We're So Happy, We Could Scream!

The third annual OC Weekly Theater Awards

Approximately 200 productions graced, plagued and cluttered Orange County stages last year. So it's absolutely pointless and utterly impossible to pick the best performances and shows of the year, right?


Which is why for the third year, we have called to order the best and brightest of local theater for the OC Weekly Theater Awards. We polled the masses, we conducted exit interviews with theater patrons, we canvassed neighborhoods, and we reamed conductors-er, conducted reams of research to discover the most deserving productions. After all that failed to generate anything except a bunch of opinions-and really, who cares about those?-we resorted to the most accurate and scientific measure of determining qualitative worth: me.

Oh, sure, I asked the Weekly's dedicated reviewing staff for its insight, but these awards are ultimately bestowed upon the people and productions that most moved me.

This year, the Weekly deemed it necessary to expand the annual awards ceremonies. While past awards at Mark's Restaurant in Laguna Beach and Lucianna's in Dana Point were generous and warm and provided tasty cuisine, they're just not huge enough to contain the hordes crashing the theater-award gates.

So we moved the awards to a real theater-South Coast Repertory's Second Stage-got Twin Palms to cater, Memphis Soul Cafe to provide the beer and wine, and pursued the most charming, eloquent and downright handsome host this side of the Santa Ana River. And because Commie Girl was busy, the honor fell to me.

Last Monday evening, recipients and invited guests from all the professional, community, storefront and college theaters in the county assembled at SCR's Second Stage.

And the winners are . . .

Best New Play

Mystery Play, Garrett Omata, Actors' Playhouse

This could also be titled Biggest Tragedy of the Year. Omata, the 29-year-old playwright behind this compelling study of spiritual faith and temporal reality, killed himself months before the play was produced by Deep Yellow. His play was warm and human, deep and funny-convincing evidence that had he staved off his internal demons, he was destined for a successful career.

Best College Production

Cal State Fullerton, 1998 season

Name the CSUF show, and chances are a Weekly reviewer saw it and thought it excellent enough to put on his or her Best Of list. Whether it was Uncle Vanya directed by Dan Kern, My Married Friends directed by Todd Kulczyk, Measure for Measure directed by Dean Hess, or Blood Wedding by MFA student Monica Leite, the shows were universally wonderful. Critic Dave Barton tabbed My Married Friends as his favorite show of the season. So rather than choose among them, we grant them all a collective OC Weekly kiss.

Best Ensemble Acting

The Importance of Being Earnest, Hunger Artists

This show could just as easily have won an award for naughtiest and funniest revival of the year. Kelly Flynn directed a riotously funny cast punctuated by brilliant performances throughout. It was scandalous and scatological but also fascinatingly in-sync with playwright Oscar Wilde's rebelliously literate political and moral sensibilities.

Best Performance in a Supporting Role

Bill Mondy, Dimly Perceived Threats to the System, SCR

The role of the psychiatrist in Jon Klein's take on dysfunction in the contemporary American family is the through line between the characters who make up the fragmenting family unit at the play's center. Mondy played his character with verve and gusto, tossing in ample doses of surreal psychosis, manic energy and impeccable comic timing for good measure-all proof that he is a brilliant, physically fascinating actor.

Best Male Performance

Mark Coyan, The Metamorphosis, Hunger Artists

A guy who plays the lead role in a play about a man who turns into a bug can't help but turn in a terrific performance, but what actor would have the cojones to tackle it? Coyan was not only good, he was also fascinating and eerily human. Like the aforementioned Mondy, Coyan is a very physical actor: he's lithe, agile and a fearless risk taker. This performance proved it.

Honorable Mentions: Richard Doyle and Greg Stuhr, But Not for Me, SCR; Bob Wilkinson, Hospitality Suite, Changing Masks.

Best Female Performance

Carolyn Barnes, Sylvia, Laguna Playhouse

A woman who plays the lead role in a play about a woman who is actually a dog can't help but turn in a terrific performance, but Barnes was also funny, charming, smart, sexy and sympathetic. In short, she's everything a woman, a dog and a human can be. Hers was a rich, rewarding performance.

Honorable Mentions: Carla Harting, What the Butler Saw, SCR; Lynsey McLeod, Oleanna, SCR.

Best Direction

David Emmes, Arcadia, SCR

A richly textured, deeply nuanced production of perhaps the most complex and certainly the smartest play produced on a local stage this year. From his firm hand with actor portrayals to the absolutely gut-wrenching final image, Emmes clearly understood Stoppard's brilliant play and gave us an illuminating production.

Best Production Not Seen by Joel Beers

The Adding Machine, Grove Theater Center

I can't be everywhere, and I'm not so vain as to think that I never miss a terrific production. Among our staff, Brook Stowe convinced me that his favorite play of the season was the most worthy. "With its morphing set and swirling flash pots," Stowe says, "this highly theatrical revival by Kevin Cochran of Elmer Rice's seldom-produced 1923 Expressionistic drama about creeping obsolescence proved to be creepily relevant to this Information Age." Wish I'd seen it.

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