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The year in art and theater

Paper Placemats, Actor's Express steal the show

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Editor's note: Here are the year-end 10 best visual-arts and theatrical offerings as chosen by critics Felicia Feaster and Curt Holman. Click on the subject for the full review where applicable.

FELICIA FEASTER'S TOP 10 ART PICKS

1) Paper Placemats (ATL), Atlanta Celebrates Photography

Curated by artist/book publisher Jason Fulford, this great art-in-public-spaces project featured a bevy of oddball and thoughtful images tucked beneath diners' fettuccine at restaurants and coffee shops around the ATL. The work was free, accessible and a definite conversation generator when placed in these ordinary-yet-extraordinary contexts.

2) Daniel Bozhkov: A Survey and Greta Pratt: Nineteen Lincolns, The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center

Whether dressing as Darth Vader and cleaning the sea with a Brita or painting a fresco in a Wal-Mart, Bulgarian artist Bozhkov brings a sense of wit and discovery to his projects in public spaces that translated well in this cheeky survey. Equally wry and compelling, Pratt's inclusive, charming portraits of men of various ages and walks of life dressed as that consummate, stand-up American Abraham Lincoln had a similar smart but accessible vibe.

3) Jody Fausett: Smoke from Another Fire, Whitespace

Fashion and menace collided with a delicious kerbang in this array of moody works by an Atlanta fine/commercial artist working from a singular lexicon of taxidermied animals and ordinary suburban homes taken over by a sense of quiet dread.

4) Andrew Ross and Amy Ross, Romo Gallery

Two tastes that taste great together, inventive youngsters Amy and Andrew (no relation) were paired up by Sam Romo, who found a common ethereal charm in these artists dealing with nature and culture. Former Atlantan Andrew Scott Ross, whose 2006 solo show at MOCA GA was one of that year's best, created delicate drawings and animation centered on museum collections, while Amy's work focused on birds and mushrooms often morphed into quirky-strange blends of animal-vegetable and human-critter.

5) Claire Joyce: New Paintings, Fay Gold Gallery

This University of Georgia MFA grad's epic glitter paintings bridged craft and fine art, personal obsession and art history, and signaled an artist to be reckoned with.

6) Whitney Stansell: An Iconography for an Imagined History, TEW Galleries

Like a perverse mix of "Leave it to Beaver" '50s idealism and Henry Darger's dark folk art, these beautifully executed paintings by SCAD grad student Stansell dealt with the artist's unique family history in a moving, layered way.

7) Anderson Scott, Tama-Re: Land of the Nuwaubians, Eyedrum

Eyedrum did a good job this year of giving me the creeps and making me laugh. In the laughs department, there was Tom Zarrilli's hee-larious proposal to turn downtown Atlanta into a water theme park in the imaginative digression on development, architecture and unrealized possibility, Unbuilt Atlanta. But for skin-crawling, bloodcurdling heebie-jeebies, Anderson Scott's full-color photographs of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors cult-o-rama in the wilds of Putnam County, Ga., was the stuff.

8) Steven Brown: Harmonic Drift, Beep Beep Gallery

This Atlanta College of Art grad's portraits of musicians, bicycle messengers, cat lovers and thrift-cool couples profit from the photographer's insider status. His portraits of these scenesters are respectful and thorough and capture the sensations of being young and progressive.

9) (tie) Mike Brodie: Homesteadaz; Andy Moon Wilson: Line Colonies, Get This! Gallery

Mike Brodie's captivating photographs of train jumpers, musicians and other off-the-grid types made you feel immersed in a world defined by unique people and experiences. Though more obsessive, Andy Moon Wilson's doodle-ish drawings and architectural fugues also suggested a parallel universe, this time metaphorical rather than literal.

10. Sarah Emerson, Mason Murer Gallery
This graduate of the defunct Atlanta College of Art and London’s Goldsmiths College creates phantasmagorical Disney-on-crack paintings that might at first glance look like a kitsch-o-rama. But Emerson’s cute-and-tragic pathos is deep.  Emerson’s dripping forms, paint-by-numbers graphic style and highly artificial color scheme reference pop culture but construct a sad and magical world all their own.

