The annual fried chicken and loud cackling session known as the DFW Critics Forum luncheon was lighter on both grease and arguing this year. The group reached unusually strong consensus on menu (fewer fattening things, more salads) and on which theater artists deserve special nods for their outstanding working on stages in Dallas and Fort Worth last season. We liked a lot of shows and a lot of performances, expanding some among the nine award categories to include more than the usual six names. Several honorees were chosen for their excellent contributions to more than one production during the season (August 2011 to August 2012).
Winners receive neither statuettes nor certificates. Merely these words, which they may copy and paste onto their bios in their next Playbill, plus the knowledge that those of us who see theater for a living sometimes applaud loudest with adjectives and adverbs.
Here are the critics' choices:
Outstanding Directors: Bruce C. Coleman, Superior Donuts (Theatre Too); Cheryl Denson, Oklahoma! (Lyric Stage); Tre Garrett, Topdog/Underdog (Jubilee Theatre); Patrick Kelly, The Birthday Party (Undermain Theatre); René Moreno, The Night of the Iguana (Contemporary Theatre of Dallas), August: Osage County (WaterTower Theatre) and Coriolanus (Shakespeare Dallas); Jeffrey Schmidt, The Farnsworth Invention (Theatre Three); Michael Serrecchia, Avenue Q (Theatre Too) and The Producers (Uptown Players).
Outstanding New Plays or Musicals (making their debuts on local stages): Diamond Dick: The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 by Erik Ehn (Project X: Theatre); International Falls by Thomas Ward (Haven Productions at WTT's Out of the Loop Fringe Festival); Mean by Matthew Posey (Ochre House); Ruth by Vicki Caroline Cheatwood (Kitchen Dog Theater).
Best Performances by Actors: B.J. Cleveland in The Producers (Uptown Players); Kyle Cotton in Oklahoma! (Lyric Stage); Chuck Huber in The Real Thing (Stage West) and The Merchant of Venice (Trinity Shakespeare); Alex Organ in Coriolanus (Shakespeare Dallas) and The Farnsworth Invention (Theatre Three); Chris Piper in Free Man of Color (African American Repertory Theatre) and Superior Donuts (T2); Van Quattro in Superior Donuts (T2); Terry Vandivort and Ashley Wood in The Night of the Iguana (CTD).
Best Performances by Actresses: Emily Scott Banks in A Most Dangerous Woman (Echo Theatre); Erica Harte in Oklahoma! (Lyric Stage) and Spring Awakening (WaterTower Theatre); Jenny Ledel in Twelfth Night (Shakespeare Dallas) and Turn of the Screw (Kitchen Dog); Ebony Marshall-Oliver in Pretty Fire (Jubilee Theatre); Barrett Nash in My Name Is Rachel Corrie (Rite of Passage at the Festival of Independent Theatres); Sally Nystuen Vahle in God of Carnage (Dallas Theater Center); Lulu Ward in The New Century (Uptown Players) and Counting the Ways (WingSpan Theatre, FITfest); Sherry Jo Ward in August: Osage County (WaterTower) and International Falls (Out of the Loop).
Outstanding Ensemble Casts: August: Osage County, WaterTower Theatre; Oklahoma!, Lyric Stage; Avenue Q, Theatre Too; The Farnsworth Invention, Theatre Three; The Birthday Party, Undermain Theatre.
Outstanding Creative Contributions (design, dance, music, etc): Project X's Diamond Dick, for the creative team's achievements in music, movement, sound, scenery and film; Avenue Q, for Michael Robinson and the Dallas Puppet Theater's puppet design and construction; Ochre House's Mean, for Justin Locklear's original music; Lyric's Oklahoma!, for Ann Nieman's choreography; Theatre Too's Superior Donuts, for Bruce C. Coleman's set design; Dallas Theater Center's The Tempest, for Beowulf Boritt's set design.
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Outstanding Touring Productions: American Idiot (Lexus Broadway Series); Bring It On: The Musical (Dallas Summer Musicals); West Side Story (Dallas Summer Musicals); Irving Berlin's White Christmas (Performing Arts Fort Worth).
Special Award: Nouveau 47 Theatre, for their commitment to the mission of developing and presenting new and original works for the stage.
Emerging Artist Award: Actor Van Quattro. It may seem unusual to call an actor in his 50s "emerging," but Quattro returned to acting last year after a 10-year absence, giving strong performances in Requiem for a Heavyweight at Onstage in Bedford; at Dallas Theater Center, where he was a haunting Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird; and at Theatre Too, where he played the lead in a stunning production of Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts. The award is meant to encourage artists to continue to take risks as they take on new roles in DFW theaters. Previous winners are Justin Locklear and Joey Folsom.
This year's participating critics: Elaine Liner, Dallas Observer; Arnold Wayne Jones, Dallas Voice; Lawson Taitte, Dallas Morning News; Lance Lusk, Liz Johnstone and Lindsey Wilson, Front Row/D Magazine; Martha Heimberg, Turtle Creek News/TheaterJones; Punch Shaw, Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Alexandra Bonifield, Critical Rant blog; Perry Stewart and Mark Lowry, TheaterJones.com.