IN A YEAR WHEN THEATRICAL GRACE FELL FROM HEAVEN, THIS MANNA TASTED BEST
Sometimes, when I go to the theater I get more than I deserve. I don’t mean more than the cost of the ticket (which is generally free, thanks to this swell reviewing gig I have). I mean more than I deserve as a human being. Sometimes the performances are so sensational that I am impelled to reflect back on my life to conjure up some act I performed which made me worthy of the grace and generosity laid out before me. This mental Google® search generally gives me a headache so I stop it after a while. But I still remember the performances.
As the 2005-2006 theatrical season closes, I note that I have seen by my count, thirty-eight extraordinary performances in the twenty-five plays I’ve reviewed. These men and women less played their roles than inhabited them; brought them roaring off the page into a robust three dimensions. I would not be doing my job if I did not acknowledge them now.
This list includes only performances from the shows I reviewed; it does not include the many excellent performances I saw in plays I was not reviewing. It does not include performances in the Fringe Festival, whether I reviewed them or not; nor does it include performances in the Page-to-Stage Festival. I evaluated a substantial number of amateur productions for an awards organization; I have not included these performances, although if I did there would have been at least two I would have noted.
The ten most notable performances I reviewed in a rich, rich season of theater:
10. Halo Wines, The Heiress, Olney Theater. Superb as a preternaturally tough and sly social doyenne, who grimly and fearlessly wrestled with human sharks on her niece’s behalf. Wines played a type of person who no longer exists, and did so with great verisimilitude.
9. Christine Baranski, Mame, The Kennedy Center. Baranski did an audacious thing to Eric Schaeffer’s handsome production: instead of emphasizing Mame’s traditional brassy notes, she underscored the character’s capacity for love. She helped turn a familiar story into something new and sweet.
8. Tiffany Fillmore, Manicures and Monuments, Journeyman Theatre. Fillmore took a role which could have been noble and shallow and turned it into a real person, whose delusions and failings were as palpable as her generosity of spirit. It was a wonderful performance and precisely the interpretation this beautiful and complex meditation on freedom and limitation needed.
7. Eric Lucas, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Keegan Theater. We know Einstein was brilliant; we know that he was abstracted; we know he had a sense of mischief. Lucas’ perfectly-paced performance took us to the next step: to know the consequence of these signature characteristics. Lucas was a revelation.
6. James Keegan, The Tempest, American Shakespeare Center. Keegan was breathtakingly funny as the bibulous butler and would-be emperor Stephano, interacting superbly with the rest of this wonderful cast…and with the audience, in the Shakespeare Center’s long-held tradition.
5. Brigid Cleary, Bal Masque, Theatre J. In Richard Greenburg’s venomous tour-de-force, the currency of the day is the pain of others, and Cleary played a character whose pocket was empty. Her Greer is a singularly unattractive character whose acidic dialogue with her husband Trey (Jeff Allin) calls Albee to mind. Yet Cleary’s climactic wail of pain was so moving that it compelled us to care for her, as we must if the play is to succeed.
4. Ted van Griethuysen, The Heiress, Olney Theater. A fierce and layered portrayal of a man whose unsolvable problem – his daughter is too dull and gawky to be courted by anyone but a fortune-hunter – animates this intriguing adaptation of a Henry James novel. Any good actor could have captured the anger and power behind this character; it took van Griethuysen to also show his grief, compassion and courage.
3. Lindsay Allen, Experiment with an Air Pump, Journeyman Theatre. Allen is the Steve Nash of theater: whenever she appears, she elevates the performances around her. Allen simultaneously radiated the dignity and the vulnerability of the profoundly tragic character she inhabited.
2. Scott Fortier, The Elephant Man, Olney Theater. Playing a character whose facial expression is frozen and whose voice is impossible to modulate as a result of a crippling, permanent condition, Fortier radiated power, wisdom, and a ten-octave emotional range. Gives real meaning to the expression “he can out-act you with his little finger.”
1. Effie Johnson, The Heiress, Olney Theater. Johnson plays the ugly duckling who turns into a hawk: pathetically naïve at the beginning; cunning and vicious by the end. Astonishingly, Johnson manages to lay the seeds for this transformation throughout the early part of the performance, so that at the end you’re nodding in understanding as well as in amazement. Audiences will talk about this understated, graceful, subtle performance for years.
Honorable Mention: The following performances were simply too fine not to mention. Please keep in mind that I include only those shows I reviewed for dctheatrereviews in this list. In alphabetical order: Jeff Allin, Bal Masque, Theater J; Rachel Bridges, Monkeyboy, Charter Theater; T.C. Carson, Two Queens One Castle, MetroStage; Harrison Chad, Mame, Kennedy Center; Katherine Coons, Two Rooms, Theater Alliance; Felecia Curry, Two Queens One Castle, MetroStage; Maia DeSanti, Bal Masque, Theatre J; Sarah Fallon, As You Like It, American Shakespeare Center; Paul Fidalgo, As You Like It, American Shakespeare Center; Paul Fidalgo, The Tempest, American Shakespeare Center; Harriet Harris, Mame, Kennedy Center; Jim Helein, Monkeyboy, Charter Theater; Linda High, The Autumn Garden, American Century Theater; Dan Istrate, Faust, Synetic Theatre; Charlene James-Dugoid, Manicures and Monuments, Journeyman Theater; David Johnson, Two Rooms, Theater Alliance; Jim Jorgensen, The Autumn Garden, American Century Theater; Christopher Lane, The Elephant Man, Olney Theater; Mildred Langford, The Story, African Continuum Theater; Ian LeValley, Harun and the Sea of Stories, Theatre Alliance; David Loar, As You Like It, American Shakespeare Center; Jeff McCarthy, Mame, Kennedy Center; Scott McCormick, Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards, Rorschach Theatre; Kerri Rambow, Two Rooms, Theater Alliance; KenYatta Rogers, The Story, African Continuum Theatre; Jason Stiles, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Longacre Lea; Irina Tsikurishvili, The Dubbyck, Synetic Theater; Irina Tsikurishvili Faust, Synetic Theater