Live theater in Spokane has been going through a metamorphosis – or maybe we should say a “Metamorphoses” (to name one of the season’s best shows).
Theaters have come and gone – actually, just gone – yet live theater has given audiences plenty to think about, argue about and laugh over.
That’s why I’m reviving my year-end critic’s awards, covering the just-concluded 2010-’11 theater season.
The envelope, please:
• Best Play: “Opus,” Interplayers Professional Theatre – This is the finest play I’ve seen about making music since “Amadeus” and one of the best plays I’ve seen in Spokane, period.
Director Jadd Davis put together an exceptional acting ensemble to tell this story of a string quartet struggling to rehearse for a White House performance. The quartet has plenty of relationship conflicts, yet in Michael Hollinger’s script, the most compelling conflict is the one between the musicians and Beethoven.
The fine ensemble consisted of Dave Rideout, Bethany Hart, Tony Caprile, John Oswald and Patrick Treadway. Close second: “Race” at Interplayers, as well as the winner of the next category …
• Best Overall Production: “Metamorphoses,” Spokane Civic Theatre – It wins this category because it was such a memorable marriage of all of the theater arts: staging, lighting, costumes, acting, writing and sets.
And what a set. This show featured a huge swimming pool in the middle of the Civic’s Firth Chew Studio Theatre. The actors dived in, swam, splashed water in each other’s faces and even dove to the bottom and stayed there (thanks to some hidden scuba gear).
In the hands of director Yvonne A.K. Johnson, this was no gimmick. It was a glittering metaphor, illustrating some of the ancient themes in Mary Zimmerman’s script, based on Ovid’s poems.
“Metamorphoses” competed stroke-for-stroke with “Opus” for Best Play, yet this category seemed to fit its accomplishments even more perfectly.
• Best Local Musical: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Spokane Civic Theatre – Director Kathie Doyle-Lipe found every bit of the exuberant comedy potential in this good-natured story of young spelling nerds.
The improv-style feel of the comedy fit the small Firth Chew Studio space well, yet Doyle-Lipe also managed to stage some gymnastic-quality production numbers. Lacey Bohnet brought tears to our eyes with a touching version of “The I Love You Song” (she just won a national community theater award for this performance).
Close second: “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” also at the Civic. (Apologies to the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, which would contend strongly with almost every show, but which is, awkwardly for the purposes of these awards, still in the middle of its season.)
• Best Touring Musical: “Wicked,” Best of Broadway series – It arrived with loads of anticipation and hype. And then it lived up to it.
I tipped over into unabashed “Wicked” appreciation at about the time that Elphaba soared above the stage for her overwhelmingly emotional, spectacularly staged “Defying Gravity” number. I never thought I could feel this much sympathy for the evil one. Kudos to the design team, as well.
Close second: “Spring Awakening.”
• Best Actor: Kevin Partridge, in “Race” at Interplayers and “White Christmas” at the Civic – In “White Christmas” he played the genial Bob Wallace. In David Mamet’s “Race,” he played Jack, a cynical, foul-mouthed lawyer. Talk about showing some range.
Partridge played both roles with a tremendous amount of charisma. And he earns extra points for having the chutzpah to stand up in Bing Crosby’s hometown and deliver Bing’s most famous song.
Close second: Brian Gunn for a terrific Buddy Holly in “Buddy,” as well as multiple roles in “Metamorphoses.”
• Best Actress: Sarah Denison, in “The Miracle Worker” and “Privilege” at Interplayers – Denison gets the nod in a close race because she was so good in both a lead role and a crucial supporting role.
In “Privilege,” she had the smaller role as the tough-minded, fully realized Latina maid, Erla, who taught two rich Manhattan kids some hard truths.
As Annie Sullivan, the title character of “The Miracle Worker,” she was tough and stubborn, but she communicated an even deeper and more touching truth: Annie was afraid she was in over her head. It gave us new insight into a familiar play.
Close runners-up: Jean Hardie, in her “Nunsense” swan song, and Susan Hardie, as the hilarious Jewish widow/cougar, Lucille, in “The Cemetery Club” at the Civic.
• Best Surprise: The Civic Theatre, which had a spectacular run of sellouts at a time when arts organizations everywhere were struggling.
• Best National Buzz: Interplayers made theater news, even in New York, when Patty Duke directed “The Miracle Worker” and closed a career circle, having previously starred in the Broadway, film and TV versions.