January 1, 2013. In his charming, candid interview with Diane Rehm on her NPR radio show, revered, veteran actor F. Murray Abraham spoke with genuine admiration for articulate stage productions. “It’s always the literature.” I heartily concur that a play’s effectiveness starts with its text, with a caveat. To succeed on stage, a play’s “literature” mustn’t always encompass enshrined iambic pentameter or sophisticated metaphor that measures up to the intellectual challenge often posed by the NY Times’ crossword puzzle. The language a play’s “literature” uses often goes beyond the written word, providing a sumptuous foundation for valid production in its own unique way. My choices for the delights of 2012 reflect my belief in articulated, textual and contextual resonance.
Best play productions of 2012? Easy to enumerate — they soar on their own, with the guidance of some of the Best Directors of 2012, too. And I don’t buy into that “limit to 10” rule. My first seven selections step outside the bounds of traditional production: in freshness of concept, imaginative execution, innovative use of sensory elements as “text”, ability to transport an audience to another world, appeal to a non-standard audience. My final five selections represent some of the best-written plays anywhere today (two by Tracy Letts), dynamically brought to life by strong acting, eloquent design and canny direction. I am honored to live in a region where this level of performance art can flourish. My choices, a whole lot of fabulous “literature” with their honorable directors:
- “On the Eve” (Nouveau 47 & Home by Hovercraft) Jeffrey Schmidt, director
- “The Merchant of Venice” (Trinity Shakespeare Festival) Stephen Fried, director
- “Oklahoma!” (Lyric Stage) Cheryl Denson, director
- “The True History of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, The Ugliest Woman in the World” (Amphibian Stage Productions) Jonathan Fielding, director
- “The Scar” (Teatro Dallas) Cora Cordona, director
- “O’Keeffe!” (Flower and Bone Productions) Ouida White, director
- “W(hole)” (Dead White Zombies) Thomas Riccio, director
- “The Real Thing” (Stage West) Jim Covault, director
- “August: Osage County” (WaterTower Theatre) Rene Moreno, director
- “The Farnsworth Invention” (Theatre Three) Jeffrey Schmidt, director
- “Superior Donuts” (Theatre Three) Bruce Coleman, director
- “New Jerusalem” (Stage West) Jerry Russell, director
From my Best of 2012 through a Feminist Lens: A Binder Full of Female Actors!
Fearless veracity. Vulnerability. Craftsmanship. Charisma. Oceanic depth. In no specific order and expanded:
- Maryam Baig: “On The Eve” (Nouveau 47 and Home by Hovercraft)
- Denise Lee: “Avenue Q” (Theatre Three); “THE LEGENDS CONTINUE: Women Who Have Made Their Mark On American Music”, A Cabaret (Sammons Center for the Arts)
- Carolyn Wickwire: “Superior Donuts” & “O’Keeffe!” (Theatre Three, and touring)
- Nancy Sherrard: “August: Osage County” (WaterTower Theatre); “Beauty Queen of Leenane” (Kitchen Dog Theatre)
- Pam Dougherty: “August: Osage County” (WaterTower Theatre)
- Lulu Ward: “Boeing Boeing!” (WaterTower Theatre, directed by Robin Armstrong); “Counting the Ways” (Festival of Independent Theatres, WingSpan Theatre, directed by Susan Sargeant)
- Amber Nicole Guest: “The Most Happy Fella” (Lyric Stage)
- Marisa Diatolevi: “Still Consummate” (PRIDE Fest: Uptown Players)
- Barrett Nash: “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” (Festival of Independent Theatres: Rite of Passage Theatre)
- Marti Etheridge: “Coyote” (Nouveau 47); “The Better Doctor” (Upstart Productions)
- Emily Scott Banks: “The Real Thing” (Stage West), “Boeing Boeing” (WaterTower Theatre), “The Diary of Anne Frank” (WaterTower Theatre)
- Erica Harte, “Oklahoma!”
