Outrageous improv, a futuristic nautical vessel, black humor, an alligator-infested ode to dying swampland. In 2011, we at the Alibi covered some astonishing works ranging from theatrical spectacles to ambitious visual arts projects to impressive contributions to the literary canon. Our current Arts and Lit editor reached out to the previous two, as well as our resident theater critic. They put their nerdy, critical noggins together, and the result is this brainstorm of the more outstanding creative output we covered over the last 365.
The creation of an improv theater troupe with a regular, ongoing schedule was a notch on our city’s cultural belt. The Show is the baby of The Box Performance Space and has played there weekly since its September genesis. Using audience suggestions and any absurd ideas that cross their minds, the actors create scenarios and songs that are hilarious and preposterous. Doug Montoya, co-artistic director of The Box, says audiences have been swelling since the project’s inception. The crowds are full of theater veterans as well as people who don’t usually frequent the scene and just want a good guffaw. I was impressed by the first performance―tight cast, relaxed energy and quick-witted banter. It's only improved since. (Summer Olsson)
This one-woman performance by Elsa Menéndez can be summed up in a word: joyful. Put on in a small, curtained space with AstroTurf laid on the floor and tacked to the ceiling, with funny hats bearing inspirational sayings, with a red umbrella ready to unfurl a mosaic of tiny gifts, with fresh coffee and peeled tangerines and a beautiful woman standing in the middle of it all and smiling at you, this show felt more like an intimate conversation than a play. As Menéndez told stories from her life, she offered audience members cookies and other confections. Somehow she conveyed her message—one of warmth, optimism and love—without becoming saccharine. It’s a show I hope we get to see again in the coming year. (Christie Chisholm)
Chad Christensen-Brummett gave Bill Sterchi an earful in Virtual Reality.
Really, it’s not surprising. You’ve got Bill Sterchi and Chad Christensen-Brummett, two of the best actors in Albuquerque, duking it out through a play penned by Academy Award-winner Alan Arkin. Add the fact that it was produced by Mother Road Theatre Company, a strong contender for the best company in the city, and of course you’re going to have a great show. On a lonely stage without props, viewers’ imaginations were tickled, teased and stretched as Sterchi and Christensen-Brummett invented their way through this mysterious story, which involved a warehouse, an unknown delivery and a secret mission. (CC)
In January this reporter had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to chat with the incomparable Louis Black about the rich, the powerful and the stupid, as well as his golf game, hecklers and computers competing on geeky game shows. I asked him about a segment on “The Daily Show” in which he “reviewed” Eat Pray Love—one of the greatest moments in the history of slagging.
Black rolled on through Albuquerque in February to a casino out on I-40. While his stand-up doesn't cause the intense laughter-induced internal bleeding of his “Daily Show” segments, which is cooked down to three pure minutes, it's always awe-inspiring to see a stand-up comic do his magic live, even from the cheap seats. With the exception of maybe Navy SEAL or one-armed bomb defuser, stand-up comic is the hardest job in the world. He opened the set by demanding that anyone who was there because the casino had given them comp tickets leave. They had been warned. One or two well-dressed gamblers and their ladies quietly left early in the show. Very classy. (John Bear)
This play broke my heart and then put it back together. Simply staged, it took place entirely in the room of the main characters’ recently deceased mother. Its intricacies came in the relationships between three daughters, who come to mourn and pick up the remnants of a parent’s life. Although the entire cast was sharp, it was Julia Thudium as the middle daughter who made the play poignant, giving the audience a taste of what it feels like to grieve the loss not only of a loved one’s life but possibly also your own. Yet, for all the sadness the show evoked, it was delivered so gracefully that it felt like catharsis. It’s a piece I’ll remember. (CC)
Most audiences are familiar with the story of Shakespeare’s Moor, who falls victim to jealousy and, through that green-eyed lens, destroys what he most loves. It’s a tale that swells with the all-too-familiar rage and desolation that accompanies the sense of betrayal. It’s also a piece that’s hard to pull off without the right set of actors. Darryl DeLoach, Peter Shea Kierst and Arlette Morgan (who played Othello, Iago and Desdemona, respectively) were all outstanding in their roles, carrying off the well-known tragedy with poise and passion. Along with Director Lori Stewart, they easily secured a place in this list. (CC)
