Botticelli in the Fire at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Botticelli in the Fire at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Credit: Scott Suchman

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The D.C. theater scene is so diverse that asking City Paper’s team of critics to name the single best thing they saw on stage in 2018 would be an exercise in futility. So instead, we’ve reflected on the year by picking our favorite shows in a variety of random categories.  Yet again, D.C. stages have presented something for everyone, whether you enjoy anti-capitalist musicals or Shakespearean tragedy. —Caroline Jones

Best performance on a pier: The Frederick Douglass Project, Solas Nua 

The D.C. permitting people thought Solas Nua artistic director Rex Daugherty was crazy, but they let him put on a show on a pier last May, and what a show it was: Psalmayene 24 and Deirdre Kinahan teamed up to dramatize Douglass’ first trip to Ireland and performed it across the river from the house where he spent his final years. —Rebecca J. Ritzel

Best “My First Hamlet:” Michael Kahn directs Michael Urie, Shakespeare Theatre Company 

The retiring STC artistic director’s final crack at Hamlet traded on the star power of its melancholy Dane, Ugly Betty regular Michael Urie, but it was a conventional, straight-down-the-middle interpretation. —Chris Klimek

Best play for anyone who has ever been a teenage girl: The Wolves, Studio Theatre

Sarah DeLappe’s drama about an elite travel soccer team was staged across the continent in 2018, for good reason, and Studio’s intimate production in its Stage 4 space had all the suspence of watching World Cup PKs. —RJR

Best play for anyone who has been a working mom: Cry It Out, Studio Theatre 

Books on finding that elusive work/life balance are easy to come by, but plays are not. Thank you, playwright Molly Smith Metzler. —RJR 

Best demonstration of how Botticelli and Prince were remarkably similar artists: Botticelli in the Fire, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Woolly’s U.S. premiere of Jordan Tannahill’s uproarious and chilling ahistorical fantasy posited the Renaissance painter as an artist torn between the flesh and spirit who eventually burned many of his secular paintings. Remember the early-aughts period, when Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness and began censoring his own ’80s hits when he performed them in concert? —CK

Best excuse to stomp your feet: Anything Goes, Arena Stage

Arena Stage’s end-of-year musicals can be tricky—a lot of the classics have not aged well—but Cole Porter songs and sharp tap choreography (that audiences attempted to stomp along to) made Molly Smith’s production a must-see. —Caroline Jones

Best anti-communist musical: Vietgone, Studio Theatre

Losing to the VC has never been as fun as in Qui Nguyen’s sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll show about his refugee parents finding love in Arkansas. —RJR

Best anti-capitalist musical: Billy Elliot, Signature Theatre

A few visceral effects are lost when Billy is downsized to fit inside a black box, but the musical’s bleeding liberal heart is as big as ever. —RJR

“Best” I-Know-Prolonged-Silences-Are-Annie-Baker’s-Thing-But-C’mon-Already: John, Signature Theatre

Baker’s 3.5-hour drama set in a bed-and-breakfast that was a hospital during the Civil War was filled with so many pauses, per the playwright’s stage directions, that it still may not be over. —CK

Best Play That’s More Reasonable in Its Allotment of Wordlessness: Small Mouth Sounds, Round House Theatre

Bess Wohl’s comedic drama about a half-dozen (mostly) strangers on a silent retreat together communicated twice as much as John in half the time. That’s not hyperbole. Its run time was 105 minutes. —CK

Best reimagined Stravinsky: Rite of Spring, Pointless Theatre 

Few shows left me as awed by D.C.’s talent as this wordless work of dance theater featuring an all-female cast, inventive choreography by Kathy Gordon, and a super creepy old crone puppet.  —RJR

Best Leonard Bernstein tribute: Candide, Washington National Opera

Plenty of music groups honored the great American composer’s centennial with performances, but Washington National Opera’s lush production of Bernstein’s operatic adaptation of the Voltaire novella shone particularly brightly, thanks to comic relief from D.C. native Denyce Graves and soaring melodies that reverberated around one of the best rooms in town. —CJ

Best performance involving a bouncy castle: Make Believe, Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre 

The D.C. debut of one of America’s most important dance theater artists explored religion and romantic love, culminating with a literal depiction of over-inflated fantasies. —RJR

Best solo performance: Queens Girl in Africa, Mosaic Theater Company

Asking one performer to tell a personal coming-of-age story that happens to coincide with a civil war is a large undertaking, but Erika Rose was more than up to the task. Her portrayal of Jacqueline Marie Butler, a teenager who moves with her family from Queens to Nigeria in the mid 1960s, was the perfect balance of specific and relatable. —CJ

Best multilingual play performed in a single language: Translations, Studio Theatre 

Matt Torney’s production of Brian Friel’s 1980 play about English occupiers in 19th century Ireland did a masterful job of conveying which characters could and could not understand one another, though we could understand and empathize with them all. —CK

Best appropriation of a semi-famous early ’90s power-pop album: Girlfriend, Signature Theatre

The unraveling of his marriage in his twenties inspired Matthew Sweet to write his 1991 power-pop masterpiece, Girlfriend. It was a baffling choice for a soundtrack to Todd Almond’s 2010 play about two teenage boys falling in love in Nebraska the summer after high school. —CK

Best argument against trying to become a professional writer: Gloria, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

 Branden Jacobs-Jenkins worked at The New Yorker before his career as a playwright got going, which must be why this brutal examination of the naked ambition of scribes rang so true. —CK

Best set to move into: The Remains, Studio Theatre

Wilson Chin turned the Mead Theatre into a homey yet austere Boston apartment for Ken Urban’s comedic drama about the dissolution of a marriage. From the fancy kitchen to the artistic wallpaper, it would not look out of place in the pages of Architectural Digest. —CJ

Best reward for waiting in a 12-hour digital queue: Hamilton, Kennedy Center Opera House

Yes, the long wait and pricey tickets were worth it. Seeing the American musical of the moment in a building that overlooks national memorials reminded us that living in the nation’s capital can still be awe-inspiring at times. —CJ