Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Worst Shows of 2011

So today I thought I’d take a break from my Best of 2011 list to begin an equally important endeavor:  my “Worst Shows of 2011” list.  Like the “best of” countdown, this list will be limited to shows I have personally seen, because I believe all show should be given a chance to prove themselves before being slapped with such a demeaning title.  And despite rumors to the contrary, I am NOT a total Scrooge who hates everything and everyone, so this list will be limited to 5 shows as opposed to 10. 

To make the list, it is not enough for a show to be merely bad.  The “Worst of 2011” title is reserved for those productions so jaw-droppingly awful that you cannot believe none of the dozens of talented people who worked on it ever said, “You know what? This isn’t working and we should fix it.” 

The scariest thing about this list is how easy it was to compile.  Most of these shows sprang instantly to mind when I sat down to list the year’s worst productions, and were so nearly equal in their awfulness that it was a genuine struggle to figure out what order to rank them in.  So batten down the hatches and get ready for the smack talk, because here comes the #5 worst show of the past year!

 Worst Shows of 2011
#5 Born Yesterday

Jim Belushi and Nina Arianda in Born Yesterday

Some shows should not be revived.  Having seen this extremely ill-advised production starring Nina Arianda and Jim Belushi, I feel confident in saying Born Yesterday is one of those shows.  A creaky old relic from a bygone era, the script’s brief moments of comedy do nothing to excuse the overarching dullness at the play’s center.  Director Doug Hughes made an all-too-common mistake of modern day directors and attempted to use a naturalistic approach to farce, simultaneously draining all entertainment value from the piece and highlighting the lack of substance at its proto-feminist center. 

Equally offensive was Jim Belushi’s positively maddening portrayal of domineering gangster Harry Brock.  His character ended up being so despicable (and not in a good way), that his every entrance prompted eye rolling and repeated prayers for his quick exit.  Not since Henry Higgins have I encountered such an unforgivable misogynist linked to a play’s protagonist, although on the bright side Born Yesterday eventually does free beleaguered protagonist Billie Dawn free of the louse.  This kind of relationship may have been acceptable and even funny to audiences in 1946, but in 2011 we need a bit more justification as to why Billie is dating such a cad in the first place.  Perhaps if somewhere in his portrayal Belushi had shown a moment of tenderness of charm, we the audience would have an easier time comprehending how she ended up in such an unhealthy relationship.

Now, to be fair, Born Yesterday had one very bright silver lining.  It allowed for the Broadway debut of the sensational Nina Arianda, who tried her damndest to save this sinking ship.  She brought excellent comic timing and a large amount of intelligence to Dawn, and was justly rewarded with a Tony nomination for her efforts.  But throughout the show’s runtime, I couldn’t help but wish Arianda had found a better vehicle for her talents.  (Luckily she has since found it, in the form of the excellent Venus in Fur.)

Given the thousands upon thousands of scripts ripe for revival, you really have to wonder what is running through producers’ heads when they pick a clunker like Born Yesterday.  Which is perhaps the greatest sin committed by this revival: it took prime Broadway real estate and money away from a more deserving show.  That money, time, and energy could have been put towards reviving a much better show, or heaven forbid, mounting a new one.  Or saving starving children in Africa.  You know, something worthwhile.

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