The 1999 Okies!

Introducing our nominees for the years best theater!

By Joel Beers, Dave Barton, Kelly Flynn, Michael M. Miller and Brook Stowe

For four years, we've honored with dinner, applause and a doodad the best of the year's local theater—the OC Weekly Theater Awards. And, yes, we call them the Okies.

The 1999 Okies will be handed out in grand fashion at a smashing Feb. 7 gala at Alternative Repertory Theatre (ART) in Santa Ana. There, one person, cast or production in each of the following categories will be saluted as the best of the best. We'll hand out a bunch of other awards not listed here, including our much-coveted lifetime achievement award, the Helen Modjeska.

An obligatory disclaimer: since all of our reviewers are involved in some way with local theater, we barred ourselves individually from nominating anything produced at any theater with which we were associated. We are nothing if not an aboveboard bunch.

ENSEMBLE ACTING

Blue Window, Vanguard Theatre Ensemble. There wasn't a weak link in this carefully constructed chain of characters, a group of Manhattanites in the early '80s slowly losing faith in themselves and one another. (JB) Deviant Craft, Cal State Fullerton. There was nothing quite like the interactive anarchy of this play anywhere else in the county, and there was no other cast quite like this one. (BS) Orphans, International City Theatre. Simply mesmerizing performances in a simply mesmerizing production. (JB) Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, Rude Guerrilla. Seldom have actors seemed to relish being so screwed up as the cast of this dark, troubling play. (JB) Twelfth Dog Night, Troubadour Theatre Company, Grove Theatre Center. Led by Matt Walker's prime fool, Feste, the anarchic spirit and freewheeling energy of this LA-based company were once again a marvel to behold. (KF)

COLLEGE PERFORMANCE

(MALE OR FEMALE)

Rachel Davenport, Nurse Benson in Dunelawn, Orange Coast College Repertory. A completely charming, egoless actress with perfect timing and an exuberant sense of character. Think Lucille Ball on acid and you'll get the idea. (DB)

Sean Hankinson, Alan in Equus, Chapman University. Hankinson's brave, near-perfect performance was especially impressive considering the arduous requirements of the role: he performed the last quarter of this play in the nude. No props, no costume, no set to hide behind. Just sheer acting. (DB)

Rita Renee Stevens, Ouisa in Six Degrees of Separation, CSUF. Stevens' precarious balance of life's comedy with tragedy was damn near Chekhovian. (BS)

Kessa Veon Whiting, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Fullerton College. A powerhouse of physical presence and comic timing, Whiting's performance offered a valuable lesson to young actors everywhere who find themselves opposite this kind of talent: either keep up, get out of the way, or get your ass run over. (BS)

PERFORMANCE, MALE

Andrew Barnicle, Sam Galahad in Gunmetal Blues, Laguna Playhouse. I went into this one thinking a noir musical shouldn't work. Was I wrong—mostly because Barnicle, who daylights as the playhouse's artistic director, was so damn good in the lead role of down-on-his-luck gumshoe Sam Galahad. (KF)

Jay Michael Fraley, Vasquez in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, Rude Guerrilla. Was there an actor on the OC stage in '99 more versatile, compelling and just plain fun to watch than Fraley? His ruthless mercenary Vasquez was merely his brightest performance in a stellar year. (BS)

Patrick Gwaltney, Michael Carpenter in Hate, Stages. Hands folded neatly before him, bookish spectacles in place, Gwaltney's virulent white supremacist was the scariest guy I saw on an OC stage all year, and he didn't even have to raise his voice. (BS)

Arthur Hanket, Genet in Saint Genet, Language of the Wall, Empire Theatre. Funny, furious, assured and vulnerable: Hanket's masterful performance deftly captured the complex emotional landscape of the imprisoned Jean Genet. (KF)

Hal Landon Jr., Edgar in Play Strindberg, South Coast Repertory. Anyone who has seen Landon work knows he's good; after seeing this performance, the richest piece of physical comedy on the local stage this year, you know he's capable of brilliance. (MM)

PERFORMANCE, FEMALE

Kimberly M. Fisher, 'Manda in White Trash Privit Lives, Hunger Artists. As the trash-talking but keenly vulnerable 'Manda in the Hunger Artists' subversive skewering of Noel Coward's drawing-room comedy, Fisher displayed yet again why she is one of the county's most versatile young actresses. (JB)

