Looking back over the 50-plus engaging plays I’ve seen over the past year is one way of countering the pervasive politico blues. I’m inviting a dozen amazing actors and directors whose work burns on in my mind long after the final curtain to gather on New Year’s Day 2017 at my house for brunch and bridge. We can all recover from the hangover of the party the night before, never mind the catastrophic presidential election nearly two months earlier. They’re here to celebrate each other’s outstanding work in 2016.
Imagine: 12 glittering theater artists, and not a whiff of jealousy among them. So, just for the hell of it and because I have only three card tables, we’ll divide everybody in groups of four and play a rubber of bridge after our ritual black-eyed peas and other nourishment.
Here’s my three bridge games, with partners assigned based on the characters they portrayed in the past year, or maybe who actually might know how to keep score. My job is just keeping the mimosas and omelets coming.
At the hall table, we have four guys who might never meet except on this page—but what a wild game they’d play. Max Hartman, is looking tense and strung-out as the harassed high school coach meeting the media in a year when his team lost all their games in Behold the Coach, in a Blazer, Uninsured, Will Eno’s monologue in Kitchen Dog Theater’s A Stain Upon the Silence: Beckett’s Bequest. His partner is Michael Federico, tight as a drum in his khakis and blue Brooks Bros. shirt and apologizing for being late and missing a deadline as the sweet-natured, bewildered fact-checker at a glossy magazine in Gloria at Dallas Theater Center. They’re playing against a quibbling, hilarious duo who already know and hate each other: slat-thin and muy macho Blake Hackler as el morito, a crazy Mexican bandit, and Bruce Dubose, as an arrogant gringo drug dealer, throwing punches in a hilarious ego battle, both in Paul Olmos’ so go the ghosts of méxico – a brave woman of méxico at Undermain Theatre.
At the perfect game table in the breakfast room, we have some amazing ladies who can bend genders, ride herd on cowboys, and defy the chains of slavery. Sally Nystuen Vahle’s Scrooge is a cold and calculating miser reliving her life in one night, all reflected in her astonishing face in A Christmas Carol at Dallas Theater Center, and her partner is Janelle Lutz’s fragile but brilliant and ambitious Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow at Uptown Players. What a potent team. But across the table are worthy opponents: Cassie Bann’s Indigo Sue, the high-spirited, soft-hearted cowgirl in Matthew Posey’s Brothers’ Harvest at Ochre House Theater, partnered with Sydney Cherou Celestin’s resourceful and heartbreaking young slave in the title role of Lydia R. Diamond’s Harriet Jacobs at African American Repertory Theater.
Our third and final table is made up of four masterful directors, who’ll probably talk shop and have a hard time finishing the rubber. This year’s much-honored and always modest Akín Babatundé is applauded here for his sensitive and comic direction of a superb ensemble in Robert O’Hara’s Bootycandy, an R-rated play at Stage West about being gay in a black working class family. Partnering Akín is beautiful, multi-award winning Cheryl Denson, included at this year’s table for her stirring, deeply human direction of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches at Uptown Players. Elegant Susan Sargeant is welcomed for her riveting direction of Samuel Beckett’s darkly humorous Play from WingSpan Theatre Company at the Festival of Independent Theatres. Her partner is Wendy Dann, whose direction of Nick Payne’s time-stopping and heart-stopping Constellations at Dallas Theater Center was so fresh it felt like spring the whole 90 minutes. Accompanying Wendy are her astonishing lovers from the show: heartthrob Alex Organ and arousing Allison Pistorius.
I’m thinking of inviting another pair of lusty lovers to join them for a hand. Here come David Meglino’s virile Louis and Kyle Igneczi’s anguished young Mormon from Angels in America. They could all put on jackets and play on the side porch picnic table. I’m guessing this foursome can levitate it.
What a swell party this is. And what a thrill it always is when a great theater moment happens and you want it to last forever—or at least for another hand.
OUR 2016 YEAR IN REVIEW SERIES
- Thursday, Dec. 29: Comedy by Amy Martin
- Thursday, Dec. 29: Dance by Margaret Putnam
- Thursday, Dec. 29: Dance by Cheryl Callon
- Friday, Dec. 30: Classical music and opera by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs
- Friday, Dec. 30: Classical music by J. Robin Coffelt
- Friday, Dec. 30: Broadway, cabaret and vocal recordings by Jay Gardner and James McQuillen
- Friday, Dec. 30: Dale Wheeler, DFW's theater's biggest super fan, lists his favorite shows
- Saturday, Dec. 31: Theater by Janice L. Franklin
- Saturday, Dec. 31: Theater by Martha Heimberg
- Saturday, Dec. 31: The year in Shakespeare by M. Lance Lusk
- Sunday, Jan. 1: Mark Lowry's essay on the year in theater with a Top 10
- Sunday, Jan. 1: Columnist Danielle Georgiou looks back at her year
- Sunday, Jan. 1: Columnist Shelby-Allison Hibbs gives her wish list for 2017
- Week of Jan. 2: More looking forward to 2017