by Miryam Gordon -
SGN A&E Writer
It's time to celebrate 2011's excellence. I'm proud to be able to witness and proclaim the great stuff of life that Seattle theaters, big and small, provide to eager audiences. I'm also proud to be part of a new cohort of theatrical award selectors: Seattle Theater Writers. STW is a coalition of theater writers (critics/reviewers) who see a lot of plays in Seattle.
STW is currently busy selecting the winners of the new Gypsy Rose Lee Awards (or the Gypsys, for short) that will be announced in early 2012. The Gypsys encompass the calendar year 2011 and reflect an agreement on 'excellence' by this group. There will be up to 32 possible awards in Equity and Non-Equity divisions.
More information can be found in the Notes section of the STW Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters), where you can 'like' us. That's also a place where we cross-post reviews from multiple writers, if you'd like to see several reviews on a production at once.
However, since those awards are from consensus opinions, they might not reflect my personal opinions, and I get to celebrate excellence with you here. I want to start by acknowledging some of the tremendous work that Seattle Repertory Theatre displayed this year.
TAKING THE STAGE
While one-person productions may be looked at as money-savers to budget-minded theaters, the excellence of incomparable Mike Daisey's The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs was quite possibly life-changing, confronting as it does the horrible conditions under which Apple products are assembled in China. It is the quintessential amalgamation of political awareness and theatrical presentation. Renata Friedman's touching turn in The K of D and Lorenzo Pisoni's Humor Abuse also displayed bravura acting.
The most amazing theatrical presentation of the year, The Brothers Size, was also produced by the Rep. This unforgettable play had a subject area - life in poverty-stricken, racial segregated urban areas of the U.S. - and a poetical treatment of dialogue and movement that highlighted the subject in a powerfully moving way. Every aspect of the production was top-notch, including award-worthy performances by the three actors.
A solo performance that gets top honors for writing and acting is Sick, written and performed by Elizabeth Kenny, a searing tale of her medically induced psychosis by the medical establishment's mismanagement, developed and produced by John Kazanjian and New City Theater. It's a tiny theater and was able to extend her run a couple of times, which allowed more people to catch this amazing play.
Book-It Repertory had a great year, as well. Excellent productions like Great Expectations (headed by a strong introduction to newcomer Lee Osorio), Sense and Sensibility, and Border Songs, also with a focused main character played by Patrick Allcorn, had winning scripts and great ensemble acting.
Intiman's ground-breaking production of All My Sons, using a black family to great effect in a script written for a white one, showed the out-of-the-box thinking of Valerie Curtis-Newton as director. While Intiman's future looks dim, Curtis-Newton's work should be sought out.
If you haven't been to Seattle Children's Theater lately, they are still producing fantastic work for all ages. Jackie and Me, based on a book about a young (white) boy who gets to travel back in time (as a black boy) to meet baseball great Jackie Robinson, was a tremendous production for any age. David Goldstein and Erwin E.A. Thomas were great as the boy and Jackie. Harold and the Purple Crayon was indeed for the smaller set, but had lovely technical elements and a script and score by local writers, with a winning performance by locally loved Don Darryl Rivera.
ACT Theatre had an outstanding production of Mary Stuart, starring warring queens Suzanne Bouchard and Anne Allgood. Allgood also had a winning turn in Prisoner of Second Avenue with R. Hamilton Wright, and Bouchard slithered enticingly into Cinderella at the 5th Avenue Theatre.
Speaking of musicals, Village Theatre had winners with Iron Curtain, a hysterical blend of puns and piroshkis, as American musical writers are kidnapped to Russia to fix a terrible Russian musical, and Annie Get Your Gun, starring local-turned-Broadway-touring vet Vicki Noon. Seattle Musical Theatre scored with an energetic production of Hairspray with young Kate Moyer giving her all.
Taproot Theatre challenged audiences this year a bit with a great production of Brownie Points, using a strong ensemble of female actors to delve into the difficult subject of race relations among Brownie mothers. Mark Chamberlain (who will be greatly missed) starred in his last production there in The Odyssey. A strong ensemble of actors made An Ideal Husband a fun play to watch, as did the cast of Something's Afoot with an amazing set by Mark Lund.