Marjory Graue, Josie in Moon for the Misbegotten, Laguna Playhouse. The rock in this massive heartache of a play, Graue brought eloquence, earthiness and dignity to a most unforgiving role. (JB)

Katie Johnson, Isabella in Measure for Measure, Shakespeare Orange County. Johnson not only made her character eminently believable but also more than stood her ground against Daniel Cartmell and Carl Reggiardo, merely two of the most commanding male actors in the county. (MM)

Sally Leonard, Marcelline in A Summer With Hemingway's Twin, ART. In a typically poised and substantial performance, Leonard captured the emotional complexity and simmering resentment of a creative person overshadowed by a more famous sibling. (JB)

Jill Remez, Germaine in Picasso at the Lapine Agile, Laguna Playhouse. Remez's complex, sexually charged Germaine nearly stole this show—a noteworthy feat, as she shared the stage with Einstein and Picasso. (JB)

DIRECTION

David Chambers, Tartuffe, SCR. You can disagree with Chambers' dark, sinister take on Molière's comedy, but you can't fault his bold, masterful staging, which made everyone take a fresh look at an often-produced play. (JB)

Dean Hess, Six Degrees of Separation, CSUF. Hess had everyone tuned to the same frequency in this extraordinary mounting of what will certainly go down as one of the great plays of the 1990s. (BS)

Kelly Flynn, White Trash Privit Lives, Hunger Artists. Sure, he writes for us, but damn it, this deserves to be remembered. Flynn's outrageous tweaking of Noel Coward's Private Lives uncovered some of the inherent cruelty embedded, but rarely revealed, in Sir Noel's play. (JB)

Erin Saporito, Blue Window, Vanguard Theatre Ensemble. In Saporito's sensitive hands, Craig Lucas' 1984 bittersweet play was a deeply moving piece of theater. She expertly guided her talented ensemble through the hazardous waters of their characters' emotional isolation and unhappiness. (JB)

Joann Yarrow, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, UC Irvine. Yarrow created some of the most stirring theatrical images of the year: the cast stripping down and marching into concentration-camp showers still haunts me. (DB)

COLLEGE PRODUCTION

Deviant Craft, CSUF. Flawed, brilliant, chaotic and vulnerable, this Terry Walcutt-directed production of W. David Hancock's passionate exploration of the fragile yet resilient nature of the human spirit was unrivaled in maximizing the unique power of live theater. (BS) Oklahoma!, UCI. Robert Cohen directed this visually vibrant version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's darkly hued American musical. (DB) The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, UCI. An enthusiastically performed rendition of Bertolt Brecht's anti-Nazi parable, set in gangland Chicago. One of the most ambitious, imaginative and relevant productions of the year. (DB) Six Degrees of Separation, CSUF. A finely polished comic sheen is only one layer of several working simultaneously in John Guare's resonant examination of the social, racial and monetary relationships that both bind and separate us. (BS) The Venitian Physician's Magician, UCI. A smutty, uproarious comedy for people who appreciate humor with their theater history. (DB)

BEST PRODUCTION

Orphans, International City Theatre. Sure, it's Long Beach, but someone's got to applaud this intense production of Lyle Kessler's dark 1983 comedy. Director Elina deSantos and three extraordinarily talented actors lifted this play to the level of the sublime. (JB) Saint Genet, Language of the Wall, Empire Theater. Arthur Hanket's one-man show was a great example of all that can be good about solo performance but so often isn't. Funny, thought-provoking, but above all real, Hanket offered a fresh perspective on both the artist and his art. (KF) Tartuffe, SCR. In staging, costume and character, the standard Tartuffe equation was stood on its head in this bizarre, provocative mounting, easily the soberest Tartuffe in recent memory. (JB) Twelfth Dog Night, Troubadour Theatre Company, Grove Theatre Center. A 10-foot man? A 350-pound woman? The music of Three Dog Night? And Shakespeare's Twelfth Night? Somehow, it all worked perfectly, proving once again that you can't take this many liberties with Shakespeare unless you've got your dramatic shit together. (KF) Two Sisters and a Piano, SCR. Nilo Cruz's new play was brought to vibrant life by a remarkable cast that found rich veins of passion, eroticism and genuine pathos in the playwright's story of repression in Castro's Cuba. (KF)
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