Friday, August 12, 2016

Who Got Robbed? Ostrander Awards Picks & Pans, 2016

Posted By on Fri, Aug 12, 2016 at 10:22 AM

click to enlarge screen_shot_2015-07-31_at_1.59.36_pm.jpg
Dearest Intermission Impossible readers, Yes, I’ve heard your questions about the Ostrander Awards, and I do hope to answer some of them. Although, regretfully for most of you, there’s no ready way to ascertain exactly what it was the judges were smoking when decisions were made, so it’s unlikely I’ll be able to recommend a not-too-shady dealer. Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to pick some winners, shade some losers, and let you know in very clear terms who the hell got robbed.

Set Design
For a Streetcar Named Desire Justin Asher & Andy Saunders turned Germantown Community Theatre into a revoltingly stained ruin of an an apartment. Good job. At Playhouse on the Square Bryce Cutler placed Memphis: The Musical inside an enormous corrugated aluminum shed. Not so good. Jack Yates’ designs for Into the Woods were so sumptuously sumptuous they out-sumptuoused the rest of the show. In the Heights was probably the best thing that happened at the Hattiloo Theatre last season but, as deftly rendered as Melanie Mul’s New York street scene may have been, it’s hard to imagine anything topping Jack Yates work on The Producers at Theatre Memphis. As I wrote at the time, “The Producers is a designer's show, with hundreds of costume changes and a unique set of technical challenges. Theatre Memphis' creative team has risen to the occasion and deserves top bows. From its illuminated swastikas to its spinning illuminated swastikas, The Producers' "Springtime for Hitler" sequence is an all-you-can-eat Bavarian buffet of bold choices and bad taste.” Yeah, it really was all that.

Who got robbed? Jack Yates is already double represented, but he may have done better, subtler work on The Lion in Winter, and his all-door set for Doubt looked great. Few things were more clever and functional that the tarted up Elizabethan stage built for The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), and I sure loved the menace Daniel Kopera infused in his set for Wait Until Dark. But to be honest, the best design of the year was executed by a company that doesn’t participate in the Ostranders. The Tennessee Shakespeare Company’s Henry V made me see red. In the best way.
click to enlarge Wait Until Dark
  • Wait Until Dark

I’m going with nobody got robbed and Jeremy Allen Fisher should win for Into the Woods at Theatre Memphis because the lighting was possibly the most beautiful thing in a production that suffered, like your pesky theater critic, from an abundance of physical beauty.

I don’t know why anybody would want to rob Andre Bruce Ward, but he wasn’t even nominated for Theatre Memphis’ not very good, but quite good looking Lion in Winter. So this entire category is invalid.
click to enlarge Lion in Winter
  • Lion in Winter
Music Direction
This one is a tough call for me because I missed Billy Elliot and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and both are nominated. I think this is probably the year of The Producers so I’m picking Jeffrey Brewer to click.

I’m not going to accuse the Ostrander Judges of mugging the musical team behind Playhouse on the Square’s American Idiot because that poor show was a crime scene before it ever opened. Idiot had a helluva good band and they played that shit tight. But director/cold blooded rock-and-roll thief Gary John La Rosa told them to turn the volume down so people could hear Green Day’s words better. [Insert Joker laugh here]
click to enlarge American Idiot
  • American Idiot
Again with the Billy Elliot and the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels throwing me off my game. Patdro Harris’ choreography for In the Heights, gets points for subtlety, and Jared Thomas Johnson & Christi Hall pulled out all the ridiculous stops for The Producers. I was a bit underwhelmed by a creative partnership comprised of artists that usually knock me out, but I’m calling this one for the home team anyway: Jordan Nichols & Travis Bradley for Memphis, at Playhouse on the Square. They crushed it, but they've crushed it harder. 

Choreography is usually one of Memphis’ strongest hands, but nothing really knocked me out this year. Everything nominated here was top notch but compared to the hoofing on display in years past, Memphis audiences took the ganking. 

Supporting Actress in a Drama
Jessica “Jai” Johnson was simultaneously out of control and in charge as the wronged wife in POTS@TheWorks’ Byhalia, MS, POTS and...

Hang on, brief aside: So I took a couple of short sabbaticals from my regular theater viewing to work on other projects this year. Like, I saw a whole lot of Memphis comedy, and sincerely wish there was some way for the Ostranders to at least acknowledge alternative performance-based entertainments. That aside, as you’ve probably already noticed, I missed some things. Of course, I always miss SOME things but this year the judges really seemed to like the things I missed. So, writing this column, I feel like I’m the lead character in some actor’s nightmare production of Wait Until Dark (A decent, not great show that nevertheless got robbed in at least two categories). Anyway, back to the regularly scheduled griping.