Best Actors category, male, of 2012… presents a particular challenge. Most plays (written and/or produced) feature mostly male roles. These works offer male actors the opportunity to exhibit artistry, craft, depth and range that few female actors ever get to explore. There’s a lot of strong performance here to sort through. 2012 produced some spectacular male performances on north Texas stages. How to narrow down the choices…toss a coin? Joking. I love these guys, every one of them: for how they lit up our stages and stepped beyond themselves with passion, skill, versatility, courage and unsparing devotion to the art of theatre. In alphabetical order:
- J. Brant Alford: “The Merchant of Venice” (Trinity Shakespeare Festival)
- Andy Baldwin: “The Real Thing” (Stage West); “Boeing Boeing” (WaterTower Theatre)
- Jakie Cabe: “The Farnsworth Invention” (Theatre Three); “Around the World in 80 Days” (Stage West)
- B.J. Cleveland: “The Producers” (Uptown Players): “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play” (WaterTower Theatre)
- Kyle Cotton: “Oklahoma!” (Lyric Stage)
- Jim Crawford: “August: Osage County” (WaterTower Theatre)
- Chamblee Ferguson: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (Dallas Theater Center)
- Rodney Garza: “The Scar” (Teatro Dallas)
- Richard Haratine: “The Merchant of Venice”/ “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (Trinity Shakespeare Festival)
- Chuck Huber: “The Real Thing” (Stage West); “The Merchant of Venice”/ “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (Trinity Shakespeare Festival)
- Chris Hury: “August: Osage County” (WaterTower Theatre); “God of Carnage” (Dallas Theater Center); “Macbeth” (Shakespeare Dallas)
- Tom Lenaghen: “August: Osage County” (WaterTower Theatre)
- Greg Lush: “The Birthday Party” (Undermain Theatre); “Present Laughter” (Theatre Three); “On The Eve” (Nouveau 47, Home by Hovercraft)
- Terry Martin: “Next Fall” (Dallas Theater Center)
- Tony Martin: “The Producers” (Uptown Players)
- Alex Organ: “The Farnsworth Invention” (Theatre Three); “The Most Happy Fella” (Lyric Stage); “Coriolanus” (Shakespeare Dallas)
- Christopher Donnell Piper: “A Free Man of Color” (AART); “Superior Donuts” (Theatre Three)
- Van Quattro: “Superior Donuts” (Theatre Three)
- Garrett Storms: “New Jerusalem” (Stage West)
Best Performance of 2012 by a Female Actor: Nancy Sherrard as Aunt Mattie in WaterTower Theatre’s “August: Osage County”, directed by Rene Moreno. In a flawless realization of Tracy Letts’ supporting character, the lead Violet’s sister, a woman hard to love yet hungering desperately for it, Sherrard fearlessly presented an intriguing, multi-dimensional character with no hint of caricature.
In the four (count ’em) productions I’ve viewed of this play, I’ve seen Mattie portrayed as background text, a simple-minded hick, a shrill stereotype, and, by Nancy Sherrard, as a flesh and blood woman with all her metaphorical warts, broken dreams, good intentions, insecurities and total overwhelm in full nuanced display. In this production, I cared about Aunt Mattie, understood her cruel actions and empathized with her life. A well-defined performance by Nancy Sherrard, a talented, accomplished professional.
Best Performance of 2012 by a Male Actor:
It boggles the mind. When I recall the region’s master chameleons with admiration, morphing from realism to absurdism, or clowning song and dance to classical articulation, in the blink of an eye with seeming effortless aplomb (I do mean you, Messer’s. Lush, Huber, Cabe, Hury and Organ), I stand in awe of that voodoo that you do. But if I close my eyes and summon up my most unforgettable male acting performance of the year, I revisit an intimate black box, a haunting, shadowy, undefined chamber with a large, rough coffin at one end. A brooding, stocky man, seedy, desperate and disheveled, relives a macabre tale of intense, intimate friendship betrayed in Auguste Pinochet’s world of grisly political unrest and torture. A eulogy, or rite of recrimination? He conducts an irreverent wake in the dead friend’s honor with the audience as witness.
Sometimes as tender, whispered apology, other times in raging exhortation surging beyond the grave, Rodney Garza held his audience spellbound as he performed the sinister, emotionally operatic “The Scar” by renowned Chilean playwright Jorge Diaz in its English translation premiere at Teatro Dallas, directed by Cora Cordona. Remembering his performance gives me intense chills. Aztlan-based performance artist, poet, actor-director and activist Rodney Garza currently lives in Denton. I hope the region’s theatre companies get to benefit further from his talents and skill while he’s here.
- Danielle Georgiou: The Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) opened Teatro Dallas’ Days of the Dead performance in November with “The Elegant Ghost”, a modern dance macabre for three dancers (Sarah Dye, Gabriel King, Nanci Mendoza). Out of this world, it blended movement, ethereal imagery and emotion with uncanny symmetry.
I realize Georgiou has been integrally involved in the region’s dance community for some time. Her work as an emerging sculptor of movement, space and emotion using the human form elevates her way beyond the standard “choreographer/dance instructor” category. I want to see more of the lyrical, dynamic creations from DGDG, enticing examples of that rich, artistic “literature” F. Murray Abraham spoke so respectfully of on NPR.
- Outcry Theatre: In case you missed it, in June 2012 energetic, new Outcry Theatre mounted a solid production of Itamar Moses’ “The Four of Us”. Earlier this year, this artistic dream project of husband/wife team Jason and Becca Johnson-Spinos won Best of the Loop at the Studio Space in WaterTower Theatre’s always engaging Out of the Loop Festival with their acclaimed production of Carlos Murillo’s “Dark Play or Stories for Boys”. “The Four of Us” confirms that Outcry is a dynamic, bold creative team bringing a fresh, joyful dharma to the DFW thespian scene. Bring it on in 2013! My full review: http://criticalrant.com/2012/06/12/in-praise-of-navel-gazing-outcry-theatres-the-four-of-us/
“Don’t say of a particular actor or actress: They should have had a particular career, or they should have only played certain roles.
The actor has no control at all over the trajectory of their career, other than to relinquish it entirely.
There are intersections in the arts: The intersection of ability and desire; the intersection of luck and light; the intersection of taste and timing.
These are vicious intersections.”
I look forward to the varied ‘vicious intersections’ 2013 ushers in….
(Quoted from James Grissom’s “Follies of God”: conversations with Tennessee Williams, this one from 1982)