Dig In!

From Hair to Hir to Pompeii!!, here are the Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum Awards for the 2017-2018 season.

published Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Photo: Evan Michael Woods
From left: Bob Hess, Cara Statham Serber, Blake McNamara and Zander Prior in Hir at Stage West


Dallas — The number of critics participating in the Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics is smaller than it has been in many years, and the number of media outlets represented even smaller. The major loss this year was the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, for which yours truly has been a staffer or contributor since I was first invited to join this group 19 years ago. No, that newspaper has not gone away (yet), but this time last year it all but ceased arts coverage, with no arts reviews. This also means that Punch Shaw, who has participated in the forum for years representing the Startlegram, wasn’t involved this round.

Of the eight critics who gathered at Martha Heimberg’s lovely Junius Heights home on Saturday to hash out our favorite shows, directors, performances, creative and design elements, and new works, five of us represent the publication you’re reading right now because collectively we see a large amount of theater in the DF-Dub: that would be me, Heimberg (who also represents The Dallas Weekly), and the three J’s: Jan Farrington, Janice L. Franklin, and Jill Sweeney. Also at the table were Nancy Churnin of the Dallas Morning News, Arnold Wayne Jones of The Dallas Voice, and Lindsey Wilson of CultureMap and Arts&Culture Texas. The Forum members are paid critics, see upwards of three dozen shows (a few of us see 100 or more), and are not practicing theater artists.

Eligible shows had to have had their opening night between Sept. 1, 2017 and Aug. 31, 2018. (This means that Stage West’s An Octoroon, which had previews on Aug. 30 and 31, but officially opened on Sept. 1, 2018, will have to wait until next year. I know I’ll be fighting for several mentions of it.)

As for the list of “winners”—in quotes because we don’t have a single pick in each category, but rather five to 12 of our favorites—there was a lot of disagreement, which led to log-rolling and in some cases outright dissension. This means that a performance that was viewed by only two or three critics but had 100 percent agreement that it deserves mention sometimes beat out a show that was seen by five to eight critics but had heavy disagreement. (At least two critics had to have seen a show for it to be in the running.)

The outstanding direction category stands in for “outstanding production,” and there were a lot of outstanding new works to choose from this year; so many that our list of six is probably the biggest that category has ever been—and there were a good four or five other shows that were discussed. For acting performances, Stormi Demerson, Max Hartman, Jenny Ledel, Denise Lee and Chris Ramirez were cited for multiple shows each. As was Christie Vela for direction. Also racking up in the directing category was Ashley H. White, whose Imprint Theatreworks, co-founded last year with Joe Messina, had a high ratio of wins. All three of its mainstage shows received a directing nod, all three by White (with Messina co-directing on one); they also each received performance or design accolades.

Every critic had at least one of their darlings knocked out of the running. I personally wished another participating critic had seen Dirty Turk from Artstillery (those puppets!), When Earth Meets the Sky at Cara Mía Theatre Company, or that I had made a case for Yellowman, which was Soul Rep Theatre Company’s strongest work since it made a return in 2014. Only one critic in this bunch saw the premiere of Yana Wana’s Legend of the Bluebonnet (shame on the rest of us), written by and with performers from the Native American community. All of these titles represent an exciting diversity that DFW stages should see more often. Speaking of, transgender and nonbinary roles and performers were prominent this season, with In the Tall Grass at Bishop Arts Theatre Centre, Hir and Like a Billion Likes at Stage West, and The Legend of Georgia McBride and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at Uptown Players.

This theater season was dominated by the #metoo and the Not in Our House discussion. Being part of the team that broke the big story remains one of my proudest moments. That, and turning TheaterJones into a non-profit under the umbrella of the newly formed Metropolitan Arts Media, becoming closer to making this venture sustainable. You’ll be hearing a lot more about that in the coming weeks as we gear up for some big announcements.

If you're into this kind of thing, WaterTower Theatre leads the pack with 11 mentions; followed by Kitchen Dog Theater with nine; Imprint Theatreworks and Amphibian Stage Productions, with seven each; and Second Thought Theatre with six.

Now, let’s get to the list of this season’s picks.



Photo: Rebecca Brooks
Ruined from Echo Theatre and Denise Lee Onstage


Christopher Carlos: The Royale, Kitchen Dog Theater

Cameron Cobb: Pompeii!!, Kitchen Dog Theater

Kevin Moriarty: Hair, Dallas Theater Center

Pam Myers-Morgan: Ruined, Echo Theatre and Denise Lee Onstage

Jason O’Connell: Cyrano, Amphibian Stage Productions

Joanie Schultz: Hand to God, WaterTower Theatre

Garret Storms: Hir, Stage West

Christie Vela: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Theatre Three; Don’t Dress for Dinner, Stage West; and Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., Second Thought Theatre

Ashley H. White: Glengarry Glen Ross, Imprint Theatreworks; and Murder Ballad, Imprint Theatreworks

Ashley H. White and Joe Messina: The Revolutionists, Imprint Theatreworks



Photo: Michael C. Foster
Paul Kalburgi's In the Tall Grass at Bishop Arts Theatre Center