Ensemble productions, where the cohesion of all the actors created delightful presentations, were particularly plentiful this year. Theater Schmeater has top honors with ensembles for Crooked, a three-hander about a mother, writer daughter, and daughter's new deeply religious best friend, and the raucous and funny Live From the Last Night of My Life, which was the weirdest laugh-out-loud play about wanting to die I have ever seen. Live also had a meticulously beautiful recreation of a convenience store set by Michael Mowery, and coolly funny choreography on roller skates by Kerry Christianson.
Other great productions made great by cohesive ensemble acting include Hardball at Live Girls Theatre, My Wonderful Day at Seattle Public Theater, with a particularly stand-out performance by N'Tasha Anders, Pygmalion at Sound Theatre Company, headed by Frank Lawler and Carolyn Marie Monroe, multiple character-changing in ReAct's Yellow Face, a solid four in The Happy Ones at Seattle Public Theater, Dog Sees God by Balagan Theater, multiple strong performances in A Lie of the Mind at new company Collektor, and evenly distributed character contributions from the cast of Circle Mirror Transformation at Seattle Rep.
Acting honors (besides those called out above) go to Ryan Higgins for Live From the Last Night of My Life, Jaryl Draper and Kelli Mohrbacher for Stone Soup's How I Learned to Drive, Jaime Roberts for Hardball, Kate Witt for Emilie at ArtsWest, Ray Tagavilla and Aimee Bruneau in A Lie of the Mind, and Moses Yim in SiS Productions' Year Zero.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Notable set designs (besides Lund and Mowery) that took productions to another level included the talented Matthew Smucker, who did five top set designs in one year: All My Sons, Circle Mirror Transformation, Harold and the Purple Crayon, In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play, and Prisoner of Second Avenue. Thomas Lynch's Double Indemnity was just awesome. Martin Christoffel's set for Sleuth at Village was, like Lund's at Taproot, an essential element of creating the play, and without it, the play would totally fail. The set of tires for The Brothers Size, by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, clearly articulated the visual aspect of that show. Jennifer Zeyl's Midwest ranch vista set the tone for Seattle Rep's Of Mice and Men. Richard Schaefer's creative, modular design for Seattle Public's Arms and the Man was a subtle treat. Brian Stricklan's high-tech TV-infused set for Hardball worked beautifully.
This year, costumes were sumptuous and beautiful. Highlights were Catherine Hunt's for In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play, Frances Kenny's beautiful, regal gowns for Mary Stuart, Carl Bronson's for ArtsWest's Emilie, and Peter Rush's '60s wear (with an outrageous sweater set) for The Happy Ones at Seattle Public.
A shout out to Brendan Patrick Hogan for multiple displays of sound design excellence at ACT Theatre. ACT knows he's a keeper! Also, Eric Chappelle composed and performed a beautiful, gentle score for Great Expectations that suited the play to a tee.
Local playwriting this year was displayed in a solid number of successful productions. Scotto Moore's Duel of the Linguist Mages was a screamingly smart science-fiction idea and you should get ready to attend his next offering in 2012 at Annex Theatre. Book-It Repertory always debuts locally written world premiere material of great quality. Yussef El Guindi's Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World deserves notice. Jacob Sherman wrote a well-researched true-story play called Vitriol about a Munich newspaper taking a stand against the Nazi build-up.
Last, but certainly not least, Kathy Hsieh wrote episode 19 of her long-running soap opera (as she has written the other 18!) about a group of Asian-American women and their love lives, entitled Sex in Seattle, which has given SiS Productions their name. Episode 19 was, in my experience, the best-written so far. The last episode, Episode 20, will be produced in Spring 2012, and you should look forward to attending. Even if you have never seen any of the prior 19 episodes, they carefully bring you up to date so you don't feel like you've missed too much. Hsieh deserves credit as a talented writer, and also in focusing on bringing to stage works of importance in the Asian community.
If you are a theater lover, but have confined yourself to only one or two companies, do yourself a favor and take a look at some of the theaters and plays listed here that you never heard about, take a look at their histories online, perhaps, and think about trying somewhere completely new in 2012. Excellent theatrical experiences abound in this creative town, and you owe it to yourself to attend more of them!
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