Thursday, August 27, 2015

Intermission Impossible's 2015 Ostrander Predictions — And WHO GOT ROBBED?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2015 at 9:40 PM

Who do I think will win this year’s play prizes? And who got a raw deal? I’ve got some pretty strong feelings. I’ve also got some real blind spots. This year more than most. 

click to enlarge This is where I was hanging when you were doing the best work of your career. - ROXY!
  • ROXY!
  • This is where I was hanging when you were doing the best work of your career.

See, I went out of town in March to direct a production of Measure for Measure at The Roxy Regional Theatre in Clarksville, TN. While the rehearsal process was only ten terrifying days long I was effectively out of town for four weekends. That was enough time to miss All My Sons, Assassins, Boy from Oz, Vanya and Sonia and Masha, and Spike, and Good Woman of Setzuan. I’m sure I’m leaving something out.

click to enlarge This is probably why I missed your show. - MEASURE FOR MEASURE
  • Measure for Measure
  • This is probably why I missed your show.

While I hate to have missed that much, it was really nice to get away and make some theater for a change. And the amount I missed in that short time really says something about just how much we've got going on locally these days.

Now that apologies (or something like them) have been made, here are my predictions for the outcome of this year’s Ostrander Awards. And, more importantly I will attempt to answer the question, "WHO GOT ROBBED?" 

click to enlarge These guys did not get robbed. Well, most of them didn't. - THEATRE MEMPHIS
  • Theatre Memphis
  • These guys did not get robbed. Well, most of them didn't.

Set Design

Kiss Me Kate was clever, The Heiress was pretty, and The Addams Family will most likely win the prize due to epic ookieness. But these were all enormous undertakings. I tend to value simple gestures, economy, and effectiveness. So, I’m calling this one for Ekundayo Bandele. His ruined streetscape was the best thing about a strong production of August Wilson’s King Hedley II.

Who got robbed? I’m shaking my damn head over this one. Yes, The Heiress was nice, but those Home Depot wall sconces just about made me faint. This year’s nominees are (almost) all about ostentation and verisimilitude. Where’s the subtlety? Where’s the poetry? Where’s The Seagull? Where’s Mountain View? Where’s Gospel at Colonus?

The swing on Terry Twyman’s Mountain View set allowed the play’s action to mimic its soaring, fanciful language. Jack Yates has already been recognized for his more ostentatious work on The Addams Family, but his design for Rapture, Blister, Burn used Theatre Memphis’ Next Stage in a way it’s never been used before and transformed Middle-class anxiety into comfort. Kathy Haaga’s Gospel at Colonus set stopped time in its tracks, dropping audiences in the middle of a classical ruin that seemed to be both ancient and post-apocalyptic. It was a space built for poetry and magic, and brilliantly incomplete. Sets that aren’t finished until the actors are on stage are the best kinds of sets. That wonderful wanting is what separates good design from greatness. The Seagull/Vanya and Sonia... had it too.

click to enlarge Gospel truth.
  • Gospel truth.


It’s possible and even likely that this could tip toward The Addams Family, which requires lots of weirdness and whimsy. And, as someone who really thinks we’d all be better off if every copy of this lackluster script and score fell into the ocean, I’ve got to admit, the creative team knocked it out of the park. I’m erring on the side of elegance and calling it for Andre Bruce Ward and The Heiress.


I’m thinking Jeremy Allen Fisher may win this year for Of Mice and Men at Theatre Memphis. It was a misguided design created to illuminate an overdone set, rather than to frame actors and the action. Still, it was all awfully pretty, and this is Of Mice and Men’s only nomination. That feels significant.

Who got robbed? Daniel Kopera, come on down!  Kopera was both scenic and lighting designer for Copenhagen. He imagined a space that expressed space— and time. Three unremarkable black chairs sat in a pitch black environment. Formulas and wave signs were scribbled in white on the floor. The next dimension was made apparent when similar formulas were projected across actors inhabiting the void. 

click to enlarge Bad means good.
  • Bad means good.
Music Direction

Yeah, I’ve got some issues with Kiss Me Kate, but they’ve got nothing to do with that wonderful Cole Porter score. Adam Laird and Co. got every bit of it just right.

Sound Design

Gene Elliott built a textured soundscape for New Moon’s, The Woman In Black. Let’s go with that one. And while I’m thinking about it, The Woman in Black ‘s set probably deserved a nod too. The design wasn’t spectacular, but it transformed TheatreWorks spectacularly. Maybe you need to have visited some out of the way European playhouse to appreciate just how spectacularly.


