Two show recommendations for the holidays: Druid Theatre's production of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Atlantic and Keen Company's production of Beasley's Christmas Party, based on a Booth Tarkington story, at the Acorn.
About Inishmaan, the TONY review isn't out yet so I'll only say that McDonagh's storytelling sense is absolutely crackling, director Garry Hynes continues to impress, and the ensemble on the Atlantic stage (mostly imported from the Galway production) is one of the finest you can see in New York right now. Special mention to Kerry Conlon, whose rambunctious Helen is often hilarious, but also quite poignant in her final scenes.
I tend to enjoy Keen shows for the same reason I enjoy Mint shows: While the big nonprofits are perfectly happy doing Hedda Gabler or The Seagull for the umpteenth time, these two scrappy companies excavate long-forgotten plays and put them up in productions ranging from honorable to topnotch. Beasley's Christmas Party fits the end of the company's mission statement, which reads "Keen Company seeks to create a culture of artists, technicians, administrators and audiences who share a desire to invigorate the theater with productions that connect us through humor, heart and hope." Beasley's has all three elements in spades. It's a small (three actors), compact (70 minutes) show, yet it wonderfully upholds the old tradition of theater as storytelling. The cynic among us would call it quaint; I'd rather call it timeless.
By the way, if you only pay attention to the byline of the Times' chief drama critic, Ben Brantley, you won't know companies such as Mint and Keen are working here, or that the downtown stage is alive and well. His top ten continues to make a preposterous amalgam between New York theater and Broadway, as if one was synonymous with the other. There are only two non-Broadway shows on his list, Blasted and Hair, and the latter is actually scheduled to transfer to Broadway in 2009.