2008's best in theater and visual arts 

We know you're feeling down, maybe a little out. So, we thought it'd help to point out that 2008 hasn't been a complete loss. Atlanta achieved a lot this year in the way of the arts. Here, CL Theater Critic Curt Holman and Visual Arts Critic Cinqué Hicks take a look back to recall some of their favorite moments.

Georgia Shakespeare artistic director Richard Garner commuted a few miles down Peachtree to helm EURYDICE (March 19-April 13) at the Alliance Hertz Stage. 2008's most achingly lovely production was a modern-dress, revisionist retelling of the myth of Eurydice (Melinda Helfrich), who dies and descends to the underworld. Traditionally, Eurydice focuses on the efforts of her fiancé, Orpheus (Justin Adams), to rescue her, but playwright Sarah Ruhl shifted the focus to Eurydice's deceased father (Chris Kayser). Ruhl's take offered one of the most poetic and touching accounts of parent-child love in contemporary theater. A thoughtful tear-jerker, Eurydice lived up to the standard of Georgia Shakespeare's luminous Metamorphoses from 2006. – Curt Holman

John Patrick Shanley's all-star film adaptation of his Pulitzer-winning play DOUBT (April 2-May 4) is amassing acting awards but can't eclipse the memory of the Alliance Theatre's scorching spring production. Directed by Susan V. Booth, the powerhouse drama belongs on the stage, where the audience has ringside seats to the cat-and-mouse game between a hard-line nun (Pamela Nyberg) and the progressive priest (Thomas Piper) she suspects of molesting a student. Doubt displayed thematic discipline and eloquent rhetoric worthy of George Bernard Shaw. It elevated the material above priest abuse scandals to explore the dangers of blind faith and the virtues of uncertainty. – Holman Love! Valour! Compassion! playwright Terrence McNally spans nearly a century to explore how American gay life has evolved from the closet to gay weddings in SOME MEN (May 1-31). Director Kent Gash and Actor's Express artistic director Freddie Ashley lived up to the play's implicit call for gay theater to rise above the familiar tropes of the past 20 years and continue to challenge itself. Standouts among Some Men's terrific ensemble included Doyle Reynolds as a man who wrestles with societal changes, as well as Don Finney as a defiant drag queen who challenges a bar full of closeted men. (In the fall, Finney joined LaLa Cochran and Shelly McCook for the year's funniest play, The New Century, which looked forward while Some Men offered a backward glance.) – Holman

The Alliance Theatre's August Wilson Full Circle genuinely lived up to expectations last September as the theatrical event of 2008. Radio Golf, Wilson's final play, doesn't quite measure up to the other show on the double bill, GEM OF THE OCEAN (Aug. 29-Sept. 28). Gem takes place in the early 1900s and somehow encompasses the 19th-century legacy of slavery and captures the African-American spirit of endurance in the face of ruthless capitalism. Such unforgettable characters as soothsaying Aunt Esther (Michele Shay) and swaggering black sheriff Caesar Wilks (the volcanic Chad L. Coleman) proved that August Wilson's plays, at their best, are shows for the ages. – Holman

Georgia Shakespeare and director Sabin Epstein triumphed over the enormous task of staging THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (June 26-Aug. 2), one of Shakespeare's most challenging plays. Chris Kayser invested a tremendous amount of pathos, resentment and hatred in his haunting portrayal of Jewish moneylender Shylock, suggesting that Venetian anti-Semitism twisted his personality. The summer production's sharp focus extended to the play's seemingly trivial subplots that measured material valuables against intangible treasures. – Holman

ATLANTA CELEBRATES PHOTOGRAPHY has offered the city significant commissioned public art for a decade. This year, ACP turned up the heat with Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry's "Within Our Gates" (Oct. 5-25). Installed in the Irwin Street water tower in the Old Fourth Ward, the work was a trenchant homage to Atlanta's history of civil rights and protest from the people. Multimedia projections, atmospheric graffiti and a circulating tide pool all served as fitting metaphors for change burbling up from below. When it came to dissecting Atlanta's fractured history, McCallum and Tarry demonstrated that sometimes outsiders have the best insight. – Cinqué Hicks

We were already glad LE FLASH (Oct. 24), a neighborhood-wide celebration of art and light, went on as planned despite a persistent drizzle. We were doubly glad we made the brief trek to the outskirts of the Castleberry Hill festival to see "Fiat Lux," a brilliant neon light sculpture installed in the shell of a condo project under construction at the corner of Walker and Nelson streets. Jason Butcher, Scott Carter and Mario Schambon were the artists behind the ambitious project, which filled the cavernous space with a concatenated web of neon tubes that looked like Tron after the rapture. We love public art with the chutzpah to be both weird and wonderful, and hope it's the start of a new trend. – Hicks

ARTADIA may be the smartest arts organization around. The New York-based Fund for Art and Dialogue is smart enough to know that good art can and is made west of the Hudson River and south of Staten Island. To that end, Artadia announced in September that Atlanta would be the latest city on its roster of municipalities eligible for the organization's generous artist grants. Atlanta visual artists join their cohorts in Houston, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston in a round-robin competition for thousands of dollars in unrestricted funds. Artadia has brought the cash, now we say: Artists, bring the talent! – Hicks

arts@creativeloafing.com

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