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 clich. 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.

Robert G. Leigh, That Which Remains, the Chance Theater
Resisting the temptation to conceptualize this paragon of conceptual theater, Leigh's production of four short Samuel Beckett pieces was a great illustration of trusting the playwright. He performed Beckett to the letter, paying homage to that visionary, but also imbuing the show with a life all its own. He showed that there are worlds of possibility in Beckett if the director follows the playwright's demanding technical stage directions, pauses, repetitions and wholly unique vision.

Cockfighters, Johnna Adams
A contemporary drama with the feel of Greek tragedy, plus a little Shepard and Tarantino. It was a Rashomon-like mystery that was intensely captivating from start to finish. One reviewer called it a West Texan white-trash Twin Peaks. It featured cockfighting, brutalizing, simple-minded dead people and a sheriff named Hump. Adams is perhaps OC's hardest-working playwright, and this play's ability to operate on so many tracks is ample proof of her drive and talent. (Kudos to the Hunger Artists for mounting the play as the first piece in its new Fullerton space.)

Major Barbara, South Coast Repertory
Our host for this year's event ushered in its new theater complex with this revival of George Bernard Shaw's masterpiece about the conflict between private duty and the public good. The acting, the direction and jaw-dropping technical elements helped deliver the fascinatingly complex and interrelated arguments in Shaw's play. Director Martin Benson sacrificed nothing in length or pacing. It was a long production that cut against the grain of most quick-cut MTV entertainment. We applaud him—and his theater—for doing it Shaw's way.

Jerry Patch, dramaturge, South Coast Repertory
Patch has worked in the literary department for SCR since 1967, serving as dramaturge since 1972. Along with literary manager Jennifer Kiger, he oversees all of SCR's new play development programs. There are a lot of them, from the Pacific Playwrights Project and New Script reading series to the boatload of commissions and new plays the theater has worked on for the past 35 years. He's also the playwright of SCR's annual Dickens homage and most recently helped create the musical Education of Randy Newman.

Rude Guerrilla Theater Co.
Once again, this Santa Ana-based troupe lived up to its self-appointed role as the county's most adventurous theater. Keith Curran's Walking the Dead, Mark Ravenhill's Sleeping Around, Ping Chong's Truth N Beauty, and most notably, the West Coast premiere of Sarah Kane's intensely grim and challenging Cleansed are great examples of a theater living up to its mission.

Jon Gaw, Stages
As the principal designer and the guy who oversees the building of most of the sets at Orange County's longest-running storefront theater, Gaw is most responsible for, as Dave Barton wrote, creating small miracles on a shoestring budget. Every theater has someone like Gaw, the person who puts in weeks of work but is rarely saluted, the one who's always there with an idea, a solution, a hammer or a ladder. This award is in his name, but it honors all those folks in Orange County theater who are the problem solvers. Theater would not get done if it weren't for them.

Joel Beers wrote this, but Dave Barton, Kelly A. Flynn, Rich Kane, Andrew Nienaber and Chris Ziegler sure helped out.

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