Monday, December 20, 2010
Mark-Brian Sonna’s top 10 theater picks for 2010
Sonna dons his critic's hat to give praise to productions and actors alike.
So I am making my list and checking it twice.
This year was chock full of great shows and performance that I felt most privileged to see. I am fortunate to be able in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We truly have some amazing theatre. I could make a very long list of productions/actors/designers that could receive a multitude of accolades. This said, I will try and narrow my list to the best of the best.
10 – Best New Script: Carnival of Souls – Purgatorium
Bill Fountain penned what was truly a breathtakingly good adaptation for the stage of the cult film. His script captured the essence of the original and then added a layer of savvy political commentary. While the mounted production had some flaws, the evening nonetheless was compelling because of the words he put on paper. This play begs to be published and should become a classic for the Halloween season.
The play overall was OK, and in need of a good editing. In my original review I commented that Ms. Loncar’s character could be completely removed from the script because it was superfluous to the story line. This said, Loncar turned Leona into a scene-stealing lioness and devouring presence that begged to be developed into another play. The accolades I praised on Ms. Loncar caused quite a stir because I was accused of being friends with her and that my review was some sort of suck-up to her. Actually the comments were a little nastier then that, but I’ll be diplomatic. The truth is I barely knew her then, and I still don’t know her very well. All I can say is that her ferocious performance still stays with me.
8 – Best Direction of a Musical - Dallett Norris for Jesus Christ Superstar
Everything about this production was sublime. Ted Neely as Jesus was a wonder to behold. What has stuck with me the most was the staging and the direction. Dallet Norris took a nearly 30-year-old musical and made it absolutely riveting and relevant to today’s audiences. At times surreal, at other times explosively visual, and at other minimalist, Norris created a visual feast. He fused the music, the lights, the acting into a seamless and comprehensive whole that left the audiences stunned. I felt like I could barely breathe I was so taken with the masterful direction of this production. The final image of Jesus’ ascent into the heavens remains to this day one of the most spectacular images I’ve ever witnessed.
7 - Best Acting Ensemble - The Dixie Swim Club
The five women -- Robin Coulonge, Melissa Couture, Kristen Blevins, Sheila D. Rose, and Lucia A. Welch – who comprised the cast of The Dixie Swim Club at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre wove theatrical gold. Frequently in an ensemble piece, one or two actors will outshine the others. In this production, all five women complemented each other beautifully, yet each managed to have their own moment that made them shine. Is the play great? No. Is it good? Yes. It was the acting that made this play really worthwhile.
6 - Best Supporting Actor – Stephen Costello
Costello appeared twice in the Dallas area: as Lord Percy in Anna Bolena and as Greenhorn in Moby-Dick, both with the Dallas Opera. It could be argued that as Greenhorn he is co-lead with the character of Captain Ahab, since the story is centered around his character, but in my estimation there was more emphasis on Ahab’s role -- hence why I put him in the supporting category. If you don’t know this yet, Stephen Costello is our new Pavarotti. And dare I say he might be even better? Dallas has been very fortunate to have this world-class singer appear so frequently, and he seems to favor Dallas, for he has come to perform here more then five times in the last three years. He doesn’t just have a voice that is unlike anything you will ever hear; he is the most consummate actor. He completely disappears into his roles. With a single note he can devastate an audience into a pool of tears, or create an intense sense of anger, or express a love that is sublime. If you ever see his name on any production or concert you MUST attend.
There was a show-stopping moment that has haunted me since I experienced it. When Tom DeWester sang “I Miss the Music,” I fell apart. This beautifully crafted song received the most glorious underplaying I could have ever imagined. He encapsulated in three minutes more heartbreak and longing then could be imagined. It would be tempting to milk the song for all it’s worth, but he chose the subtle route, and this was the correct decision. I can still close my eyes and hear his delivery. Oh, and he was also fantastic in the rest of the show too!
Comic timing? Check. Fabulous singing voice? Check. Great acting? Check. The zany musical is a fun production, but it takes a true master at his craft to give a Broadway worthy performance at small local theatre. He knew exactly how far to push the character without it falling into shtick. Mr. Donahue’s Lawrence was disarming and lovable, even though underneath he was a dirty rotten scoundrel.