CURT HOLMAN'S TOP 10 THEATER PICKS

1 & 2) Thom Pain: Based on Nothing and I Am My Own Wife (Actor's Express) – The matched plays of Actor's Express' "He Said/(S)he Said" repertory prove that all you really need for a thrilling theatrical experience are the right actor and the right script. These two one-man shows couldn't be more different. In Thom Pain: Based on Nothing, Chris Kayser plays an enigmatic, self-loathing and darkly humorous narrator who contradicts himself, asks the audience unanswerable questions and conveys the meaninglessness of the human condition. Doyle Reynolds plays dozens of roles in I Am My Own Wife, particularly East German transvestite Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf, whose life story pits identity against history in startling ways. Directed by, respectively, Susan V. Booth of the Alliance Theatre and Freddie Ashley (named the Express' artistic director not long after), the "He Said/(S)he Said" repertory more than lives up to the exciting, thought-provoking potential of live theater.

3) 9 Parts of Desire (Horizon Theatre) – The fleeting triumphs and crushing tragedies of Iraq's women came to vivid life in Horizon Theatre's production of Heather Raffo's play, inspired partly by her own experience visiting Baghdad as an American woman with an Iraqi father. Carolyn Cook, Marianne Fraulo and Suehyla El-Attar portray nine women of different social and religious backgrounds whose passions somehow transcend the country's continuous sufferings.

4) Drove (Dad's Garage Top Shelf) – Dad's Garage's intimate "black box" playhouse was on a roll in 2007, staging such intriguing world premieres (all with Atlanta connections) as Skin, The History of Rock 'n' Roll and Date. Scott and Sloane Warren's Drove found surprising richness in the simple premise of showing short playlets all set in automobiles during a day's rush hour. With the terrific ensemble (Matt Horgan, Megan Leahy, Matt Myers and the particularly amusing Amber Nash) rolling around in chairs on casters, the scenes proved frequently funny but at times highly poignant, culminating with the giddy joy of a musical number set to Manfred Mann's "Blinded by the Light."

5) Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (Alliance Hertz Stage) – Director Susan V. Booth's robust staging about of the musical about Belgian balladeer Jacques Brel created a lively evening while Brel's songs (sung by Lauren Kling, Craig A. Meyer, Courtney Collins and Joseph Dellger), with rich lyrics and hypnotic melodies, conveyed a wealth of insight and experience. At times you felt as though the meaning of life could be found in the show.

6) Tales of Edgar Allen Poe (Center for Puppetry Arts) – Atlanta puppeteer Bobby Box wrote his inventive adaptation of morbid literary genius Edgar Allen Poe to be accessible to high schoolers. Any audience, however, would be enthralled by the script's appreciation of Poe's rolling cadences as well as the production's wild and weird gothic imagery.

7) Ceremonies in Dark Old Men (True Colors Theatre Co.) – Artistic director Kenny Leon's True Colors Theatre Company staged one of its finest productions with its revival of Lonne Elder's 1969 family drama set at a failing Harlem barbershop. In an exceptional cast, Glynn Turman (a recurring character actor on HBO's "The Wire") showed some of the best timing I've ever seen on a stage as a former dancer looking for a big score.

8) Cabaret (New American Shakespeare Tavern) – Director Heidi Cline's sexy, urgent production of Cabaret emulated the 1998 revival of the Kander and Ebb musical, which finds contemporary echoes in its account of a Berlin nightclub and the Nazis' rise to power. Jeff McKerley and Agnes Harty provided equally charismatic performances as saucy, doomed cabaret performers.

9) As I Lay Dying (Haverty Marionettes) – Neither a flawless show nor an "easy" one, Michael Haverty's puppet-based adaptation of William Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness novel As I Lay Dying may have been Atlanta's most imaginative production and certainly its most daring world-premiere play. The production's hand-carved marionettes and carnival-style trappings captured 1930s Mississippi and Faulkner's unique voice, reclaiming the book from academe in the name of the South.

10) Richard III (Georgia Shakespeare) – Comparable to the Batman villain "Two-Face," Joe Knezevich wears makeup that splits his face almost literally down the middle to convey the difference between Richard III's public compassion and private villainy. Director Richard Garner crafted many such spooky imagery, while Courtney Patterson and James Donadio fed the theatrical fireworks.

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