If you lie down with critics, you get up with fleas, or some such pestilence. So the winners of the 1999 Dallas Theater Critics Forum Awards can gain solace that a certain persistent itch is at least accompanied by an award for "outstanding excellence in the field of stage virtuosity," or something like that.
Surprisingly, there was little disagreement among myself, Lawson Taitte and Tom Sime from The Dallas Morning News, Hugh Johnson from the Dallas Voice, and Martha Heimberg from The Weekly when we convened on a long Saturday afternoon to hammer out these critics' choices. There was a blur of nodding heads as each nomination list was announced at the dining-room table. The thing I like best about the Dallas Theater Critics Forum? We pick multiple winners in a series of broad categories, so Kelly Thomas in Echo Theatre's Why We Have a Body isn't forced to have a showdown with Yvette Ganier from Dallas Theater Center's A Raisin in the Sun. Two different performers (one an out-of-towner, the other a resident; the first a slowly burning presence, the second a radiant scene-stealer) playing two very different roles in two dramatically different productions shouldn't be forced to compete for the same honor.
What I most dislike? Everyone in the Forum didn't agree with me. Next, there wasn't unanimity of scope: Not all of us saw the same shows, so the award slots occasionally came down to an "I'll trade you one so-and-so for another so-and-so." The individuals who got their pet selections placed among the finalists (Taitte and I thought Matthew Hawkins made a simply marvelous Linus in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, but the other three didn't see that performance; I didn't catch Shelley Tharp in Kitchen Dog's Fur or anything at Lyric Stage, but others raved) were thrilled at the same time they suspected the quality of those stage moments they didn't witness but consented to acknowledge. Come to think of it, that's as it should always be, among critics and critical audiences who care enough about performances to discuss them.
My only major protests about the 1999 Forum Awards were two: Richard Hamburger as outstanding director for DTC's lumbering, scattershot South Pacific and set designer Michael Yeargan for his corrugated tin wall, sand lumps, and murky sky backdrop in the same dubious production. Beyond that, I don't mean to diminish the satisfaction of the winners. In every case, at least two, and sometimes five, opinionated and cynical strangers sat in the darkness, riveted by your onstage choices. From what I understand about theater artists, that's no small reward.
Outstanding direction: Dan Day, Waiting for Godot, Kitchen Dog; Richard Hamburger, South Pacific, Dallas Theater Center; Cynthia Hestand, Serenading Louie, Theatre Quorum; Jonathan Moscone, How I Learned to Drive, DTC; Katherine Owens, Thérèse Raquin, Undermain; Raphael Parry, Shiner, Undermain; L. Kenneth Richardson, A Raisin in the Sun, Dallas Theater Center
Outstanding performance by an actor: Terry Beaver, How I Learned to Drive, DTC; Cameron Cobb, Thérèse Raquin, Undermain; Dan Day, Waiting for Godot, Kitchen Dog; Matthew Hawkins, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Dallas Children's Theater; Billy Eugene Jones, A Raisin in the Sun, DTC; David Peaston, Blind Lemon: Prince of Country Blues, Documentary Arts, Dallas Summer Musicals, and the city of Dallas
Outstanding performance by an actress: Yvette Ganier, A Raisin in the Sun, Dallas Theater Center; Terri Lamm, How I Learned to Drive, DTC; Michele Ragusa, South Pacific, DTC; Joanna Schellenberg, Why We Have a Body, Echo Theatre, and Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare Festival of Dallas; Lisa Lee Schmidt, Tartuffe, DTC; Shelley Tharp, Fur, Kitchen Dog; Kelly Thomas, Why We Have a Body, Echo Theatre; Nance Watkins, Lloyd's Prayer, Lean Theater
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Outstanding design: Jac Alder, translation/adaptation, The Miser, Theatre Three; John Coyne, set, Tartuffe, Dallas Theater Center; Donald Eastman, set, A Raisin in the Sun, DTC; Max Hartman, musical arrangements, Shiner, Undermain; Bryan Miller, lighting, Thérèse Raquin and Wallpaper Psalm, Undermain; Katherine B. Roth, costumes, Alice: Tales of a Curious Girl, DTC; Bryan Wofford, sets, Polaroid Stories, Undermain, and Journey's End, Plano Repertory Theatre; Michael Yeargan, set, South Pacific, DTC
Outstanding touring productions: The Gin Game, Broadway Contemporary Series; Show Boat, Dallas Summer Musicals
Outstanding new plays: Global Village by Tom Grady (world premiere produced by Actors Stock Company); Shiner by Octavio Solis and Erik Ehn (world premiere produced by Undermain Theatre)
Special awards: Lyric Stage for ambition and innovation in producing musical comedy; The ensemble cast of Shiner, Undermain