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The 2013 Houston Theater Awards: Celebrating the Best in Local Theater

An exceptional year brings new work and performances center stage.

Spoiler alert! I want that robe — that great swath of a morning coat worn by Jay Sullivan as Russian Prince Starloff. Wondrously over-the-top and shimmering in what looked like the toniest of rich red and yellow brocaded sunbursts, the dressing gown flared out like a cathedral bell. Rich, sumptuous and slightly peculiar, the design was just what the Prince would turn out to be. Vietti, an Alley veteran, knows how to command attention with the perfect look for each character. He gets at their hidden history with cut, pattern and stitch. Holmes was dressed in odd aubergine with open-neck shirt and patterned vest, a colorful Victorian adventurer; the ancient Mr. Richards, in a wheelchair, was arrayed in inky black velvet smoking jacket; Christiane, the lady in distress — so we think — was a pastel eyeful of swirling lace and tightly corseted satin. Her hats alone, swooping with ostrich and egret, were worth the price of admission. If clothes make the man, then Vietti, the constant pro, makes the play. Wearing his sublime apparel, the theatrical world of Victorian gaslight blazed with sartorial rightness.

Finalists: Tricia Barsamian for The Hollow (Alley Theatre), Colton Berry for The Wild Party (Bayou City Theatrics), Margaret Crowley for Henry V (Main Street Theater), Carl Friedrich Oberle for Don Giovanni (Houston Grand Opera) and Macy Perrone for The Nacirema Society (Ensemble Theatre) and Tartuffe (Rice University).

Best Set Design:

Best actor:
Jay Sullivan in The Elephant Man (Alley Theatre)
Best actor: Jay Sullivan in The Elephant Man (Alley Theatre)
Best director:
Guy Roberts for Henry V
(Main Street Theater)
Best director: Guy Roberts for Henry V (Main Street Theater)

Kevin Rigdon for Clybourne Park

(Alley Theatre)

The set for Clybourne Park was limited to a single living room, but the lack of variety in locale didn't stop Kevin Rigdon from making it an intricate and revealing piece of the show. Seen in the first act in 1959 and in the second, 50 years later, the set started off as a rather sedate, ordinary backdrop for a normal middle-class family. But there isn't anything sedate or ordinary about the people who lived there, and the set reflected that in a dozen subtle ways. The chaos of packing for a move, with nothing where it should be, mirrored the fact that the family members were also desperately out of place. In the second act, the room was empty save for a few pieces of trash that littered the floor. The walls were covered in graffiti, the staircase broken. Neighbors were meeting with the new owners, urging them to respect the home's original dignity, its architectural legacy. It was an uneasy exchange made all the more painful by the room's lack of physical comfort.

Finalists: Marc Anthony Grover for Sweeney Todd (Stage Door Inc.), Ryan McGettigan for Boom (Black Lab Theatre) and Ubu Roi (Classical Theatre Company), Matthew Schlief for Tartuffe (Rice University) and James V. Thomas for The Nacirema Society (Ensemble Theatre)

Best Lighting:

Duane Schuler for Don Giovanni

(Houston Grand Opera)

Although this Göran Järvefelt production debuted at HGO in 1986, the radiant Mozart masterpiece seemed as evergreen as ever thanks to the Baroque elegance of its unit set as lit by master designer Duane Schuler. It was a theatrical Spain like no other as Schuler seduced our eye with the opera's midnight alleyways of Seville, torchlit and angular; a countryside al fresco wedding, caressed and warmed by the afternoon sun; a spooky cemetery, all shadows and silhouettes; nighttime castle gardens, fit for seduction; and ultimately, the fiery demise of legendary womanizer Don Juan as he was dragged into the pits of hell — hot and red, of course. Because of Schuler's immaculately evocative lighting, each place came alive as if it were another character in this rich work. It was so good that Mozart, had he seen it, would've written an aria to honor it.

Finalists: Tyler Frazier for The Wild Party (Bayou City Theatrics) and Kirk Markley for Language Archives (Stages Repertory Theatre)

Best Director:

Guy Roberts for Henry V (Main Street Theater)

Working between sight-blocking poles that hold up the Main Street Theater building, extending his actors and their performances several rows upwards into the audience, and presenting plays that often aren't the first choice of modern audiences (outside of Shakespeare festivals), actor/director Guy Roberts has been able to make the most of his material and the performers he works with. Houston audiences have responded as well, showing up in force this year for Shakespeare's battlefield story (whose run was extended because of demand), and this time, they didn't see the whitewashed version but the one that showed the king with warts and all. The action moved almost seamlessly from battlefields to English and French courts, and sitting on the edge of their seats, audience members didn't want to miss an action or a line. Once more into the breech ­indeed.

Finalists: Illich Guardiola for Fiddler on the Roof (Houston Family Arts Center), Eva ­Laporte for Dollhouse (Stages Repertory ­Theatre), Eileen Morris for Race (Ensemble Theatre) and Jason Nodler for Waiting for ­Godot (Catastrophic Theatre).

Best Sound Design:

Jim Allman and Ananka Kohnitz for

Dracula (Theatre Southwest)

Did you ever hear the howl of a werewolf? Or the wild wind whipping through the Carpathian Mountains? Crashing waves and whispery Gregorian chant can be easily conjured, but what about fog? I swear I heard the sound of fog at Theatre Southwest, since the overall design by Jim Allman and director Ananka ­Kohnitz was so eerie and competently wrought. Steven Dietz's melodramatic adaptation of Bram Stoker's 1897 neo-gothic shocker was greatly enhanced by this aural magic. Seamlessly woven into the drama as if it had all been spun by the cleverest of spiders, the sound became one with the story. With bloodsuckers lurking around every parapet, the tale of vampires on the prowl took on the deepest of hues — the color of blood, maybe? Or, better, its sound?

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3 comments
Ryan Cope
Ryan Cope

That photo… That was an awesome awesome play.

slumpville
slumpville

I would love to see a category or even categories for new work next time around. I am really surprised Tiffany Fuller wasn't nominated for costume design for last year's Panto at Stages. It was one of the most amazing costume designs I have ever seen. I was also surprised that John Dunn wasn't nominated for his role in Chinglish with Black Lab Theater. He learned Chinese for the role and gave an amazing performance.

 
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