The Seventh Annual OC Weekly Theater Awards!

Photo by Ken Howard/SCRIf you're one of the 140,000 or so people who read this paper every week, chances are good you're among the 139,700 who missed this week's seventh annual OC Weekly Theater Awards. Hosted by South Coast Repertory on the company's Julianne Argyros Stage, it was the biggest OC Weekly Theater Awards event ever. More people attended, more OCIEs were handed out, and more complimentary shots of (gratuitous sponsor plug here) Vox Vodka were hoisted than ever before. Here's a lowdown on what you missed.

Aaron G. Lamb, How I Learned to Drive, Cal State Fullerton
Glines, a Fullerton College student who succumbed to cancer in 2001, was a phenomenally talented actor/writer/director and an inspiration. The college performer who merits the honor of an award in Glines' name is Aaron G. Lamb, whose performance (the Weekly's Dave Barton wrote) "as an alcoholic child molester was as delicate as they come. Acted with a sensitive, understated objectivity, it's a fine example to any actor of what to do with difficult, even ugly, characters: play a person. Don't pass judgment. Help us understand him." Lamb was also given a $250 scholarship, thanks to contributions from Weekly staffers and the Addison Glines Foundation.

The Laramie Project, Cal State Fullerton
Ensemble acting requires there be no star turns and that actors work together to tell the play's story rather than pull focus to their own cleverness. The cast of The Laramie Projecthad the same passion for the story they were telling—all while playing a mind-boggling variety of roles. Nothing short of a minor theatrical miracle.

Marat/Sade, Santa Ana College
The choice to stage this uncompromising play about the imprisoned Marquis de Sade and his fellow inmates in Charenton Asylum was noteworthy in itself. But Sheryl Donchey's ability to create the appropriately chaotic mood and play-within-a-play fervor of Peter Weiss' piece was just as remarkable. The play managed to be as entertaining and enthralling as it was provocative and intellectually stimulating.

The Spitfire Grill, The Laguna Playhouse
This sweet-natured—if occasionally complicated—celebration of small-town living and the redemptive power of community was helped by director/choreographer Nick DeGruccio's simple staging. The songs were delivered with such conviction by the exceptional cast that only the most hard-hearted critic refused to be won over. Like musical comfort food, The Spitfire Grill didn't challenge the palette, but it sure satisfied.

Frank Tryon, The King, Stages Theater and the Maverick Theater
Tryon didn't look a whole lot like Elvis, didn't sound a whole lot like Elvis, and wasn't nearly as fat as Elvis. But by avoiding an Elvis-impersonation act in favor of connecting with the human beneath the fast-food-inflated jump suit and aw-shucks Southern homilies, Tryon delivered a performance that was funny, poignant and believable. For at least 100 nights last year and this year, Tryon was the hardest working man in OC theater.

Ken Rugg, That Which Remains, The Chance Theater
Eric Eisenbrey, David's Mother, Rude Guerrilla Theater Co.
Rugg's spot-on performance as Krapp in Krapp's Last Tape, one of the four Samuel Beckett playlets that comprise That Which Remains, wasn't a supporting role in the technical sense, since he was the only performer onstage. His towering performance as the lonely, angry, funny, confused, tired and questioning Krapp helped amplify the overall effect of this piece of theater.

Eisenbrey played the mentally impaired David in David's Mother. Weekly critic Chris Ziegler wrote that Eisenbrey was "admirably understated, performing a character instead of a symbol." That performance helped the production rise above a TV-movie-of-the-week slice of screwed-up life into an exploration of the concentric rings of codependence and control.

Dakin Matthews, Major Barbara, South Coast Repertory
Matthews' Andrew Undershaft was a fantastic example of bad never seeming so good, a morally reprehensible munitions maker who will sell any weapon to any buyer. Undershaft was also the most charismatic, likeable, believable and intelligent of any character onstage—a testament to both George Bernard Shaw's great writing and Matthews' ability to make that writing live.

Amanda Karr, Smash, Long Beach Playhouse
Vivian Vanderwerd, Walking the Dead, Rude Guerrilla Theater Co.
As the tempestuous firebrand Agatha Wylie in Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's overlooked novel An Unsocial Socialist, Karr was talented and magnetic. She perfectly embodied the spirit of revolutionary change and projected an aura of youthful indignation and raw passion that was both hilarious as well as cautionary.

And as Maya, the cutting-edge, big-city artist whose lover undergoes a sex change with disastrous consequences, Vanderwerd successfully steered away from clichť. This was a character who was human first, a woman second, and a mannequin-severing, dildo-melting artist third. That connection with the role helped Maya serve the thematics of Keith Curran's fascinating play, which, as the Weekly's Rich Kane wrote, suggests that everyone is a living, breathing performance-art piece, but altering our "art" in response to criticism can be disastrous.

bash, latterday plays, The Hunger Artists
Jake's Women, Stages
The four actors in bash, latterday playsare never onstage together, but the whole of bash is greater than the sum of the three pieces on this bill, and every actor has to have the vision to see the entire play. Mark Coyan, Russ Marchand, Jessica Beane and Jami McCoy had that vision, and the result was a chilling examination of when apparently good people go really, really bad.

Jake's Women, in contrast, was quintessential ensemble: the women—Patti Cumby, Amanda DeMaio, Cori Knight, Darri Kristin, Melissa McHenry, Vanessa Rose Parker and Tracy Perdue—revolved around the titular Jake (Patrick Gwaltney), accusing, cajoling, comforting and driving him insane.
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