Babel by Cry Havoc Theater Company Ensemble, Cry Havoc Theater Company

Bread by Regina Taylor, WaterTower Theatre

Cedar Springs or Big Scary Animals by Matt Lyle, Theatre Three

Cyrano by Jason O’Connell and Brenda Withers, Amphibian Stage Productions

In the Tall Grass by Paul Kalburgi, Bishop Arts Theatre Center

Pompeii!! by Cameron Cobb, Michael Federico, and Max Hartman, Kitchen Dog Theater




Photo: Evan Michael Woods
Stormi Demerson and Denise Lee in Bread at WaterTower Theatre


Jessica Cavanagh: Self Injurious Behavior, Theatre Three

Stormi Demerson: Hillary and Clinton, Second Thought Theatre; and Bread, WaterTower Theatre

Kate Hamill: Cyrano, Amphibian Stage Productions

Jenny Ledel: Pride & Prejudice, WaterTower Theatre; Empathitrax, Second Thought Theatre; and Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., Second Thought Theatre

Shannon McGrann, Hand to God, WaterTower Theatre

Denise Lee: Ruined, Echo Theatre and Denise Lee Onstage; and Bread, WaterTower Theatre

Elly Lindsay, John, Undermain Theatre




Photo: Matt Mzorek
Jamal Gibran Sterling in The Royale at Kitchen Dog Theater


Tyrees Allen, Ruined, Echo Theatre and Denise Lee Onstage

Parker Gray, Hand to God, WaterTower Theatre

Max Hartman: Ironbound, Kitchen Dog Theater; Pompeii!!, Kitchen Dog Theater; Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., Second Thought Theatre

John-Michael Marrs, Cyrano, Amphibian Stage Productions

Mark Oristano, Glengarry Glen Ross, Imprint Theatreworks

Zander Pryor, Hir, Stage West

Chris Llewyn Ramirez: Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue, WaterTower Theatre; Empathitrax, Second Thought Theatre; and Hair, Dallas Theater Center 

Jamal Gibran Sterling, The Royale, Kitchen Dog Theater




Photo: Ashley H. White
The ensmble in The Revolutionists at Imprint Theatreworks, from left: Dani Holway, Jennifer Kuenzer, Marianne Galloway, and Sky Williams


Cyrano, Amphibian Stage Productions

The Great Distance Home, WaterTower Theatre

Hair, Dallas Theater Center

Pompeii!!, Kitchen Dog Theater

The Revolutionists, Imprint Theatreworks

The Royale, Kitchen Dog Theater

Three Sisters, Undermain Theatre



Photo: Joan Marcus
The tour of Fun Home at AT&T Performing Arts Center


The Color Purple, Dallas Summer Musicals

Cry Havoc!, Amphibian Stage Productions

Fun Home, AT&T Performing Arts Center Broadway Series

The King and I, AT&T Performing Arts Center Broadway Series

The Humans, AT&T Performing Arts Center Broadway Series

Waitress, Dallas Summer Musicals and Performing Arts Fort Worth



Photo: Evan Michael Woods
The cast of The Great Distance Home at WaterTower Theatre


John Arnone: scenic design for so go the ghosts of méxico, part 2, and Three Sisters, both at Undermain Theatre 

Amelia Bransky: scenic design for Frankenstein at Dallas Theater Center; and Empathitrax at Second Thought Theatre

Cameron Cobb, Michael Federico, and Max Hartman: music and lyrics, Pompeii!!, Kitchen Dog Theater

Design Team: Hair, Dallas Theater Center

Jeremy Dumont: choreography, A Chorus Line, Uptown Players

Ensemble: music and lyrics, Original Man, Ochre House

Kelsey Leigh Ervi and Ensemble: movement, The Great Distance Home, WaterTower Theatre

Sam Lao and Brian McDonald: music and sound, Bread, WaterTower Theatre

Justin Locklear and Carla Parker: music and lyrics, Mousey, Ochre House

Bart McGeehon: set and projection design, Babel, Cry Havoc Theater Company

Korey Parker: properties design, A History of Everything, Cry Havoc Theater Company

Ryan Rumery: original music and sound design, Frankenstein, Dallas Theater Center

Jessie Wallace: costume design, The Revolutionists, Imprint Theatreworks

Ashley H. White: fight choreography and intimacy direction, Murder Ballad, Imprint Theatreworks



Photo: Anya Garrett
Baron Vaughn curates the Comedy Series for Amphibian Stage Productions


To Amphibian Stage Productions for its Comedy Series, curated by Baron Vaughn, for giving stand-up comics a place to workshop new material in a week-long residency.

To Mara Richards Bim, the founder of Cry Havoc Theater Company, and her teen ensemble, for conducting thorough research and creating compelling verbatim drama, including this year's Babel, about gun violence.

To the Trinity Shakespeare Festival, for a decade of indelible performances, glorious sets and costumes, evocative sound and lighting, and penetrating directorial insight.



  • Nancy Churnin, Dallas Morning News
  • Janice L. Franklin,
  • Jan Farrington,
  • Martha Heimberg, and Dallas Weekly
  • Arnold Wayne Jones, Dallas Voice
  • Mark Lowry,
  • Jill Sweeney,
  • Lindsey Wilson, CultureMap and Arts and Culture Texas
 Thanks For Reading

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Dig In!
From Hair to Hir to Pompeii!!, here are the Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum Awards for the 2017-2018 season.
by Mark Lowry

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