I saw two of the Brother/Sister plays at Hattiloo, but missed In the Red and Brown Water and A Streetcar Named Desire, at Germantown Community Theatre but by all accounts Morgan Watson was quite good, and Michelle Miklosey’s Stella was something to shout about. Get it? Shout? Stella? STELLLLAAAAaaa…

Maggie Robinson was enchanted and enchanting in Peter and the Starcatcher at Circuit Playhouse but I’ve only got eyes for one supporting player on this list. Kim Sanders took me to The Other Place. She played a woman with a whole mess of problems who comes home to drown her sorrows in wine and smother them in Chinese takeout. Instead of forgetfulness she finds a funny-talking stranger in the kitchen who wants to hug it out. Sanders and Kim Justis made real magic in this scene; the kind you don’t get to see all that often. I don’t know if she’ll win, but I’m rooting for her. In related news, I’m sad to report that Meghan Lisi, who was funny as hell in Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) was compleatly RBBD!
click to enlarge SHKSPR
Supporting Actor in a Drama
Delvyn Brown’s about my favorite actor ever, but I’ve got no idea how anybody could have been nominated from the lumbering pageant called All The Way — worst political play since the removal of South Vietnamese strongman Ngo Ding Diem created a disastrous power vacuum that… that’s a whole other quagmire.

Marc Gill is reliably better than just about everybody else all the time, and for the most part that maxim held true in Byhalia, MS. I just don’t know how anybody hopes to compete with David Foster’s ridiculously sinister Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher though. If anybody can it’s Shadeed A. Salim from the Hattiloo’s solid, not super production of August Wilson’s Radio Golf at Hattiloo. Thing is, all of these actors are eating the dust kicked up by unnominated performers like Kevar Maffit who ate all the scenery in Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), and Willie Derrick who nailed his role as the sympathetic con artist in Wait Until Dark. Those guys are wearing barrels held up by suspenders they’re so robbed.
click to enlarge SHKSPR
Leading Actress in a Drama
Sarah Brown made me laugh in Lettuce & Lovage. Jillian Barron made me laugh and cry in Byhalia. Karen Mason Riss made me deeply uncomfortable for an extended period in Mothers & Sons, a not very good play she was brilliant in. Natalie Jones in A Streetcar Named Desire — no idea. But The Other Place was a special thing, and Kim Justis was the most special thing about it. If she doesn’t win, to borrow a line from America’s presidential campaigns, the system’s rigged!

Having said all that, Tracy Hansom’s take on Lady in New Moon’s Orpheus Descending was flawed at the edges but true at the core, and, if you take The Other Place out of the picture, her performance was as compelling as anything I’ve seen all season.

Leading Actor in a Drama
George Dudley is another one of my favorite actors, and his onstage appearances are made sweeter by their rarity. He was a good LBJ in All The Way, but sometimes good isn’t good enough. I’m happy to see Bertram Williams listed here for his finely restrained work in the Hattiloo’s Free Man of Color. Williams is an interesting actor whose work is often a little too cinematic to read from the back row of a theater. This time he was broadcasting it for everybody to see without sacrificing a bit of his trademark subtlety.

You can never underestimate Gregory Szatkowski, but I’ll admit to being a little surprised when I heard he was playing Stanley in Streetcar. For some reason I just couldn’t imagine him as Tennessee Williams’ smouldering sex brute. Then again, I couldn’t remember a role where he didn’t rise to the occasion and surprise.

John Moore was perfectly cast as the great Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet, at Germantown Community Theatre, and I’d really like to see the perennial underdog win for this one. Heck, as unendurable as All the Way was, I wouldn’t mind seeing Moore win a best supporting nod for his refined character work in that either, because, in an ocean of mediocrity, it stood out. But I don’t think any of that’s happening.

If the season had a sleeper hit it was the one man show Buyer & Seller starring Jordan Nichols as both Barbara Streisand and the guy who takes care of Bab’s personal underground mall. He also played some vending machines — beautifully, I might add. Relaxed and understated, Nichols gave the comic performance of his career and, if I was the guy handing out the prizes, after much debate, and sincere apologies to John Moore, I’d probably wind up giving this one to him.

But what about poor Tony Isbell? Yeah, it was an indie show, and not eligible. But Isbell’s run of Krapp’s Last Tape was the best thing that happened in Memphis this past season. That pretty much means he was the best leading actor. No competition. 100% ROBBED!
click to enlarge Krapp
  • Krapp
Supporting Actress in a Musical
I can certainly see Montanez Shepheard picking up an Ossie for In the Heights, and if you liked Memphis, Lorraine Cotton probably had a lot to do with it. But I’m just seeing one name in this category. Carla McDonald killed it as the religious zealot mom in Carrie the Musical. That character’s the only reason to do Carrie, and it’s hard to even imagine a better performance by anybody not named Cecelia Wingate, who was busy doing other stuff.

Supporting Actor in a Musical
Justin Asher gets a nod for The Producers but nothing for I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change? Shaking my damn head. Now I’ll admit, ILYYPNC hasn’t aged very well, but Asher was just terrific. I suppose Curtis C. Jackson was also terrific in Memphis, so the category’s not completely invalid, but it mostly is. Either way, I’m betting on Asher to perform the rare stunt of winning this category while also being totally ROBBED!
click to enlarge Into the Woods
  • Into the Woods
Leading Actress in a Musical
Let me let everybody in on a little secret. Sister Act isn’t a very good musical, but it was so much fun at Playhouse on the Square, most people probably don’t know that. Its star, Claire Kolheim, is a treasure, and a miracle worker, and that’s really all I think I need to write in this category.
But wait a minute now. (Cue Irma Thomas’ “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is Will Understand.” Go on. Wait for the Geico ad and stuff. Okay? Go.)

