Sherry Jo Ward in <em>Stiff</em>

2017: Theater, Part 2

Martha Heimberg hosts a dinner party and invites a dozen wild, willful and wonderful women for their excellent acting and directing in 2017.

published Friday, December 29, 2017

Photo: Martha Heimberg
The seating arrangement for her 2017 dinner party with 12 wonderful women in DFW theater


A few years ago, I thought, why not invite my favs to a party to celebrate a great year in theater? It’s fantastic fun to plan a party—and a seating plan—with people you know are so shiny and buzzy that they’ll make it happen no matter what you put on their plates. Honoring 2017 as powerfully

revealing #MeToo year, I’m throwing an all-girls shindig, and asking the guests to wear something with feathers, glitter and visible weapons of choice, be it swords, charm-bombs, hammers, lawsuits or dynamite.

Photo: Kateri Cale
Denise Lee, right, in Ruined at Echo Theatre

Will they talk about the hats they wore for the Women’s March in the spring, or the more recent movement to create a theater space free of sexual harassment? Maybe they’ll eye each other’s outfits, or maybe they’ll break into song. 

I’ve seen at least 70 shows this calendar year.  Given the astonishing pool of acting and directing talent in the Dallas-Fort Worth theater community, it’s hard to limit the kudos to just 12, but that’s what my dining room table holds comfortably, and here’s my list, in no particular order.

Julie Johnson kicked off January 2017 with her bold and brassy Mame, at Lyric Stage, a reminder that a tough gal who can also “charm the husks right offuh the corn” is always a hellova model. 

Denise Lee, known far and wide for her great vocal styling, must sit at the head of the table this day as the imperious Mama Nadi, the fiercely protective Congolese madam in Ruined, Lynn Nottage’s tale of brutal rape and surprising redemption in a joint production of Echo Theater and Denise Lee Onstage. She also produced the second Dallas Cabaret Festival, filled the calendar with cabaret dates, and continued her important Community Conversations.

I’m seating these next two astonishing ladies side by side to talk about the intricacies of the one-woman show: Jenny Ledel was riveting in a one-woman performance as the swaggering pilot forced by pregnancy into the “chair-force”, firing drones in furious discontent from afar in George Brandt’s Grounded at Second Thought Theatre.

Sherry Jo Ward, a unanimous winner for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in this year’s Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum Awards, depicted her real-life battle with Stiff Person Syndrome with humor and bravery in Stiff at Risk Theatre Initiative. Bravas and wow to this gutsy, gorgeous guest. Produced by Risk Theater Initiative, and seen at the Festival of Independent Theatres and Stage West this year.

Photo: Matt Mzorek
Christie Vela (with Christopher Carlos) in Paper Flowers

Sally Vahle was riveting as the dagger-hearted but anguished Clytemnestra in Dallas Theater Center’s outdoor Electra, fighting with her vengeful daughter on the grassy lawns next to the Winspear; she also held audiences rapt as Doris, the numbed-out, smiling wife who ignores incest and murder to lose her own mind to southern propriety and tradition in Boo Killebrew’s Miller, Mississippi at DTC. She’s cool just being herself, too.

Karen Parrish as Darya, the pretty and gritty Polish immigrant woman who uses every gift God gave her to survive, gives a reckless and raw performance in Martyna Majok’s super-tight Ironbound, at Kitchen Dog Theatre, thanks in part to director Tina Parker, a hip-swingin’ cowgirl in her own right, guaranteed to spur any party to a gallop in a hurry.

I’ll put these two across the table from multi-talented director and actor Christie Vela, who embodied the sensuous, vulnerable Eva, a lonely, middle-class Chilean woman who lets down her voluptuous hair to a vicious street shark in Egon Wolff’s startling Paper Flowers at Kitchen Dog Theater. She and Christopher Carlos co-directed and co-starred.

At the quirky end of the table we have Rhonda Boutté as the angry and hilarious blind seer Genevieve, and Elly Lindsay as the sweetly maternal, half-cracked B&B owner Mertis in Annie Baker’s John at Undermain Theatre. Do NOT bring the props, ladies!

Two of my favorite directors are seated close enough to gossip about their craft and latest success over the clinking of champagne glasses and the swoosh of feathers: veteran musical queen Cheryl Denson can take another bow for her sweet, funny take on Simon Beaufoy’s The Full Monty at Uptown Players, and Undermain Theatre’s much-honored artistic director Katherine Owens can enjoy another round of applause for her immersive, symphonic direction of Brecht’s Galileo, perhaps the most thought-provoking, ethically rich and mesmerizing play I saw in 2017.

That’s it! Happy New Year to all! Thanks For Reading

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2017: Theater, Part 2
Martha Heimberg hosts a dinner party and invites a dozen wild, willful and wonderful women for their excellent acting and directing in 2017.
by Martha Heimberg

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