We're So Happy, We Could Scream!

The third annual OC Weekly Theater Awards

Helen Modjeska Award for Contribution to Orange County Theater

Robert Jensen

Without Jensen, it's quite possible that neither Stages, the now-defunct Tribune Theater or the OC WeeklyTheater Awards would ever have existed. Jensen, a theater teacher at Fullerton College, is also a nationally prominent educator; last year, he was named one of the top theater teachers in the country by a national organization. The Fullerton College theater department isn't all about Jensen. Past and present colleagues such as Tom Blank, Gary Krinke, Pamela Richarde and many other Fullerton College faculty members deserve credit for their contributions. But Jensen is the one we regard most fondly this year. Brian Kojac, Stages' artistic director, gave a heartfelt speech about Jensen's impact not only on those theater students (quoting Jensen's twofold mantra that theater should be about people rather than product and that all it really takes to produce theater is "two boards and a passion") but also on those he turned on to theater. "Training young people to be theater audiences is just as important as training young people to be theater artists," Kojac said.

Best Production

Last Session, Laguna Playhouse

A director recently said that she knows a production has worked for her as an audience member when she walks out of the theater "proud" about what she's just experienced. And that sums up this production. No other play came close to capturing the joy, sorrow and wonder of being alive than this musical by Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin. The sensational cast, groovy soundtrack and thoughtful words yielded a production that worked as both pure entertainment and deeply felt happening.

Honorable Mentions: Arcadia, SCR; Hospitality Suite, Changing Masks; Oklahoma!, Huntington Beach Playhouse; Our Town, SCR.

Best Compliment to a Theater Critic on the Staff of an Alternative Newspaper in Orange County

Delivered by Edith Schwartz

After the awards ceremony, a nattily-dressed senior walked up to me and introduced herself as Edith Schwartz. She's the person behind Readers' Repertory Theatre, a group of theater enthusiasts who read literary pieces at local libraries. My first thought was that we had offended her along the way. Turns out it was my ageism showing. Schwartz grew up in New York; was an avid reader of our sister paper, The Village Voice; loves and appreciates the OC Weekly; and really enjoys it "when you start your columns off with the F-word." Edith, that could be the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me.

And Then There's These . . .

Here's what the Weekly's theater reviewers thought were the highlights of 1998 (and not one negative reference to Rent in the whole lot!):

KELLY FLYNN

Productions

The Birds, South Coast Repertory. Culture Clash brought a wild, anarchist energy I've rarely found on a professional stage. The anything-goes spirit was anchored by Victor Mack's remarkably centered performance.

Private Lives, SCR. The most perfectly constructed piece of theater I saw all year. From the performances to the costumes to the sets, everything was exactly right.

Working, Orange Coast College. The cast put so much heart and soul into the performance that it transcended the material. Mark Palkoner contributed the most heartfelt and touching performance of the year.

Performances

Matt Tulley in Roscoe Spitzer Is Afraid of Dying, Suicidus Interuptus, God of the Odd, Stages. Viva variety! Whether he was playing a cranky Edgar Allen Poe or a suicidal nerd, Tulley was memorable for his commitment.

Tees Cooper in There's Always Room for Pie, Stages. Cooper kicked ass. Funny and tough, she added a dangerous and sexy edge to the campy proceedings.

DAVE BARTON

Productions

My Married Friends, Cal State Fullerton. Perfectly directed by Todd Kulczyk, this outstanding world premiere about a gay man whose close friendship with a married couple is torn asunder by the husband's infidelity also boasted endearing performances by Jim Shine and Kristina Leach.

Eleemosynary, Vanguard Theatre Ensemble. Lee Blessing's brain-teasing glossary of a play was sure to make you pore over your dictionary after seeing it. That you'd have to view it a couple of times to get all of it was an added bonus.

Suburbia, UC Irvine. Director Dudley Knight's even-handed, realistic staging and his young cast worked some real magic here.

It's Only a Play, Stages. Aided by a cast of Stages' vets, director Amanda DeMaio never allowed the pace to slow in this frenetic, wildly accessible production.

Fool for Love, Ensemble Theatre. Sam Shepard's violent one-act about incest, under Roosevelt Blankenship Jr.'s direction, was a hurled chair in the polite drawing-room comedy genre.

Performances

Jennifer Autumn Lyons in A Shayna Maidel, Menorah Theater. Lyons never resorted to cheap effects, delivering a powerful, fragile performance as a concentration-camp survivor whose memories have come back to haunt her.

Cynthia Ryanen in It's Only a Play, Stages. Ryanen's bitter, foul-mouthed actress was the effortless standout of a nearly perfect cast. Somebody give this woman a sitcom.

BROOK STOWE

Productions

Gift of God, Actors' Playhouse. Richard Freedman's play metamorphosed from a darkly hued thriller about disembodied voices and blood sacrifice by barbecue fork into a sweet, boy-meets-girl romantic comedy highlighted by Morgana Rae's performance as Ted and Shannon C.M. Flynn's well-balanced direction.

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