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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.

Best Artistic Director:

Enrique Carreón-­Robledo

(Opera in the Heights)

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)

The 2012-2013 season saw the relatively small company Opera in the Heights (its home base, Lambert Hall, seats only 300) undertake an ambitious all-Shakespeare season. We can imagine that Artistic Director Enrique Carreón-Robledo, who joined the company in 2011, had an uphill battle convincing first his board of directors and company members and then the public that the rarely performed I Capuleti e I Montecchi by Bellini, a bel canto version of Romeo and Juliet, was preferable to more popular operas such as La Bohème. Or that Otello by Rossini, an almost unrecognizable version of the well-know tragedy Othello, would be more engaging than yet another rendition of Carmen. Luckily he succeeded, and Houston audiences enjoyed every aria and overture. Along with Capuleti and Otello, the season featured Macbeth and Falstaff. Carreón-Robledo, known for his ability to spot talented young singers just before they burst onto the international scene, produced a season of gems.

Finalists: Gregory Boyd at Alley Theatre, Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin at Stark Naked Theatre Company, and Bruce Lumpkin at Theatre Under the Stars.

Best Ensemble:

A Few Good Men

(Alley Theatre)

In A Few Good Men, each character carved out his own identity, but each fit as well into the mosaic that was the world of the military and the specific world of Guantánamo, where the sense of being an intruder on unwelcoming foreign soil hung in the air like the sword of Damocles. Director Gregory Boyd forged a large cast into an exemplary fighting machine, with tension high and deception rampant. The metallic set captured the sense of a Spartan military life, and the closing of the door to a prison cell resonated like something out of Edgar Allen Poe. Boyd allowed moments of passion to emerge as required and achieved the balancing of conflicting arguments from varying value systems, all contained within the rigor of a specific time and a claustrophobic space. It was a marvel of discipline and heart.

Finalists: Clybourne Park (Alley Theatre), Death of a Salesman (Alley Theatre), Fiddler on the Roof (Houston Family Arts Center) and The Nacirema Society (Ensemble Theatre).

Best Gem of a Theater:

Stage Door Inc., Pasadena

Discovering Stage Door Inc. is like finding a ruby in a Cracker Jack box. One wends one's way through a rather plebeian indoor shopping mall, and suddenly, next to Sears, is a glass-door entrance to a palace of brilliant entertainment. One is greeted by actors in full make-up and elaborate costuming, in tune with whatever extravaganza, often a musical, Artistic Director Marc Glover has whipped up. Usually it's a thriller, perennial favorites like Evil Dead or the Rocky Horror Show, or this year's superb Sweeney Todd, in which Stage Door's frequent leading actor, Colton Wright, carved his way into a memorable characterization that grabbed one by the throat (dangerous here) and wouldn't let go. And it's not just thrillers, as Glover found all the charm, sweetness and ribald humor in Avenue Q, and the romantic heart and the outlaw desperation in Rent. The price is modest indeed, the popcorn is just a buck, the sets are brilliant, the acting can be inspirational — and the venue has new and very comfortable seats. In short, Stage Door Inc. is a ­theater-goer's dream.

Best College Theater:

University of Houston

UH's Department of Theatre and Dance brought us not one but two productions of William Shakespeare's As You Like It, one indoors at the university's Wortham Theatre in April and one in July at Miller Outdoor Theatre, the latter in repertory with the bard's Antony and Cleopatra. It opened its season in September with biting insights in Caryl Churchill's satiric Serious Money, skewering the Thatcher era in Britain, followed by an elaborate production of Bertolt Brecht's comedic and epic drama Mother Courage and Her Children. Farcical humor was delivered in spades in Georges Feydeau's Paradise Hotel, while a Hans Christian Andersen fable, The Snow Queen, was staged with some experimental elements. Many of these productions were brilliant, and, where some faltered, the effort and intention remained noble. The award is well earned for distinguished successes, for providing a wealth of theatrical variety and for gracing the Houston theater scene with the UH theater department's towering presence.

Finalist: Rice University

Best Utility Actor/Actress:

David Matranga

He sings, he dances, he acts. No, change that. He acts, he sings, he dances. No, I mean...oh, you get the picture. David Matranga does all three with an abundance of stage presence and tremendous knowhow. Being as handsome as a movie star doesn't hurt, either. He can play anything, from leading man to supporting player (see our Best Supporting Actor category), from contemporary to classical. This season was no exception for this exceptional performer who has a natural gift for improving every play in which he appears. In Jerome Kern's Showboat at HGO, he played Steve, stalwart lover of mulatto Julie, who sucks a drop of her blood to make him, too, part black. As Detective Sergeant Penny in the Alley's Summer Chills' The Hollow, he brought an affable randiness for the housemaid that elicited comfy laughs from the audience. In Stages Repertory Theatre's Dollhouse, Rebecca Gilman's penetrating update of Ibsen's classic, he turned husband Terry into a vengeful control freak, allowing his Nora to be as free as she wants as long as she stays free in their bedroom. Earlier in the season, he abetted another Julie in Classical Theatre Company's Miss Julie as wayward, opportunistic Jean, willing to bed the estate owner's daughter but chillingly unwilling to accept the consequences. And then there was his magnificently emotional Macduff in Stark Naked Theatre's Macbeth, a deftly nuanced performance that anchored Shakespeare in the here and now. Houston theater is proud to call him one of ours.

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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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