ALT’s version of this classic was well-arranged, from the live orchestra to the multilayered set design. But it was Albuquerque native (and now New York City resident) Jacob Lewis who made this show stand apart. Lewis was dazzling as the Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub, which serves as backdrop to the rise of the Nazi regime in early-’30s Berlin. With a captivating voice and an ability to make you forget all your troubles in one moment and cry your heart out in the next, Lewis used the role to prove his considerable talents. (CC)
I base part of my bias in calling Karen Russell’s debut novel one of the best books to come out in 2011 on a lifelong obsession with alligators. But what really makes it such a standout is a story so versatile in its poetic and emotional range that it succeeds in being both uproariously funny and heartwrenchingly tragic. Her world of reptilian theme parks, childish innocence and powerfully illustrated grief was arguably the most imaginative body of fiction to open its jaws this year. There is not a novelist whose next work I look forward to as eagerly. (Sam Adams)
The book that’s re-emerged in my thoughts and conversations the most since I read it was actually written for children, although of what age is uncertain. The Wikkeling, a story about the creature of the same name and the little girl who fights it, captivated me. Set in a dystopian future full of overbearing authority and mind-numbing marketing, the novel plays upon some of my topical adult fears. Author Steven Arntson also managed to conjure his creepy Wikkeling straight from the nightmares of my youth. The heroine is a girl. She’s also a chunky, ruddy-faced, unpopular nerd—and she stays that way. However, she makes great friends, is quite resourceful and has first-rate adventures. The Wikkeling is empowering for anyone who has ever been, or ever will be, a kid in middle school. It’s also a fantastic read. (SO)
The title of this anthology is true. Michael Jackson is back to legendary status after years of being written off as a child sex predator. It's also fun to read the pastiche of interviews by Rolling Stone writer Neil Strauss. The book provides a glimpse into the workday of a journalist who interviews famous people. Snoop Dogg gets high a lot and quests for barbecue sauce. Kenny G seems like a genuinely nice guy. Lenny Kravitz is pissy when asked if he kind of maybe lifted a riff off a Led Zeppelin song. Pretty much every kind of celebrity is represented here. It has the mass appeal that makes this a read just about anyone could enjoy. (JB)
It’s no surprise that Barnes took home the prestigious Man Booker Prize for his pensive, philosophical riddle on the disconnect between time and memory. This short novel about a skittish man and his reflections on a squandered life is a poignant and fearless study into suicide and the consequences of human action. Barnes is a master of the English language, and his ability to express the complex underpinnings of the human psyche in a poetic voice is, in a word, awesome. (SA)
My No. 1 coolest experience from the arts world in 2011 was The Due Return. Created by Santa Fe-based collective Meow Wolf, the 75-foot-long intergalactic ship occupied the Muñoz Waxman Gallery in the Center for Contemporary Arts. A collaboration between more than 100 artists, the ship comprised two levels, personnel bunks, archives, a lab―even a working hydroponic garden. Every aspect was hands-on, and manipulating a joystick in the control room, or climbing through a hatch into a hidden crawl space, brought out the 5-year-old explorer in me. From the macabre objets d’artin the captain’s quarters to the reflections in a crew member’s diary, the details were scrupulous. I had high expectations before visiting the project, but the wondrous Due Return far surpassed my imaginings. (SO)
Maitland’s collection of 10 years’ worth of folky, surrealist paintings, collages and sculptures was the most haunting and emotionally powerful exhibition I saw this year. Visiting with the octogenarian artist in his magnificent Rio Rancho home also gave me a rounded picture of one of the most colorful and historically important characters to grace our arts scene. Maitland is a true local treasure, and the Duke City would be remiss not to stage another show of his fantastic works. (SA)
In August, a swarm of refurbished Alibi distribution boxes appeared along the Central corridor. Each was a little original masterpiece. Choosing this project may seem a little like nepotism because the Alibi sponsored it. But what I’m actually including in my best-of count is the willingness of our city’s residents to help beautify it, the kick-ass boxes themselves and the people who designed them. (SO)
In October, I was swooped away by Adabel Allen’s world of lovely and lovelorn birds. Her show at New Grounds Gallery showcased her talent as a vastly skilled gravure printer as well as a poet—both in the visual and written sense. The mixture of whimsy and naked sentimentality in her work is honest, beautiful and heartwarmingly cathartic. Certainly an artist on the rise. (SA)