A journey in theater: Director Quin Gordon's top 10 most memorable performances

Theater lovers around the world know the impact a single performance can have on an audience. From evoking strong emotions to inspiring someone to pursue a career as an artist, theater has the power to reach people of any age, encouraging them to take a closer look at the world around them and within themselves.

School of Drama alumnus, faculty member and Director of Recruitment Quin Gordon has experienced many such moments as an audience member throughout his life. From watching fellow UNCSA alumni on stage to witnessing Broadway debut performances, and even being the only person in the audience of a “truly terrible” Shakespeare production, Gordon shares the ten most memorable and impactful theater performances he’s experienced.

Black Watch

First up, Gordon lists the National Theater of Scotland’s production of “Black Watch.” He saw the performance at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and recognized a notable face in the audience. “I saw it in the fall of 2008 after the presidential election,” he explains. “The stage was configured in the alley. I looked across the way and Senator John McCain was in the audience.”

The play is based on interviews with soldiers and depicts the Black Watch regiment of the British Army serving in Iraq in 2004. Gordon recalls the combination of the subject matter and his fellow audience member was particularly moving. “It was strange and poignant to watch this play with him about ancient military tradition mingled with horrific modern warfare. This production contained the single most awe-inspiring transition I’ve ever seen wherein a barroom pool table transformed into a Humvee rolling through the streets of Fallujah during the Iraq war.” To this day, he believes it is the “single greatest theatergoing experience” he has ever had.


Next up, Gordon names “Blasted” by the late Sarah Kane at SOHO Repertory Theater, directed by Sarah Benson. “Blasted” is a controversial and graphic play that explores themes of violence, war and human relationships. Domestic brutality is linked to the atrocities of war through the harrowing encounter of a racist, abusive journalist and a young woman in a Leeds hotel room.

Seen around the same time as “Back Watch,” he describes it as “easily the most disturbing play I’ve ever seen detailing humanity’s capacity for inhumanity but also our impulses for generosity.” Set in a bleak not-so-distant future, Gordon says the play features “the coolest set change I’ve ever seen” when a bomb lands in the hotel room partway through. 


The original production of David Harrower’s “Blackbird” at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2006, directed by alumnus Joe Mantello, is Gordon’s next addition to the list. A gripping drama that delves into the complex and emotionally charged reunion between a young woman and an older man fifteen years after their illicit relationship, “Blackbird” challenges perceptions of victimhood, love, and the consequences of forbidden desire.

Gordon notes that Mantello successfully restaged “Blackbird” for Broadway a decade later. Still, he’ll always prefer the original production which starred Jeff Daniels and Allison Pill, who he says were “both excellent.”

Brief Encounter

He next lists the now-defunct Kneehigh Theater’s production of “Brief Encounter.” Based on the David Lean film of the Noel Coward play, the play was adapted for the stage by director Emma Rice who Gordon calls “brilliant.” The story explores the poignant, fleeting romance between two strangers, set against the backdrop of 1930s England.

“I’ve never seen a more clever use of media in the theatrical space,” explains Gordon. “The projections were astounding but also how the actors interacted with them. I love how this company could so effectively blend high-tech artistry with cheap and familiar theatricality – puppetry, live music, dance. All the actors utilized a performance style of another era, leaning into the melodrama of the story.” 

Uncle Vanya

Fifth on the list is “Uncle Vanya” which Gordon saw at the Classic Stage Company, directed by Austin Pendleton. He credits this as the production that made him “fall in love” with playwright Anton Chekhov, who is also known for “The Cherry Orchard” and “Three Sisters.” Set in rural Russia, “Uncle Vanya” explores themes of unfulfilled love, disillusionment and family dynamics amidst the arrival of an elderly professor and his young wife, disrupting the lives of Vanya and his niece Sonya.

Gordon describes the show as “a company of brilliant actors bringing equal parts joy and melancholy to the stage.” He says one element he will never forget is “the wordless long counter-cross between Astrov and Yelena, wherein they didn’t look at each other. It brilliantly set up their attraction.”


The next work on the list is Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” directed by Rebecca Taichman, which Gordon saw during its Broadway run in 2017. The deeply moving production chronicles the history of the controversial Yiddish play "God of Vengeance," exploring themes of censorship, love, and the challenges faced by Jewish artists. Gordon says that “the choreography and staging were immensely theatrical, eventually building to the play’s heartbreaking climax.”

Indecent at UNCSA by Paula Vogel

The School of Drama presented “Indecent” in the fall of 2021 directed by then-student Acadia Barrengos. / Photo: Wayne Reich

Psychos Never Dream

A work that Gordon loved so much that he saw it three times was “Psychos Never Dream” by Denis Johnson and presented by Campo Santo in San Francisco. The show is a collection of short stories that delves into the lives of different characters, exploring themes of desperation, addiction and the search for meaning in a disordered world.

Gordonsaw the production while he was teaching in the Bay Area in the early 2000s, and describes it as “a haunting play set in a murderous heartland on the fringes of society.”

Hedda Gabler

The Sydney Theater Co.’s production of “Hedda Gabler” by Henrik Ibsen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music was another memorable performance for Gordon. The story follows the emotionally complex and manipulative titular character as she navigates societal expectations, personal desires, and the consequences of her actions in a stifling bourgeois environment.

What really struck him about the production was Cate Blanchett’s astonishing performance as Hedda. “Blanchett never sat still for the nearly three-hour performance,” remembers Gordon. “What a joy to see one of the finest actors in one of the meatiest roles of the theater.”

Once on this Island

Gordon next lists the Broadway revival of “Once on this Island,” which is a musical that tells the story of a fearless peasant girl on a Caribbean island. Guided by the island’s gods through a transformative journey, she uses the power of love to unite people from across social classes.

Gordon's fondness for this performance stems primarily from the opportunity to witness several of his former students shining on stage. “Seeing our alumni Courtnee Carter and Isaac Powell share the stage so soon after graduation is among my proudest moments to be a part of this school,” he says. Overall, Gordon calls the musical a “beautiful production” and says that Dane Laffrey’s set was “dynamic and moving.”


Ending with a classic, Gordon notes that a very memorable performance for him was a “truly terrible production of ‘Hamlet.’” Written by William Shakespeare, “Hamlet” is a tragic masterpiece about the Prince of Denmark who seeks revenge against his uncle, now king, for murdering his father. The work has gone on to be performed countless times since it was written and has inspired many adaptations such as “The Lion King.” 

Gordon saw the unfortunate production at a small gallery in Berkley, California – an intimate space that held around 25 audience members.  He says that the main issue was the length. “It was so long, and they did not make any cuts to Shakespeare’s text as most productions do,” he explains. Then, at intermission, the entire audience left except for him. “They performed the entire second half just for me. It was an oddly emotional experience, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so connected to a group of actors as I was in that weird little gallery space in Berkley.”

by Melissa Upton-Julio

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March 20, 2024