Best of show

Providence theatre: 2007 in review
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  December 18, 2007
DYNAMIC: Joe Wilson Jr. in Trinity Rep’s All the King’s Men.

We’re all hip to awards. After all, every nominee for a best actor or actress Tony or Oscar usually deserves to win. Maybe awards should be tailored to the accomplishment rather than the other way around. Here are a few suggestions from the year in local theater.

Best directing of a silk purse into a silkier purse
Twenty years ago, Trinity Repertory Company founder Adrian Hall directed his adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s classic political novel All the King’s Men, to a respectable critical reception. This year Brian McEleney, who performed in that premiere, directed the anniversary production and improved on it enormously: tighter pacing, a more intimate space, spot-on casting, a building emotional experience for us. That opened the fall season, and closing it was an equally impressive accomplishment: Fred Sullivan’s directing what might be the most theatrically fulfilled and thereby emotionally fulfilling Trinity production of A Christmas Carol. The production design was opulent rather than minimal and the storytelling was amplified with imaginative details that would bring a tear to the eyes of Dickens himself.

Best display of acting bravery
Again at Trinity Rep. Good actors hate to show much emotion on stage, love to understate — it’s safer. So Tim Crowe’s remarkably risky success in A Delicate Balance can’t go without mention here. His ur-Wasp character, Tobias, is superficially lighthearted until a lengthy climactic monologue that could have been delivered with a stoic, stiff upper lip. Crowe chose to unmask the man and let his face-saving protections slip and slough off one by one as he cobbled together a declaration of loyalty to a friend, emotionally naked by the end. Magnificent.

BODY TALK: Ben Johnson in the Gamm’s Elephant Man.

Best recruitments of audience’s imaginations
In Ben Johnson’s title role of Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man, he used his body and voice to simulate, not replicate, the grotesque John Merrick at the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre. And, similarly, much was up to us with the four one-act plays comprising Enhanced Interrogation Techniques at the Gamm. Torture was the subject, but the vivid cruelties were up to us to imagine, as the words of Pinter, Beckett, Peter Barnes explored the power of persuasion.

Best risk-taking with potentially offensive material
At this time of year, non-Christians have to put up with the culture being hijacked for a few weeks, while Christians sometimes have to cope with insensitive references to their beliefs. At 2nd Story Theatre, both areas of offense were possible with the staging of William Gibson’s The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut & The Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols In a Pear Tree. Not to worry. Yes, the existence of God and any purported progeny is called into question, but that question was considered with seriousness and respect, if also humor. If the farmer and the cowman can be friends, as Oklahoma! taught us, why not the agnostic and the Christian?

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