Manbites Dog Theater

Manbites Dog looked to the future in a season focused on technology and humanity, but strengths that have long been a part of the company’s history were evident in its twenty-ninth year. In Durham’s haven for visionary guest directors, curated independent artists, and controversial, thought-provoking scripts, director Joseph Megel took a sobering look forward in The Tramp’s New World, Rob Jansen’s poignant, post-apocalyptic, and undeniably funny solo show. We also glimpsed the future in Mr. Burns and The Nether, where Manbites founder Jeff Storer and associate artistic director Jules Odendahl-James probed the theater of social conscience in unsettling, diverging dystopias—one caused by technology, the other precipitated by its absence.

Raleigh Little Theatre

The advent of the first black Cinderella after thirty-three years of Raleigh Little Theatre’s flagship production wasn’t the only indication of a shift in direction at the region’s oldest community theater. In his first full season as artistic director, Patrick Torres programmed shows we’d sooner expect from riskier independent companies, booking a daring look into racial and class bigotry in the black community (Stick Fly) and an experiment in devised civic theater, Beertown (now playing). Still, uniformly strong casting remained a problem in some stage plays and Sweeney Todd, one of two ambitious musicals produced this year.

Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern

Little Green Pig midwifed Black Ops Theatre Company’s controversial first production, The Shipment, in September. LGP also produced three musical/theatrical variety shows: company fundraisers Treatbag and The Piano Has Been Drinking, plus Rubber Peacock, a January benefit for Durham’s LGBTQ Center. But the Pig’s only full-length production this season, The Emotions of Normal People, evinced both the promise and perils of devised theater. A multimedia inquiry into German state surveillance, it embraced the mechanical sterility of a Kraftwerk-inspired soundtrack but largely misplaced the soul of the narratives glimpsed in a promising July preview. But we have high hopes for the season closer, the premiere of Tamara Kissane’s The New Colossus on May 19.

Burning Coal Theatre Company

A minimal aesthetic can zero in our focus on the theatrical elements that remain. But too often this year at Burning Coal, economized casting, music, staging, set design, and effects spoke to corners simply cut instead of sharpened. True, aerial silks, props, and choreography fully conjured the chambers of a mental institution in October’s Asylum. But the awkward set design of Blue Sky left CAM Raleigh too bare, and The Wiz’s thin band, grubby backdrop, office chairs, and overhead projector (recycled from Asylum) reduced the enchantment found among the eight actors who covered all the roles.

Durham Independent Dance Artists

Standing-room-only means something different than it used to for regional modern dance. It’s no longer a feat to draw a full house at the intimate Carrack, which hosted multiple shows during DIDA’s first two seasons. But an SRO crowd at the Cordoba Center for the Arts’ warehouse for Knightworks’ November premiere of Eurydice Descended spoke to the collective’s increasing success in promoting local choreographers—and its ability to nudge dance audiences further and further from traditional venues. Jessi Knight’s Eurydice sharply navigated the inconstant attentions of Daniel Rivera’s Orpheus and Travis Simmons’s Death in an underworld clubland, as Christina Knight’s candid text helped extricate her from invalid claims and find a separate peace. DIDA’s season concludes with Ginger Wagg’s AndAlwaysWhy and’s Feature Presentation in June.

Bare Theatre

Someone always has to go first. Last November, Bare Theatre presented a company of women who explored the treachery, anger, and vengeance of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. Director Heather Strickland admitted to running out the clock while interrogating and rebuilding production structures and artistic relationship dynamics usually taken for granted in theater, but Aneisha Montague embodied the toxic militancy in a memorable Aaron, and Kacey Reynolds Schedler gave Marcus authority. The production also spoke to other women who’d grown tired of narrow roles in regional theater. Banding together, they’ll produce the Triangle’s first Women’s Theatre Festival this fall.