I’m a little bit in awe of Emma Crystal. Once on This Island was a fantastic showcase for what she does.

Who got robbed? Emma Crystal, duh. Her Once on this Island work was showy. But her minimal choreography for Gospel at Colonus was powerful glue holding a difficult show together.

Supporting Actress in a Musical

This is a shot in the dark. I’m picking Renee Davis Brame though, because A) I saw her, B) She was excellent, and C) In a show as mismanaged as Company was, standouts really stand out.

Who got robbed? Pretty much everybody in Simply Simone not named Keia Johnson. Also, two of the best things about The Addams Family: Brie Leazer (Wednesday) and Loraine Cotton (Alice). 
click to enlarge Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me! - MANDATORY CURE REFERENCE
  • Mandatory Cure Reference
  • Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me!

Supporting Actor in a Musical

Justin Asher was a lurching joy as Lurch in The Addams Family, and Barry Fuller was easily the best thing about Anything Goes. But Marc Gill’s dance moves burned a hole in the Hattiloo’s brand new stage, and he was positively sinister in Once on this Island. He should win.

Who got robbed? I dunno. 

Leading Actress in a Musical

Emily F. Chateau was a deliciously morbid Morticia in The Addams Family, but Nina Simone has been getting long overdue attention this year, and I’m calling this one for Keia Johnson who raised the roof in the Hattiloo’s production of Simply Simone.

Leading Actor in a Musical

Look. This award has to belong to Jerre Dye. It has to, right? His Frank N. Furter was a hot mess of a house on fire. Rocky Horror was an enormous success for Playhouse. Audiences adored it. The Ostrander judges practically ignored it. With some exceptions, I think I agree with the judges. But only because it was the Jerre Dye show, and not much else. If you like the volume turned up to 11 (and never turned down), holy shit!

Direction of a Musical

When you want to go big, Cecelia Wingate’s the director to call. That makes me sad a little because I love it so much when she does little shows with big dynamics. But no matter how you slice it, the woman’s a damn miracle worker.  The Addams Family isn’t a masterpiece. That’s a true fact that people who’ve only seen her production probably don’t know.

Who Got Robbed? Gospel at Colonus is a difficult prospect. It may not have been perfect. It may not be a winner. But Tony Horne pulled the threads together, and kept them together in the face of adversity. A nomination seems in order.

Best Musical Production

I love Assassins. Great book, great music, bold ideas. Didn’t see it at Circuit. Oops. Kiss Me Kate has a charming score, and a handful of funny bits but it wasn't special in any way.  I’ve never been a fan of Once on This Island and regard Mary Poppins as more of a tourist destination than a piece of theater. I’ve already said my piece about The Addams Family, which I suspect will win.
click to enlarge "Nominate me! Wooooosh!" - CASKEY
  • Caskey
  • "Nominate me! Wooooosh!"

Supporting Actress in a Drama

JoLynne Palmer (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) has been having a great year. So has Ann Sharp (The Heiress) and Cecelia Wingate (Distance). I’m happy to see Madeline Glenn Thomas (Bad Jews) on this list because she was so good in a role that's not especially showy. Now, if you'll pardon me, I’m gonna go off the rails a  bit.

Anne Marie Caskey is a wonderful artist but her inclusion in this category is  baffling. Voices of the South had a really tough year and The Awakening was a disaster. It’s probably safe to say that the play’s shortcomings helped motivate VOTS’s founding members to step back into leadership roles. Was Caskey the best thing about that misguided outing? Probably. And in the midst of the awfulness, she even pulled off an exceptional bit of pantomime. But her character, like everything else in the show, was vague and somnambulant. I mention all of this because…

Who got robbed? A lot of people. I’m still trying to figure out how Rapture, Blister, Burn wasn’t nominated for anything this year. Nothing. Zip. Squat. Diddly. Bupkus. Zilch. I haven’t seen a comedy done that well at Theatre Memphis in years. Ann Sharp and Tracie Hansom both merit supporting nominations. But Jillian Barron, hilarious as the play's lone millennial, was straight judge mugged.

Also robbed? Jenny Odle Madden. Steve Swift and Cecelia Wingate were both very good in Distance. JoLynne Palmer was often amazing. But Madden was something else. I could feel the physical and mental exhaustion she projected through the back wall of TheatreSouth. She nailed every aspect of a daughter dutifully caring for a mother who was difficult even before she started losing her mind. If not a nomination, will somebody please at least give this extraordinary performer a hug? Damn.

click to enlarge Rapture, Blister, Burn... ROBBED! - (ROBBED)
  • (robbed)
  • Rapture, Blister, Burn... ROBBED!

