15 Favorite New York Stage Performances in 2022

Victoria Clark gave one of my favorite performances last year, for “Kimberly Akimbo” Off-Broadway, and she appears again in this latest of my annual lists of favorite theatrical performances for the same role, this time Broadway, but with a difference: I’m pairing her with Justin Cooley, because they really are inseparable in the show. And they’re not alone. Several performers were so wonderful together that it seems neither fair nor accurate to rip them asunder for the sake of an arbitrary list.  

I single out other performers who were impressive for shining in more than one role this year.

The list below is more or less alphabetical, with explanations for my choices largely excerpted from my reviews. 

Kyle Beltran and Will Brill

The stars of the two-character play by Samuel D. Hunter, “A Case for the Existence of God” portray a factory worker meeting with a mortgage broker in hopes of getting a loan. They rarely even leave their chairs. But it’s thrilling to see the careful, unsentimental, beautiful way they grow close to one another over the course of the play. I’ve since read that Brill and Beltran, playing men in their thirties, were roommates  at Carnegie Mellon University; Whether that’s the reason, or whether they’re just damn good actors, there’s something tangibly authentic, and inexpressibly moving, about their interaction.

Danielle Brooks

The starry cast of the revival of “The Piano Lesson” really works as an ensemble. but Danielle Brooks still stood out for me, her face an expressive journey, angry and grief-stricken at the death of her husband three years earlier, which she blames on her brother Boy Willie. She is devastating when she tells what the piano meant to her.  But she is also exquisite – touching, warm and funny – in a scene with Boy Willie’s friend Lyman, her very posture revealing the years of loneliness as Lyman tests out a bottle of perfume that he bought for a dollar from a man who said it was from Paris “This is the same kind of perfume the Queen of France wear.”

Victoria Clark and Justin Cooley

Clark portrays a 16-year-old girl named Kimberly  in “Kimberly Akimbo” with a rare  disease that accelerates the aging process, so that she looks 70.  It’s uncanny how much Clark as Kim looks like the real teens who play her classmates.  Justin Cooley, a teenager who is making an impressive Broadway debut, portrays Seth, one of those classmate, the nerdiest. Kimberly will not get much older, a cold fact that lays a tacit sorrow beneath the exuberance that she and Seth display –  fanciful, sure, but Clark and Cooley — Victoria and Justin — make it sweet and funny and oh-so-touching.

Myles Frost

Myles Frost, who is making his Broadway debut in MJ the Musical, nails Michael Jackson’s gentle smile and his high-pitched speaking voice. If he comes off when he’s talking as something of a cypher, so did Michael Jackson. What counts is how exciting he is when he’s singing and, especially, dancing

Daniel K. Isaac

Daniel K. Isaac makes the most of his character in “You Will Get Sick, expressive skills clearly communicating confusion and suffering. But Isaac has had a busy year; he was also terrific in the return of “The Chinese Lady” – and if that were not enough, made his playwriting debut with “Once Upon A Korean Time”

Crystal Lucas-Perry

Crystal Lucas-Perry made a spectacular Broadway debut in “1776” as John Adams, the impatient prime agitator for independence in the slow-moving Continental Congress meeting in the stultifying summer heat of Philadelphia. If she comes off as too appealing to be the character universally viewed as “obnoxious and unlikeable,” her voice, both when speaking and in particular when singing, is so crystal clear as to feel like the perso tnification of the clarion call to justice. That would have been enough, but she was also splendid as one of the five cast members in “Ain’t No Mo'” who each portrayed five characters, including two stand-out roles, as a character named Black who was locked in the basement for forty years of a bourgeois family trying to hide their Blackness, and as Blue, an inmate being release from prison who refuses to sign the form that she’s getting back all the the belongings she had on the night of her arrest. “I had a smile.”

Jefferson Mays

In “A Christmas Carol,” Jefferson Mays portrays fifty characters, displaying once again the quick-change artistry he exhibited in his Tony-winning performance in “I Am My Own Wife” and his Tony-nominated performance in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” — except this time with no change of costume, just modulation of voice and posture.

Gregg Mozgala, Katy Sullivan, Kara Young, David Zayas

The entire cast of Martyna Majok’s “Cost of Living” deserve kudos for executing scenes you’ve never seen on Broadway before. David Zayas and Kara Young give the latest in a long line of beguiling performances. as the caretakers, respectively, of Katy Sullivan and Gregg Mozgala, two actors with disabilities who portray two characters with disabilities. Their scenes together are riveting, especially one in the shower, and another in a bath.

Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse

Mary-Louise Parker’s reprised performance as the childhood victim of sexual abuse by a relative in Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive” twenty-five years after its debut does the heavy lifting in a play that is rightly, and smartly,  a memory play told from the woman’s point of view. But it is the male character that offers the greater challenge. The playwright does what she can to establish Peck as a human being rather than a monster, but it is David Morse’s memorable performance that makes the character credible.  Indeed, his performance — gentle, earnest, likable, and thus all the more unsettling —  is what I still remember from the production I saw at the Vineyard Theater in 1997.  

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

Leave a Reply