Let me say a couple of words about Renee Davis Brame. Because, damn. Did the judges see her in Into the Woods? I know I didn’t exactly rave about that show, but I can’t say a bad thing about this tremendous performer's wicked fine turn as Sondheim’s Witch. That character's a bad mother... but she's working on it. 

All I can say now is, “Mrs. Brame, you’ve been robbed.”

Leading Actor in a Musical
It’s hard to imagine Lee Hudson Gilliland winning for The Producers unless Philip Andrew Himebook also wins for The Producers.  Bialystok & Bloom is that kind of dynamic duo, and there’s lots of precedent for splitting the prize. Blind spots notwithstanding, my guess is they’ll share. Unless they’re beaten out by Nathan McHenry who I didn’t much enjoy in Memphis but mostly because, no matter how hard I try, I don’t enjoy much about Memphis. Folks sure do love that song about dropping a dime in a blind man’s jar though, so who knows?

Who got robbed? It’s possible that exposure to the Memphis score lowers the IQ. That is all I’m gonna say about that.

Best Original Script
Byhalia, MS (Evan Linder), and Voices of the South’s
Short/Stories (Jerre Dye) were both strong entries in a year that saw a fair amount of original work by local and regional writers. Byhalia felt like an instant addition to the Southern drama shelf. Short/Stories was like watching an early stage in Jerre Dye’s process. Byhalia is the clear winner here, but somebody got robbed for real. Bill Baker’s An Actor in Purgatory was a lively biographical sketch of Peter Lorre. If there was an Ostrander category for keeping Memphis Theater cool there wouldn’t be any contest.

Best Production of an Original Script
See the above category.

Featured Role/Cameo
Don’t care. John Hemphill wasn’t nominated for being the funniest (and most authentic) thing in Memphis? There’s no justice. That poor boy’s been left out in the rain with nothing but polka dot undies and sock garters. R.O.B. B. E. D.

Direction of a Drama
Stephen Hancock’s an inventive director but I’m not sure if All The Way’s the best example of his work. In fact, I’m at a loss to explain how this stale biscuit’s even in the running alongside crisply conceived and executed shows like Robert Hetherington’s Peter and the Starcatcher and Jeffrey W. Posson’s The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged).

Doubt left me doubting the play’s merits, so I can’t say Tony Isbell was robbed. But his show was a tightly crafted object, certainly more focused and finely tuned than All The Way. So, in light of the unconscionable 2015 snub of Isbell’s first rate Rapture, Blister, Burn, I’m flagging this one for suspicious activity, at least.

Nah, fuck it. Guy was swindled knock-kneed.

Direction of a Musical

There are some contenders in this category. But I’m not here to talk about them. Oh no, No, no, no, no, no ladies and gentlemen. I want to tell all y’all a little something about Jeff Award-winning actress Cecelia Wingate. About the one I know. (Cue Bettye Swan’s, “Today I Started Loving You Again.” There you go.)

You see, Ms. Thing’s not just a first rate performer who makes all the critics swoon, she’s a crackerjack director who knows how to stuff big fluff. Now that’s not the same as being a fluffer, exactly, but let’s just say her production of The Producers, had a similar effect on audiences and, judging by nominations, on theater judges alike. Wingate hit number one with Young Frankenstein, she hit number one with The Addams Family, and I think there’s a strong chance she’s going to hit number one one more time.

Best Production of a Drama
All The Way — is on the list. Somehow. But so is A Streetcar Named Desire,
Buyer & Cellar, Peter and the Starcatcher, and The Other Place, so the news isn’t all weird. Byhalia, MS belongs here, I think. And, in a world unhampered by guidelines, Henry V would be here too, and Krapp’s Last Tape. And Krapp’s Last Tape would win. It was the season’s humblest offering, and completely satisfying. If you missed either one of these off menu morsels, I’m sorry to say, but you got robbed. Otherwise, I’m in the tank for The Other Place. More shows like that one, please.

Best Musical Production

The nominees are Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which I know nothing about;
In the Heights, which was good but would have benefited from live integrated music; Memphis, which is exactly what you’d expect from a show about Memphis from a couple of Jersey Boys, The Producers which will probably win, and Sister Act, the dumbest show I’ve ever enjoyed. I’m going against my gut though and calling this one for Memphis, because, for all my complaints, the show’s been good for the city. Yeah, in that same irksome way Marc Cohn’s been good for the city. If it’s appreciated, I guess I’m okay with that.

So there you go. One more year, one more Who Got Robbed in the can. Good luck to the nominees, you’re all winners already. Except for the losers, of course.


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