The year in North Texas theater, 2017? Mwaaah—an excellent vintage, with notes of flint and whimsy, and a lingering finish that keeps rolling around in the mind. Herewith, 10 awards in no meaningful order, to honor a wide-ranging variety of theatrical efforts that went above and beyond:
An Oh Brother, Why Art Thou? award to Second Thought Theatre’s rowdy, surreal production of Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men. Penetrating, odd, and very funny, it made me sooo glad I only have one (brother, that is).
The All the City’s a Stage award to Dallas Theater Center, both for its audience-inclusive Hair and for The Tempest, a Public Works Dallas project that pulled in a whole community of engaged and excited citizens to experience theater from the inside.
The Bring Your Hankie award for Casa Mañana’s stellar revival of West Side Story, whose amazing Tony (John Riddle) and blazing dance numbers made 1957 feel brand-new. Way to make me cry, 60-year-old musical.
A special British Invasion citation for Tina Packer’s Women of Will: Following the Feminine in Shakespeare. Packer, a British import who helmed Shakespeare & Company in Massachusetts for many years, followed the amazing leaps Shakespeare made in his understanding of women (and how to write them). From the cuties and harridans of his early career to the essential and complex women of later works, somebody, somewhere, took Will to school. Packer and acting partner Nigel Gore completely held the stage—and our attention.
The Doctor Is In award to Stage West for a brilliant double-riff (with two energized and versatile casts) on the venerable Doctor Anton Chekhov, Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird (The Seagull) and Life Sucks. (Uncle Vanya). Chekhov always insisted his rueful plays about much-thwarted lives were comedies, and these modern updates prove his point…hilariously.
A Home is Where the Heart Is citation to playwright Kelsey Leigh Ervi and WaterTower Theatre for The Great Distance Home, a brand-new Christmas/holiday play we’d love to see again. A fleet-footed cast of five danced, tumbled and flew through this tale of several generations—and proved once again that strong storytelling doesn’t always need words…or complicated sets, for that matter.
The Freakin’ Genius award to Amphibian Stage Productions for A Lost Leonardo, playwright David Davalos’ dip into art, history, science and warfare—a comical, lyrical piece proving that the endlessly inventive da Vinci is still generating flights of fancy today. And the vitally alive-in-the-moment actor Matthew Amendt (as Leonardo) showed us how to make a strong script soar.
An Accept No Substitutes award to Stolen Shakespeare Guild for producing the original and too-rarely-seen 1944 On the Town, with every Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green song intact. (More than one can say for the 1949 film that subbed Hollywood fluff for the real deal.)
The True Grit award to actor/playwright Sherry Jo Ward, whose one-woman play Stiff, an account of her ongoing struggle with a rare and life-changing neuromuscular disorder (produced by Risk Theater Initiative, first seen at Festival of Independent Theatres; I saw it at Stage West), is a study in raw courage and humor—and a promise that the human spirit can endure more than we can imagine.