2022 was a year of introspection. As we conceived of a world after the pandemic, we considered what we wanted to bring with us and what we wanted to leave behind. For me, that introspection translated into art about art. From director’s theater to a lecture about stories to a movie about a play, here is a sampler of art I enjoyed this year.
1. ‘Everyone is Here’ (2020)
Drawing inspiration from Thorton Wilder’s metatheatrical masterpiece “Our Town” (1938), “Everyone is Here” is a director’s theater tour de force. Director Dmitry Krymov bridged the gap between universal art and personal memory as he explored “Our Town” through his own storied relationship with the play.
“Everyone Is Here” originally premiered in the Moscow theater School of Modern Play in October 2020, but a recording of that production lingered as the pandemic drove the theater world online. When a few friends, my mom and I went to see the recording in a movie theater in Wilmette, Ill. in March 2022, we were the only ones in the auditorium. The clerk remarked that he was happy we were here as the theater had received calls from patrons upset about the screening of a Russian theatrical production.
Krymov’s play is not overtly political, though it is unmistakably Russian. Since Russia’s February escalation in Ukraine, that line has been especially difficult for Russian artists to navigate. As it plunges into the depths of theater and Krymov’s relationship with it, “Everyone is Here” is a powerful reminder of the unique and important artistic insight great Russian artists still command.
2. Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, ‘From the New World’ (1893).
There’s a version of this blurb where I extoll Dovrak’s 9th “New World” symphony because it is the perfect representation of the post-pandemic “New World” of 2022. That version of this blurb, however, is cliché and overdone. The real reason to listen to the “New World” symphony is because it is undeniably awesome.
It is instilled with all the drama and dexterity of a romantic composer, built on a plethora of cultural influences and packed with plenty of musically interesting details. It also has something for everyone; even lay listeners will recognize the going home motif of the second movement from its prominence in popular culture. For a particularly entertaining rendition of the Symphony, I recommend this recording of Gustavo Dudamel’s papal performance of the final movement.
3. ‘Barry’ (2018-)
Hired assassin turned actor Barry Berkman is the role Bill Hader was made to play in the stunning HBO comedy-drama “Barry.” Hader’s distinctive range of comedic facial expression which he demonstrated so effectively during his run on SNL brings an unparalleled quality of acting to Barry. Considering the domineering cast also includes such greats as Henry Winkler and Stephen Root, it is no wonder that the series has been met with widespread critical acclaim. The third season, which ran from April through June of 2022, received a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes.
4. ‘Remain In Light’ (2018)
“Remain In Light,” Angelique Kidjo’s rendition of the homonymous Talking Heads album, is the archetypal perfect cover. It is an artist preserving the vibrant spirit of an original work while integrating their own voice into it. In Kidjo’s case that means mixing the Talking Heads’ erratic surrealism with her own beautiful bright style. The end result is both excitingly new and comfortably familiar. Some other covers I was jamming to this year include Cake’s version of “I Will Survive” and Nina Simone’s version of “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
5. ‘Drive My Car’ (2021)
Best Picture nominee and winner of the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film in 2022 “Drive My Car” is a heart wrenching exploration of art and loss. The Japanese film follows director Yūsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) as he stages the play “Uncle Vanya” for a multilingual theater festival. While working at the festival he must also reconcile with the death of his wife Oto (Reika Kirishima). Due to his poor eyesight, Kafuku is assigned a driver (Masaki Okada) and his relationship with her drives both of them to confront loss in their lives. “Drive My Car” is a worthwhile watch, markedly adept at bringing to life the depth of narrative of the Haruki Murakami short story on which the film was based.
6. ‘Fire and Ice’ (1920)
The world has been ending for a long time. So long, in fact, that the field of eschatology has developed to understand and reconcile different theories about the apocalypse. Robert Frost’s contribution to this field, the short poem “Fire and Ice,” is a hauntingly playful exploration of the world-ending power of the eponymous elements. The poem is impressively dense with meaning without being overwhelming and is a good place to start for those interested in reviving the lost art of memorizing poetry.
7. ‘Shape of Stories’ (2004)
Kurt Vonnegut was a giant of American literature who, despite his best efforts, lived a long and complicated life. Less known than his 14 novels and myriad other works are the series of lectures he gave across the country over the course of his career. Vonngegut’s “Shape of Stories” concept—which originally featured in his his rejected Master’s thesis—has been immortalized in the tail end of one such lecture which he gave in 2004 at Case Western Reserve University.
Not quite a comedy but just as mischievous as one, “Shape of Stories” reminds the audience not to take literature too seriously. Vonnegut considers the possibility of reducing literature to a simple two dimensions, but ultimately demonstrates how the best literature transcends this approach. His signature light-hearted and keen insights are sure to bring a smile to every watcher’s face.
8. ‘ОЙДА’ (2022)
“Oh yea, take our home. Oh yea, settle in it. Oh yea, choke in it. But we will take it back.” That’s the approximate translation of the chorus of Russian rapper Oxxxymiron’s song “ОЙДА.” Like most of Oxxxymiron’s recent music, the song is energetic but not overpowering. It features the allusion and meaning packed style of lyrics for which he is known. Along with the song he released a music video recorded in the streets of St. Petersburg, the same streets from which six months earlier he had called for an anti-war movement as broad as the anti-Vietnam war coalition was in the 1960s U.S. The video quickly skyrocketed to the top of YouTube charts. “ОЙДА” is not only a modern example of powerful protest music, it is also just a really good song.
9. ‘Chimpanzee’ (2019)
After I first saw “Chimpanzee” during the International Puppet Theatre Festival in Chicago, it had such an impact on me that I saw it once more when it came to the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. The stunning puppet show is based on the real lives of several chimpanzees that were raised in human families as part of a study. When the funding ran out the apes were relocated, often to harsh testing facilities. The masterful puppetry of “Chimpanzee” challenges the audience’s expectation of narrative and invites watchers to ponder how a language-less creature might understand the human world around it.
10. ‘The Infinite Wrench’ (2016-)
Ever since its founding in 1988, the Neofuturist Theater in Chicago has been presenting a collection of 30 plays in 60 minutes every year, 50 weeks out of the year. The collection was originally called “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” but after a split with founder and playwright Greg Allen, the current iteration is called “The Infinite Wrench.” The plays the artists perform change each week, and they span a broad range of subjects and techniques. All the plays are personal and authentic, however, as the group prioritizes an approach to theater that engages reality rather than one that tells abstract stories. The Neofuturist Theater’s mesmerizing mini-plays have kept me coming back time after time and are a great arts experience for a weekend in Chicago.
Shafiro’s article is part of a year in review series by A&E writers. Read the rest here.
Sam Shafiro (he/him) (25C) is a Political Science major from Oak Park, Illinois. He is involved with the Emory Barkley Forum for Debate, Deliberation, and Dialogue and the Emory SIRE undergraduate research program. In his free time, Sam enjoys bananas and celery, as well as other fruits and vegetables.