Theater News

Twelve Memorable Men (and Women)

TheaterMania looks back at a dozen award-worthy performances of the past season.

Joel Hatch and Cyrilla Baerin Adding Machine
(© Carol Rosegg)
Joel Hatch and Cyrilla Baer
in Adding Machine
(© Carol Rosegg)

With the 2007-2008 season behind us, TheaterMania decided the time has come to recognize some excellent performers who were overlooked by various awards-giving organizations for their contributions. So editor-in-chief Brian Scott Lipton, managing editor Dan Bacalzo, and chief critic David Finkle have each chosen four performers to honor for their first-rate work.

In the opening scene of the musical Adding Machine, Cyrilla Baer‘s Mrs. Zero launches full throttle into a strident, nagging screed against her husband. Her notes are partly sung, partly screeched, and perfectly establish not only her character, but the tone of the entire show. There’s also a lovely moment later in the musical, when Mr. Zero is in jail, where she momentarily softens and there’s hope for a tender reconciliation between the couple. Baer handles each and every shift of emotion and intention with aplomb within this excellent (and soon to close) Off-Broadway tuner. — DB

In just two seconds of “imitating” Maria Callas in a pivotal moment in Passing Strange, Colman Domingo gives a master class in losing himself in a character, transforming from a gay black minister’s son into the legendary opera diva. Throughout this groundbreaking Broadway musical, Domingo presto-changos into a multitude of roles. If none are as touching as the aforementioned and clearly unhappy Mr. Franklin, the powerful actor is equally memorable as the terrifying German performance artist Mr. Venus. Here’s to an out-of-this-world actor!

The Flea Theater’s resident acting company, The Bats, offers a great opportunity for young, non-Equity actors to work with seasoned professionals. In Adam Rapp’s Bingo With the Indians, the terrific Evan Enderle was particularly good as a lonely 19-year-old looking for approval and acceptance from a group of New York actors. Enderle delivered the sort of raw, heartbreaking performance — one that stripped him both physically and emotionally — that makes him a talent to watch. — DB

Making her Off-Broadway debut in the Vineyard Theater’s quirky musical, The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island, Jody Flader brought a laid-back yet vibrant presence to the leading role of GinGin. Her solo — appropriately called “GinGin’s Song” — was absolutely delightful, as the character demonstrated her bemused affection for her matchmaking father while simultaneously establishing her own personality and tastes. Throughout the piece, Flader’s movements and vocal intonations had a stylized quality that nevertheless seemed perfectly natural. — DB

Hallie Foote and Elizabeth Ashley in Dividing the Estate
(© James Leynse)
Hallie Foote and Elizabeth Ashley
in Dividing the Estate
(© James Leynse)

What would appear to be Hallie Foote‘s greatest asset also qualifies as her big detriment — being Horton Foote’s daughter. Since the prolific playwright often fictionalizes aspects of his own family history, Hallie is, by dint of DNA, an obvious interpreter of her father’s work. But as she proved with her brilliant turn as Mary Jo, the venal daughter scheming for family money in Dividing the Estate — an assignment she’ll repeat when the play comes to Broadway this season — nepotism really has nothing to do with her casting. Being this good does! — DF

Roderick Hill has shone in plays both large (Butley, Lestat) and small (The Irish Curse), but never as brightly as in the title role of the Mint Theater’s sparkling revival of St. John Hankin’s The Return of the Prodigal last summer. Making the disreputable, even vaguely unsympathetic (if ultimately sensible) Eustace Jackson simultaneously likeable and louche is a task few actors could pull off, and even fewer could do it with Hill’s natural grace. — BSL

Pulling an audience’s attention from Cheyenne Jackson’s thighs — not to mention Kerry Butler’s singing and Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman’s peerless comic chops — is one tall order; but it’s one Curtis Holbrook filled in Xanadu with admirable finesse. (He’s currently playing Jackson’s lead role of Sonny during the actor’s Damn Yankees stint.) Whether vigorously dancing around the stage in a mini-skirt and roller skates — something most people might only try at home — or showing off his amazing tap-dancing skills in his solo as Young Danny, Holbrook was the living definition of stage magic. — BSL

Because Marin Ireland shows up so often every season, one assumes she’s got to be at the top of every local casting director’s A-list. And why shouldn’t she be? One of her biggest pluses is that from role to role she can be glamorous or plain, tough or soft, smart or limited, sympathetic or threatening — sometimes even in the same play. As Laura, one of the troubled lesbians in The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, the versatile actress once again connected with a cut-to-the-bone, unforgettable portrayal.
— DF

Lynn Redgrave and Oscar Isaac in Grace
(© Joan Marcus)
Lynn Redgrave and Oscar Isaac in Grace
(© Joan Marcus)

Anyone working on a stage where Lynn Redgrave holds forth has his work cut out for him. In Grace, however, Oscar Isaac more than held his own as the son countermanding his atheist mother’s beliefs by announcing he’s decided to quit his law career and become an Episcopalian priest. The actor, who was also a street-rough Romeo in Central Park last summer to Lauren Ambrose’s inspired Juliet — combines a solid physical presence on stage with fiery intelligence and a dash of humor. No wonder Hollywood has already come calling; here’s praying he’s not permanently seduced by her siren call. — DF

Peter Scanavino gave one of the year’s most outstanding performances in Rainbow Kiss, Simon Farquhar’s study of a man falling apart as a result of terminal loneliness. Often a character like disintegrating single father Keith is a one-note affair, but Scanavino lent remarkably imaginative nuances to the man. The actor has put together an impressive roster of performances over the last few years, perhaps most notably as the homosexual pick-up in Conor McPherson’s Shining City, but none compares to the sterling quality of this career-making entry. — DF

As troubled teen Diwata in Stephen Karam’s super-smart Speech & Debate, which inaugurated the Roundabout Underground series, Sarah Steele more than lived up to her last name. Not only did she give her admittedly annoying yet lovable character an almost superhuman focus on her singular goal, but she was caught stealing scene after scene from her extremely talented co-stars, Gideon Glick and Jason Fuchs. Diwata may have been an aspiring actress, but all Steele needs to aspire to now is superstardom. — BSL

In the late John Belluso’s final play, The Poor Itch, Christopher Thornton gave a dynamic and volatile performance as Ian, an Iraq War veteran who not only has to adjust to losing the use of his legs, but must deal with the emotional trauma and guilt he carries for what he did overseas. Ian is in turns violent, self-hating, pitiable, and sympathetic. Offstage, Thornton’s own disability requires him to use a wheelchair, and his facility in handling one in the show provided an added level of authenticity to his complex characterization. — DB