Women Dominated Dallas Theater in 2013

Ladies, take a bow. And another and another. This was your year on North Texas stages.

Local actresses turned in a remarkable number of memorable performances in musicals, comedies and dramas in 2013. And it's not every year that women get so many good roles in live theater in Dallas and Fort Worth.

We're used to seeing Dallas Theater Center company member Liz Mikel working her powerful pipes, singing showstoppers in major musicals. This season, however, she starred in DTC's revival of A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry's landmark non-musical drama directed by Tre Garrett. Playing Lena Younger, Mikel was a wonder as a poverty-weary 1950s mother and grandmother, doing more than dreaming of giving her children a better place to live. Mikel was supported beautifully by actresses Tiffany Hobbs and Ptosha Storey. Hobbs shone even brighter in the "sequel" to Raisin, Clybourne Park (which DTC ran in rep this fall), playing a snooty Chicago homeowner upset that a young white couple wants to build a McMansion in her traditionally African-American neighborhood. Watch for Mikel in the Ben Stiller movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Making 90 minutes of obtuse, disjointed dialogue by Samuel Beckett easy to comprehend is hard enough. Try doing it alone, encased up to your chin in a mound of sand (or as WingSpan Theatre Company did it, in a canvas cone painted to look sandy). That's what Stephanie Dunnam did as the character Winnie in WingSpan director Susan Sargeant's mesmerizing production of Happy Days, Beckett's strange and amusing meditation on the paralyzing boredom of a long, dull marriage. Dunnam's beautiful face, framed by a frizz of white hair, lit up the Bath House Cultural Center's stage. She performed footless feats of theatrical magic in a role that relied solely on the actress' mastery of her own voice and facial expressions. Eager to see what she'll do next when she can make full use of her limbs for a role.

The tedious banalities of marriage also furnished Eugene Ionesco's The Chairs with plenty of comic possibilities at Kitchen Dog Theater. And thanks to some expertly timed moves by actress Rhonda Boutté, acting with Raphael Parry in the two-person piece, the production was a surprisingly hilarious romp -- like I Love Lucy done as an absurdist farce.

Kitchen Dog co-founder and co-artistic director Tina Parker also had a jubilee year acting-wise. She starred at KDT in Kate Fodor's pharmaceutical rom-com Rx and in Lisa D'Amour's dark suburban comedy Detroit, doing some major meltdown comedy a la Melissa McCarthy. (Her Detroit co-star, Jenny Ledel, was brilliantly funny, too.) Parker also wound up her run as the secretary on TV's Breaking Bad and had a nice scene with the leading men in the feature film The Lone Ranger. Next she'll direct the regional premiere of the two-character Gidion's Knot by Johnna Adams, opening at KDT March 28. And she reveals she has "scored a nice small role in a really cool feature film that's shooting right now into 2014." (Bound by a confidentiality clause, she couldn't reveal the title. Dang.)

Amphibian Stage opened a swanky new space in Fort Worth and provided actress Stormi Demerson a nice star turn in Death Tax, Lucas Hnath's five-scene one-act about the perils of being elderly and outliving your bank account. René Moreno directed Demerson and co-star Georgia Clinton -- as an elder-care nurse and her snarling patient -- with both women bringing effective emotional punches to difficult material. Clinton also performed her stinging one-woman Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins show, first at Stage West in 2012 and then this year at WaterTower Theatre in Addison.

Catherine DuBord and Cindee Mayfield Dobbs played the same role opposite each other in Dallas playwright Isabella Russell-Ides' dreamlike one-act Lydie Marland in the Afterlife. Based on the true saga of an Oklahoma socialite who ended up homeless, the play cast DuBord as the flighty young Lydie in her 20s and Mayfield as the poorer-but-wiser senior version. The actresses had crackling chemistry together in director Susan Sargeant's snappy staging for the Festival of Independent Theatres.

When musical theater powerhouses Denise Lee and Megan Kelly-Bates took up residence on Avenue Q at Theatre Too, audiences wouldn't let them leave. After running for a year in the underground space below Theatre Three, Q came back for another go-round there this fall. Lee played Gary Coleman (yes, that one) and Bates played Kate Monster/Lucy T. Slut in the R-rated puppet-centric musical, which also featured a big-belting performance by Olivia de Guzman Emile as Christmas Eve. You might see some of this same cast in Stage West's Avenue Q in 2014.

Male-dominated Ochre House theater has been hosting the Dallas Flamenco Festival for a few years and this year's production was a sizzling flamenco-filled play-with-dance called El Conde Dracula, written and directed by Matthew Posey. In this one, women were the stars, with Dallas flamenco artist, choreographer and actress Delilah Muse and modern dancer/actress Danielle Georgiou stomping and swirling as they danced with and around their Dracula, played by flamenco artist Antonio Arrebola. Bloody good, all of them.

Mugging and screlting like a young Carol Burnett, actress Daron Cockerell was a standout in Lyric Stage's enormous revival of the 1939 musical Too Many Girls. Cockerell, playing the leading lady's best galpal, got her teeth into the production number "'Cause We've Got Cake." She's a funny cookie who knows how to sweeten the comedy of any scene.

Remember these names for future reference: Lizzy Green, Kennedy Waterman and Laney Neumann. These young actresses, ages 10, 12 and 16, respectively, did impressive work this year in shows at Plano's experimental, all-youth Fun House Theatre and Film. Green played the title role in Jeff Swearingen's musical satire The Sound of Fannie, a spoof of gooey musicals like Annie and The Sound of Music. She also nailed the intensity of the Al Pacino role in Swearingen's Daffodil Girls, inspired by David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, about a troop of loser scouts trying to hustle boxes of cookies (instead of real estate). Neumann was a scream singing and dancing as the Nazi-friendly Baroness in Fannie and came across comically terrifying as the no-nonsense troop leader in Daffodil.

Waterman, named one of 2013's best local actresses by the DFW Theater Critics Forum, was nothing short of riveting as a desperate, depressed little scout in Daffodil Girls (the Jack Lemmon role from Glengarry). See her this spring as half of the title duo in Fun House's all-kid production of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, directed by René Moreno. Waterman is 12 (about to turn 13) and starring in existentialist tragicomedy by Tom Stoppard. There's no stopping this one.

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Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner