December 11, 2014 6:03 AM EST

1 THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

An autistic teenager tries to find out who killed a neighbor’s dog. Simon Stephens’ extraordinary play (based on Mark Haddon’s novel) jumps off from that simple premise to create a thought-provoking and theatrically dazzling excursion into uncharted territory–the inside of a boy’s disordered but resourceful mind. Marianne Elliott’s current Broadway production is part mystery, part family drama, and altogether mind-blowing onstage.

2 FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS

At a Southern plantation during the Civil War, a slave decides to follow his master into the Confederate army. Suzan-Lori Parks’ original take on familiar history is a richly textured mix of Brechtian allegory and Homeric epic.

3 STICKS AND BONES

David Rabe’s surrealistic black comedy from 1971, about a blinded, mind-blasted Vietnam veteran who returns home to his clueless family, might seem dated. But Scott Elliott’s searing off-Broadway revival brings out all its power and boldness.

4 MACHINAL

Last season’s British-born revival of Sophie Treadwell’s expressionist 1928 drama, based on the murder trial of Ruth Snyder, was a bracing reminder of the days when avant-garde artists and left-wing politics combined to create potent theater.

5 ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES

At a busy airport, an antiterrorism unit prepares an operation to nab an arriving terror suspect. British master Alan Ayckbourn again pushes theatrical boundaries while probing the sad comedy of ordinary lives.

6 THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN

Second time was a charm for Martin McDonagh’s 1996 comedy, staged once before in New York City but not nearly as well as in Michael Grandage’s crackerjack revival, starring Daniel Radcliffe.

7 ROCKY

The musical version of Sylvester Stallone’s famed movie pleased few critics and died quickly on Broadway. But in a bad year for musicals, it had a tuneful score and a book that skillfully made the film-to-stage transfer.

8 THE OPEN HOUSE

Downtown playwright Will Eno’s sardonic, willfully misdirected dialogue turned this bitterly dark comedy into a resonant allegory of family disconnection.

9 GROWNUP SONGS

John Pizzarelli, the slick jazz guitarist, and Jessica Molaskey, with her warm, quavery vocals, shine in their new cabaret show. Sophisticated, jazzy, witty and engaging, the Astaire-Rogers of the cabaret world are in top form.

10 THIS IS OUR YOUTH

Michael Cera is ideally cast as a slacker rich kid thrown out of the house by his dad, and Kieran Culkin is superb as the drug-dealing friend he shacks up with, in the new Broadway revival of Kenneth Lonergan’s comedy.

SPOTLIGHT THEATER PERFORMANCE

AUDRA McDONALD

LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL

After winning five Tony Awards for shows ranging from Ragtime to Porgy and Bess, Broadway’s most operatic musical star took a chance by playing jazz singer Billie Holiday in one of her last, drug-fueled performances. McDonald was astonishing, delivering an uncanny impersonation of Holiday’s singing voice and a wrenching portrait of a wasted performer spinning out of control. Make that six Tonys.

This appears in the December 22, 2014 issue of TIME.

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