Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 “Best of Cleveland Theater” Awards

Once again, this princely virtual trophy is being given to those who scaled the pinnacle of theatrical achievement in the last calendar year.

The awards categories this year include: Ten Best Productions, Ten Best Individual Performances, Best Director and Most-Missed Extinct Company.

Get your rosin bag out for those sweaty palms, and here we go!


(listed in alphabetical order)

As You Like It, Ohio Shakespeare Festival at Stan Hywet

Another wonderful interpretation of old Will’s material by Terry Burgler’s great troupe. This show felt like euphoric time travel back to the Globe Theatre, when the crowd was totally wired into what the performers were doing—and every joke clicked to perfection.

Crave, Theater Ninjas

This wild ride penned by Sarah Kane was an exhilarating collection of memories and realizations, brought together by the brilliant director Jeremy Paul.

Cut To Pieces, Cleveland Public Theatre

A wildly imaginative play, co-written by director Raymond Bobgan and sole performer Chris Seibert, it had a vital, inventive spirit that Seibert’s often understated performance served well.

God’s Trombones, Karamu House

Mixing free-verse sermons (the title referred to the preachers), gospel music and African dance, this stirring ensemble production thrilled almost from start to finish.

Grey Gardens, Beck Center

Bursting with color and exotic strangeness, this Victoria Bussert-directed production featured some outstanding musical numbers and a spot-on feel for the two eccentric creatures at the center.

Heddatron, Theater Ninjas

Written by Elizabeth Meriwether, it was a continually surprising take on Hedda Gabler that also involved robots, Strindberg and a monkey. It was funny, weird and thoroughly irresistible.

Inherit the Wind, Cleveland Play House

Two outstanding performances by Ed Dixon and Scott Jaeck as the evolution-arguing Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan avatars carried this show to the heights.

Ouroboros, convergence-continuum

This time-warp excursion, performed backwards and forwards on successive nights during the run, kept the audience and actors on their toes. Enjoyable throughout, it made some telling points about our temporal existence.

Spring Awakening, PlayhouseSquare

A fresh and frank exploration of puberty in its many forms, this indie-rock musical set in the 19th century was both tender and raw. Controversial to some, it touched on real feelings as it developed a sizzling new twist on musical theater vocabulary.

Twelfth Night, Great Lakes Theater Festival

Director Charles Fee mounted a well-balanced and deliriously comical telling of this gender-bending romp, and hilarious turns by David Anthony Smith, Andrew May and Ian Gould added tons of fun.


(listed in alphabetical order)

Lucy Bredeson-Smith, The Mineola Twins, convergence-continuum

Comically creepy as both of the twins (picture Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane), she found more variations on crazy than are listed in DSM-IV.

Terence Cranendonk, Crave, Theater Ninjas

His incessant yearning and and unblinking focus in this whirling theatrical experience provided a necessary foundation for a challenging production.

Dan Folino, Sweeney Todd, Lakeland Theatre

Burning brightly in this plum title role, Folino breathed fire and ice into each moment of the bloodiest musical ever written.

James Kisicki, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Ensemble Theatre

Wallowing happily in all the great, acidic lines written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, Kisicki made larger-than-life Sheridan Whiteside both terrifying and hilarious.

Nick Koesters, Blasted, Bang & Clatter Theatre

In this unbelievably unpleasant play by Sarah Kane about our numb acceptance of violence, Koesters was shatteringly vulnerable and occasionally even amusing. Quite a feat.

Kristi Little and Kyle Primous, Yellowman, Karamu House

These two actors made sparks fly as two people caught up in brutal intra-racial stereotyping and abuse. Directed by Fred Sternfeld, their seamless performances (they count as one awardee, if you’re keeping track) were shattering.

Fabio Polanco, Annie Get Your Gun, Porthouse Theatre

With his bald head and smoldering look, he wasn’t your typical leading man. But he radiated testosterone (in all the good ways), and his singing voice was simply luxurious.

Emily Pucell and Sebastian Orr, Private Lives, Lakeland Theatre

Thoroughly polished and completely delightful, these two (again, counting as one awardee) duked it out with blissful elegance as Elyot and Amanda, playing both their lines and the silences between lines like maestros.


Jeremy Paul, Theater Ninjas

Mounting challenging plays with style and panache, Jeremy Paul at Theater Ninjas scored with Heddatron, Crave, and A Proper Murder. It may be impossible for Paul to fashion an intellectually bland evening of theater.

Finishing a close second is Clyde Simon at convergence-continuum, whose work on The Mineola Twins, Big Love and Ouroboros was consistently outstanding.


The Bang & Clatter Theatre Company

This past year, Bang & Clatter succumbed to the harsh financial realities of producing theater, and it will be sorely missed. Sean McConaha and Sean Derry, the co-founders and creative leaders, furnished a much-needed spark of ingenuity and fearlessness to the Cleveland theater scene. We only hope they can get involved in other shows at other venues in the months to come.

As for 2010, in the immortal words of George W. Bush, bring it on!

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