Friday, December 30, 2011

Outstanding Performances of 2011

by James E. Trainor III

Theatre is a collaboration between a great number of artists with a wide variety of abilities - from writers to actors to graphic designers and everything in-between - but the role of the individual actor is unique because it gives the art a very personal feel. An actor can be a evocation of the audience's collective demons, a warm guide into a world of wonder, or simply an entertaining host for an exciting night out.

Today I want to talk about a few people who did a particularly memorable job of creating characters in the past year. This list is by no means exhaustive; we cherish all those who spend their time and energy bringing imaginary worlds to life. Please post in the comments if you have particular performances you remember fondly from 2011.

Mike Wilhelm as Mr. Applegate

Damn Yankees, TCR

Damn Yankees is a musical comedy about a man who offers his soul in exchange for the chance to be young again and win the Washington Senators the pennant. It's a fun, heartwarming, and clever piece that pops when it gets going. To really swing for the fence on this one, a company needs someone who can bring considerable stage presence to bear as Mr. Applegate, the sly, smooth-talking devil who tries to con honest Joe out of his soul.

Applegate does it all: sings, dances, even lights his cigarette with a flashy bit of stage magic. Wilhelm embodied the role with the smooth carelessness that can only come from weeks of careful practice. Whenever he stepped on the stage, the dramatic stakes rose and the pure fun of the piece went up a notch. The charm, grace and gleeful evil he brought to the role really sold the premise of the piece.

K. Lindsay Eaves as Abigail Williams

The Crucible, Dreamwell

If Mr. Applegate is the devil you love to hate, Abigail Williams brings a more realistic, decidedly frightening face of evil to the stage. The destructive, opportunistic girl embodies all the mendacity, paranoia and perversion that is present in Miller's depiction of the Salem witch trials. She is the shrill counterpart to the calm, maddeningly rational Danforth; a more active and therefore more dangerous evil.

K. Lindsay Eaves portrayed this vicious young lady with boundless energy and tireless commitment. She was never afraid to take things to the next level, and was always working with the other actors silently as the consequences of Abigail's schemes played out. The result was the perfect atmosphere for a script of this caliber. The work of Eaves and her scene partners kept the tension in this classic drama agonizingly high, and if you missed it, I'm sorry to say you missed one of the best productions of The Crucible to come to the Corridor in quite a while.

Saffron Henke in The Syringa Tree

Riverside Theatre

The area has no shortage of profoundly dedicated professional performers. Facilitated by companies like Riverside Theatre, these artists are able to bring incredibly immersive works like The Syringa Tree to the stage.

The Syringa Tree tells the story of South African apartheid from a variety of perspective, most notably from that of Lizzie Grace, who introduces us to this morally ambiguous world with childlike innocence and whose story we follow throughout the play. The show is remarkable because the same performer creates all the characters, and Henke did an amazing job creating a world that was absorbing from beginning to end. With no other actors and little set dressing to speak of, she applied her considerable skill and experience to play all parts, with equal dedication, in this bemusing, tragic and ultimately invigorating story.

Lincoln Ginsberg as Tobias and Emmy Palmersheim as Little Stone

Sweeney Todd and Eurydice, TCR

Theatre is above all else a art that enlivens the spirit of community, and an important part of that is passing down our traditions to our children. TCR does a fantastic job of selecting shows that allow young actors to work directly with a script, onstage with their elders, learning the craft as part of the community.

Lincoln Ginsberg and Emmy Palmersheim stood out this year as two young performers who went above and beyond in some really challenging roles. Ginsberg played the ill-fated Tobias in Sweeney Todd to chilling effect. He was charming, energetic, understood the tone of the show, and took direction well. The image of Tobias's final moments strike is probably the most haunting thing I've seen on the TCR mainstage, and I've been screaming at vampires, pirates and assassins in that space since I was a boy myself.

Emmy Palmersheim did a remarkable job in Eurydice, a poetic and quirky modern retelling of a famous Greek Myth. She worked well with the other actors and has a very striking stage presence. She also successfully directed a very funny ten-minute piece The Ethical Dilemma of a Sandwich Down the Pants for TCR Underground. Acting in a surrealist tragedy and directing a funny short play require completely different skill-sets, and to accomplish both in one season is deserving of recognition.

So, a round of applause to these artists, and to all those who brought us out to the theatre this year to draw inspiration, confront uncomfortable truths, or just plain have a good time.

What were your favorite performances this year? Memorable characters? Hilarious or shocking moments? We'd like to hear from you; follow the "Comments" link below to post your thoughts.


Angie T said...

Tanks James! I posted in the 2011 wrap up article:

Barb said...

Well done, James! I wish I could have experienced these wonderful performances in person, but you sharing your thoughts makes me feel like I was there. Thanks for bringing a little bit of Iowa theatre to me in New Orleans.