licks his greasy fingers, slovenly is the best way to describe Robin Frome’s physical portrayal of Moliere’s most famous character, Tartuffe.  So important is this character that the title of the play “Tartuffe” is his name. There have been times when the title has also appeared as ‘The Hypocrite,’ which this character exemplifies. Frome not only slips into the scaly skin of this parasitic man, but he has latched onto Tartuffe’s depraved mindset for the run of the performance. There’s no two ways about it. Robin Frome is nothing short of triumphant in his brilliant characterization.”

Square One Theatre Company, Stratford:

Since finding its home at the Stratford Academy in Stratford, this fine theater has never waivered in its ability to produce excellent shows. Certainly, The Outgoing Tide brought out the best in all involved. Here’s why I choice it as the best of its season.

“The Outgoing Tide exemplifies [director Tom] Holehan’s skills because he avoids sentimentality, which would have rendered this a melodramatic tearjerker. Instead, we get a realistic,  face-the-issues approach. Here is a play about a retired man determined to undo any offense he has caused his wife and son in the past.   Al Kulcsar, a true renaissance man if ever there was one delivers a stunning performance… So too, Peggy Nelson [and] Damian Long…”

TheatreWorks New Milford:

What a great surprise. Just when people were wondering what happened to the great American Western, along comes this outstanding production. Here’s what I had to say about this winning production.

“The great American Westerns with quick on the draw, gun slinging cowboys and bigger than life outlaws are hard to find on the big screen or television these days let alone on stage. However, TheatreWorks in New Milford has the distinction of presenting the East Coast premiere of Jethro Compton’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.  Here’s a play that really has something for everyone. It has drama,  plenty of action, social significance and a love story. Add to this that the production directed by Richard Pettibone is so good that people should high tail out of their recliners and mosey on over to their phones and quickly make their reservations before the show is sold out. It’s that good.”

Two Planks Theatre Company, Monroe:

Here’s a theater that is gaining momentum with each of its production. This year I found their fall production was outstanding. Here’s what I wrote:

“…the best treat for this autumnal season is to be found at Two Planks Theater Company in Monroe. That’s where Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit is being performed by a very talented cast.  Director David Halliwell, who has a knack for capturing both the elegance and humor of Coward, highlights the mystique of all things ghosts and the afterlife in a most fashionable way.”

Warner Theatre:

There are so many hits at this community theater that choosing the best really comes down to the most memorable for me. That has to be when Evil Dead came alive at the Warner.

“The bottom line is that this is a lot of fun perfectly scheduled just before Halloween. It is rated R and features vulgar language and adult content. Keith Paul does a fabulous job directing this show with Meric Martin as music director and Sharon A. Wilcox as choreographer. This production is the ‘real’ live stage show of the cult film trilogy: Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 & Army Of Darkness. While it all sounds silly and sophomoric, the music is very good and the cast is terrific.”

As we get ready to celebrate a new year, I look forward to what our excellent community theaters will offer next.