As many people who read The Column know, I also direct theatre around town. This script at one point was presented to me for my opinion. I thought it was just OK. It didn’t really appeal to me. I actually hinted it shouldn’t be done. Am I ever surprised to put it on this list! But it deserves to be. Ms. Rice worked wonders with it. Her clever staging engaged me and she brought out performances from her actors that made me laugh, wince, ache, hate, love, and cry. Her unusual circus concept took what to me was too much of a melodrama and magically turned it into a subtly brilliant slice-of-life play. I could never have directed it this well.
2 – Best Performance by a Leading Actor - Paulo Szot in Dallas Opera’s Don Giovanni
Most people don’t think of opera as sexy. That’s because they’ve never seen Paulo Szot play Don Giovanni, or realized that the Dallas Opera will push the envelope just as much as some of the local theatres in town that like doing riskier works. His Don Juan is the ultimate seducer and he not only seduces all the women in the opera but he seduces the audience too. Besides being a gifted singer, a super talented actor, he also has the looks of a movie star. To give you an idea how stunningly good looking and “hot” he is consider this: The director who also was the costume designer had him dressed in biker leather most of the time and at another point in the opera had him splash in a fountain so that he was soaking wet with his increasingly translucent clothes clinging to his body in a most erotic way. But there is a lot more to Szot than his looks. To do the role right you have to have an actor that can effortlessly ooze sex, and Paulo did it in spades. It also requires him to be puckish, childlike, and at times murderous. This is one of the most difficult roles to get right, for though he does commit rape from time to time, we still have to really like him. Not an easy thing to do! He redefined the role for another generation.
Adam Adolfo Izaguirre directed the most edgy show I’ve seen in ages. This visceral, violent, sexual, intense rendition of the classic play ranks as one of the most powerful pieces of theatre in my life. The entire cast was perfect. Lay Lynch as Stella, Staci Cook as Blanche and R. Steven Blake redefined these well known roles and gave them unexpected portrayals. Even the smaller roles such as The Mexican Woman played by Taryn Daniels and Spance Cameron Young’s role of The Young Man had a new edge to them. The pared down set was stunning in its grotesque simplicity. The costumes were truly an extension of the characters. The performances were gritty and as real as I have ever seen. This play still haunts me. I rank it in the top 10 plays I’ve seen in my entire life. Truly extraordinary.
So those are my top 10 “moments” in the DFW theatre ... well, no. I must add one more. While A Streetcar Named Desire ranks in the top 10 theatrical experiences in my life there is another production that I would rank in the top three in my lifetime:
Moby-Dick by the Dallas Opera
I must commend the Dallas Opera for really stepping it up this year and providing some top notch productions in the last 12 months. Moby-Dick was a world premiere opera; something that doesn’t happen with much frequently. Let’s face it, many world premier operas bomb. The art form can be somewhat dated. But every now and then it gets re-invented. This is what happened this year with Moby-Dick.
Visually, it broke new ground by fusing computer generated animation and projections with a set that shifted, floated and opened up in ways unlike anything else I’ve ever witnessed. This fusion was seamless and there isn’t another production that I could compare it to for it was so groundbreaking. Dallas Opera literally created a new form of stagecraft. But this isn’t the only reason this opera was so monumental.
Can you imagine what it must have been like to be in the audience the first time Oklahoma or Rent was performed? Or what it must felt like to be one of the first to hear Beethoven’s 9th symphony? To hear Barbara Streisand sing for the first time? This experience happened this year in Dallas. All of us who were fortunate to attend Moby-Dick witnessed a masterpiece being birthed and given to the world. Accolades came from all over the globe on this production and deservedly so. From the first note to last, it was perfect. From the first computer-generated visual to the emotionally devastating last line sung of the poetic libretto, there was not a single false moment.
As future generations will enjoy this opera, I will always be able to tell people how fortunate I am to be able to say “yes, I was there.”
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