Supporting Actor in a Drama

I hate that I didn’t see Marques Brown in All My Sons, Germantown Community Theatre. It’s one of my favorite plays, and he’s one of my favorite actors. Matt Nelson was good in Bad Jews, Cameron Reeves was responsible for many of Tribes, best moments. Steve Swift was born to play the hairdresser with a heart of gold in Distance. But I was especially smitten by Jonathan Williams, who played the sooth/truth-sayer character in the Hattiloo’s King Hedley II. It’s hard to make that role convincing, but nobody bothered to tell WIlliams. If Brown doesn’t win— and it makes sense to me that he could—it’s Hattiloo time. .

Who got robbed? Steven Burk keeps getting better and better. Solid evidence: Rapture, Blister, Burn. Also robbed? The esteemed Michael Gravois, most famous for being Michael Gravois. In this case, for his top drawer work in The Seagull.

Leading Actress in a Drama

This is a tough one. Laura Stracko Franks was fantastic in Bad Jews, and her hair probably deserves its own separate nomination. JoLynne Palmer’s depiction of a woman slipping into dementia transformed Distance from a work in progress into a must-see theatrical event. If Pamela Poletti doesn’t win for All My Sons — which could certainly happen — I think Palmer takes the prize.

Who got Robbed? Call the police and your insurance company Erin Shelton of Rapture, Blister, Burn. You’ve been burgled. Also robbed? Dear Morgan Howard, poor wounded creature. The Seagull was yours. You owned it. But wait, there's more!  Copenhagen boasted a tight ensemble. Mary Buchignani kept all the boys in line. She was 100% ripped off!

Leading Actor in a Drama

Michael Detroit’s work in Seminar was asshole-and-shoulders above the formidable competition. He owns “overbearing/good-intentioned sleeze-bucket." 

Who got robbed? Ekundayo Bandele, King Hedley II. And probably Michael Ewing in The Seagull.

Direction of a Drama

Rapture, Blister, Burn and Attorney/Joker Part Sign aren’t even nominated, so I don’t much care. I suspect Irene Crist will win for Seminar, which is fine. It was good. But she's  done better work this year.

Who got robbed? In addition to Tony Isbell (RBB) and Alex Skitolsky (A/JPS)? Copenhagen is an incredibly difficult play to stage. Stephen Huff made it sing. 

Best Production of a Drama

This one is hard. I didn’t see All My Sons. Sigh. And given the choice between Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike or The Seagull (both at Playhouse on the Square), I picked The Seagull, which was fantastic, but isn’t nominated. Distance had moments, but it just isn’t done yet and The Heiress had some discernible imperfections. I think this one probably belongs to Seminar.

Who got robbed? For the love of God, somebody call an ambulance because Rapture, Blister, Burn is bleeding here. Also robbed and bleeding? The Seagull. The Seagull is bleeding. {pathetic squawking noise here} 

Copenhagen was up to snuff. - ROBBED!
  • Copenhagen was up to snuff.
Best Original Script/Production

Voices of the South’s Distance will probably win both categories even though it was lean on production values compared to Mountain View and We Live Here. JoLynne Palmer's performance was so strong, and even though he's a Chicago homeowner these days, playwright Jerre Dye remains a local institution.

Who got robbed? The most interesting piece of original theater on any stage this season was Attorney/Joker Part Sign. For most of its 25-years Our Own Voice Theater Troupe has collaborated with Randy Wayne Youngblood, a schizophrenic playwright with a gift for startling imagery. When Youngblood died last year OOVC alum Alex Skitolsky got busy adapting his last completed work, Attorney/Joker Part Sign. A/J was a weird riff on pop culture and identity patched together from pieces of 70's and 80's-era song lyrics, parts of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and bits of the old vampire soap opera Dark Shadows. There was meta-story there too about a community of artists celebrating a special person they loved very much.

But was A/J the best? I don’t know if I always know what "best" means. But it was as ambitious as anything else listed here,  more satisfying than most of the nominees, and unlike any other piece of theater nominated in any other category, it was of, by, and for an identifiable community of artists and consumers. 

And that's about all I've got to say about that. See you all at the Ostranders!

(Brought to you by the good folks at Memphis and ArtsMemphis)

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