10 stages and screens where I saw connection

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10 stages and screens where I saw connection
Gregg Mozgala, left, and Kara Young perform a scene in “Cost of Living” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater in New York, Sept. 15, 2022. “In so many of my favorites of 2022, there’s a sense of humanity to the work, whether that means it featured people connecting or simply being honest with themselves and others,” writes The New York Times critic Maya Phillips. “Here are the plays, musicals, shows and films that stuck with me this year.” (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

by Maya Phillips

NEW YORK, NY.- I never venture too far from a theater, but when I did have some time away from New York stages, I was watching TV and movies. In so many of my favorites of 2022, there’s a sense of humanity to the work, whether that means it featured people connecting or simply being honest with themselves and others. Here are the plays, musicals, shows and films that stuck with me this year.

‘Cost of Living’

That Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2018 play is written with such gut-busting empathy and humanity shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who’s read the script or seen the previous productions. And yet, “Cost of Living” was still surprising — stunning, even — thanks to the four actors (Gregg Mozgala, Katy Sullivan, Kara Young and David Zayas) and their portrayal of caregivers and patients in a story about the ways we look after one another and what that care costs us. Plays about connections can so easily turn into sentimental weep-fests that manipulate you into tears, but the script, cast and Jo Bonney’s compassionate direction made this Broadway gem feel not just tender but true.

‘300 el x 50 el x 30 el’

When I try to describe this epic work by the Belgian theater collective FC Bergman, I get bogged down in contradictions: Grotesque yet radiant. Chaotic but woven into coherence by theme and feeling. Depressing, yet steeped with something even more forceful than joy — utter transcendence. Transforming the Harvey Theater into a village, with live animals and a pond, “300 el” drew inspiration from the biblical story of Noah’s ark. A film crew circled the stage, providing interior views to a pigeon homicide, a deadly game of William Tell and a feast where even the furniture is devoured. When the production ends in song and dance — a tameless exaltation of noise and movement — it seemed to leave even the air in the theater tremulous with excitement.

‘Fat Ham’

More than anything — including James Ijames’ whip-smart writing, Saheem Ali’s vivacious direction and the cast’s delightful performances — what most stood out to me in the Public’s staging of “Fat Ham” was the joy that seemed to emanate from every person in the room. Who knew “Hamlet,” a tragedy rife with revenge and murder, could be expanded to become a work about queerness and Black masculinity — and a funny, smart work at that? Ijames, apparently, and Ali, whose gleaming production ended in what felt like a party where everyone, audience included, was welcome to attend.

‘A Strange Loop’

It’s been quite a year for Black queer theater, due in large part to the Broadway debut of Michael R. Jackson’s mind-bending, genre-busting musical “A Strange Loop.” The production, starring an unforgettable Jaquel Spivey, succeeds on multiple levels: It provides trenchant commentary on Black art, the Black body, religion, masculinity and queerness, while also being laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreaking. As for the technical elements, its structure, choreography and score coalesce into a prime example of what Broadway can do at its best.

‘Oratorio for Living Things’

I knew I was seeing something special when I went to Ars Nova’s production of Heather Christian’s “Oratorio,” because I was infected with a desperate urge to see it again — even before I was through seeing it the first time. Having grown up with a Catholic education and Sunday masses, I’ve never felt connected to religious institutions, but Christian’s profound work, directed by Lee Sunday Evans, created a kind of secular mass for nonbelievers and believers alike. The exquisite vocals of the cast were magnified by the miniature amphitheater-style setup of the space, which created an aural experience that — like the text itself — felt both grand and intimate.


I’m a sucker for works that examine language — the politics of it, the limitations and freedoms that can be found in words. So I was already onboard for Sanaz Toossi’s play, about a class in Iran where the students are preparing to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or Toefl. Under Knud Adams’ direction, the cast draws the audience into its word games, linguistic stumbles and individual struggles to learn and assimilate, whether for work or family or dreams of a life in America.

‘The Sandman’

As a fierce fan of author Neil Gaiman and owner of his complete “Sandman” graphic novel collection, I was so nervous about Netflix’s adaptation that I asked a friend — a fellow fan — to watch the first episode with me for emotional support. The series does justice to its characters with perfectly cast actors, including a mesmerizing Tom Sturridge, who embodies the brooding, awe-inspiring king of dreams with such finesse and gravitas that it’s as though Morpheus himself has escaped from the comics. It’s not just the characters who are well-matched; the world of “Sandman” is portrayed with sweep, imagination and such respect for the original illustrations that much of the dialogue and panels are replicated. I can’t wait for Season 2.


“Severance” may be my new favorite TV series. Perhaps I’m being hyperbolic, still buzzed with enthusiasm even months after my second time binge-watching it. Adam Scott gives a stellar performance as an employee of a shady corporation who elects to have his consciousness split between his work and outside selves. The show has an exquisite eye and ear for terror, wit and mundane interactions, so that it manages to be both otherworldly and eerily familiar. As for the script — the dialogue’s so fantastic that it makes me want to be a better writer.

‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’

I’ve often wondered, in our age of multiversal franchises, what a multiverse narrative would look like if the story were driven by the characters’ emotional development and interpersonal relationships rather than just battle scenes, Easter eggs, and routes to spinoffs and sequels. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was my answer. It contained the unpredictability and boundary-expanding possibilities of the multiverse while staying grounded in the story of a family. Every moment of the film held a new delight.


When I think back to Robert Icke’s production of “Oresteia,” Aeschylus’ trilogy of Greek tragedies about a family that eats itself from the inside out, I think of one moment. Klytemnestra is grieving after her husband Agamemnon has killed their daughter Iphigenia because of a prophecy that the act would grant his army “fair winds” in war. After the deed, the winds sweep in, the doors to the house are flung open, ethereal white light streams in, and Klytemnestra is caught in a frenzy of flying papers. But what made the production so memorable wasn’t just the special effects but Anastasia Hille’s electrifying performance as Klytemnestra, a woman who folds in to grief and lets it fuel her revenge.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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