Will act for food

Theater Critics Forum ponders the year's best performances--and Dallas' diminishing stage scene

At the recent yearly summit of Dallas' theater critics, a ritual gathering designed to hash out the annual Dallas Theater Critics Forum Awards, the group discussed that there were perhaps 40 to 50 fewer productions this past season than in previous years.

No one had an answer for the sad fact, but there was certainly less work for Dallas' actors. Some regular favorites--Matt Tompkins and Greg Gormley come to mind--could barely be found on the old boards. As anticipated in these pages, their home ensemble, Classic Theatre Company, did not produce a single work, never mind a season. Classic has been one of Dallas' secret treasures; artistic director Janet Farrow's daring adaptations have too often been ignored.

The paucity of work here is an amber light that an already underfunded, underattended, and unappreciated theater scene is in more danger than usual. Dallas is about as supportive of new, vital theater as the new U.S. Congress is supportive of the NEA.

But enough ranting. There may have been fewer productions, but there was clearly some stand-out work. It took five critics just an hour and a half to reach consensus on the awards, an unprecedented time feat.

And the winners for outstanding direction are: Dan Day, Pitchfork Disney, Kitchen Dog Theatre; Richard Hamburger, Room Service and Santos & Santos, Dallas Theater Center (DTC); Raphael Parry, Fool for Love, Kitchen Dog Theatre, and Beginner, Undermain; Keith Oncale, The Lion and the Jewel, Addison Theatre Centre (ACT); Katherine Owens, Hyacinth Macaw, Undermain.

Outstanding performance by an actor, leading or supporting: Jonathan Brent, Pitchfork Disney, Kitchen Dog; Bruce DuBose, Hyacinth Macaw, Undermain; Tom Lenaghen, Tiny Dimes, Undermain; David Lugo, Beginner, Undermain; Joe Nemmers, Pitchfork Disney and Fool for Love, Kitchen Dog; Rudy Robeson, Avenue X, DTC.

Outstanding performance by an actress, leading or supporting: Beverly Jacob Daniels, Marvin's Room, Open Stage Company; Sarah Gunnell, Skin, DTC; Sally Nystuen, Pitchfork Disney, Kitchen Dog; Liz Piazza-Kelley, Tiger Lady, Theatre Three; Beverly May, Family Affair, DTC; Sheridan Thomas, Family Affair, DTC.

Outstanding design in any category: Keith Buresh, lighting design, Hyacinth Macaw, Undermain; Andy Fitch, set design, Fool For Love, Kitchen Dog; Baba Ayuba Kamau/Kweku Codrington, music, The Lion and The Jewel, ACT; Hugh Landwehr, set design, Room Service, DTC; Suzanne Lavender, lighting design, Pitchfork Disney and Beginner; Peggy Sue Mauvais, set design, Lucky Stiff, Theater Three; Trey Walpole, music, Beginner, Undermain.

Let me explain the special award before you say the word incestuous. This year it goes to a critic, Jerome Weeks of the Dallas Morning News, for his indefatigable spirit and labor-intensive efforts in bringing the American Theatre Critics' Association national convention to Dallas.

OK. So it is incestuous. But there was a consensus that he deserved it. And no, he didn't vote.

Now to continue ranting. Even Richard Hamburger, artistic director of the relatively comfortable, well-endowed Dallas Theater Center, has had to tighten his belt. He has made the financially prudent decision of producing six instead of seven shows. No tragedy there; seven productions may have been too ambitious from the start. But still, it must be noted that Hamburger's attempts to bring new, culturally diverse work to the mainstage, from George C. Wolfe's Spunk to Octavio Solis' provocative Santos & Santos, have been met with too much apathy and too many empty seats.

The good news is that Hamburger has decided that Tony Kushner's Angels in America bears another look, one that fits in with his new, pared-down aesthetic. So he will direct the epic at DTC next spring. "I saw the Broadway production and it was overproduced," Hamburger said recently over coffee--his favorite meal--at Starbucks. "It's the most important American play since Streetcar. We're going to strip it down to its essence."

He isn't alone in thinking that the Broadway version of Angels was burdened by a set befitting a musical theater spectacle. Some critics preferred a New York University bare-bones production to Broadway's overdesign-till-you-kill-it approach.

Hamburger is still bent on diversifying the productions at DTC despite a lack of encouragement. He brings Ohio Tip-off to the mainstage, a raw, edgy play that looks at the Michael Jordan wannabes--the thousands of NBA hopefuls who don't make the grade. Written by James Yoshimura (who writes for the acclaimed, gritty TV show "Homicide"), the work opens in October.

But Angels will truly be the bedrock of the season. "We'll see with Angels how much the audience wants to respond to a community event. Doing the play is a political act," Hamburger said. "It's all about inclusion.

 
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