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

From the dank Transylvanian halls of castle Dracula to a mythic fiddler on the roof, Houston's 2012-2013 theater season astounded. The breadth of talent rivaled any ­theater scene anywhere — and I mean anywhere! — with each subsequent week of the season bringing a stage full of exciting new surprises. Some dear friends disappeared, but others stepped up to take their place.

Retirement, burnout or the wrecking ball can do immense damage, but nothing can, nor ever will, replace the intoxication of live entertainment. Theater marches on. For all of us who revel in Houston theater and know its wonders, the 2012-2013 season was, if nothing else, exceptional. Our job to reward excellence for the 2nd Annual Houston Theater Awards did not get easier. There's such a surfeit of quality work from which to choose the nominees. We listened to our readers and debated heatedly, relishing the chance to relive the season. We at the Houston Press salute all who shine so brightly. You make our work a pleasure. Here's to you, and here's to abiding Houston theater. — D.L. Groover

Editor's note: The following assessments were reached after considering community input and our own attendance at Houston theater offerings and were written by Houston Press theater critics D.L. Groover and Jim Tommaney, Night and Day Editor Olivia Flores Alvarez and Editor in Chief Margaret Downing. Finalists are listed in alphabetical order.

Best Play/Production:

God of Carnage

(Stark Naked Theatre Company)

What's better in the theater than adults behaving badly? How about four of them? And what if the two married couples who seem normal and under control swiftly descend into the most uncivil, screamingly funny behavior? In Stark Naked Theatre's sterling production of Yasmina Reza's Tony Award winner, the laughs and the barbarity didn't just come in waves, they spewed. Scratch these yuppies and you discovered a jungle heart of darkness. This was the fastest one and a half hours onstage, a nonstop, in-your-face comedy that didn't blink and got more outrageous by the minute. Six Flags' cyclone is tame by comparison. Amid Jodi Bobrovsky's sleek set design of African prints and primitive art, these so-called adults corkscrewed downward, overlapping like an M.C. Escher drawing. Outrageous, swinish behavior doesn't get any funnier than when actors Kim Tobin, Drake Simpson, Kay Allmand and John Gremillion, under Justin Doran's meticulously fluid direction, galloped full speed ahead and trampled all in their path. This was an R-rated Punch and Judy show. As in war, alliances merged, changed sides or stood stubbornly apart, hoping the hastily dug foxholes would protect them. If you ever thought civility and good manners could save our world, Reza's comedy, realized through Stark Naked's wondrous clarity, slapped that thought right out of your head.

Finalists: Boom (Black Lab Theatre), ­Clybourne Park (Alley Theatre) and Henry V (Main Street Theater).

Best Musical:

Fiddler on the Roof

(Houston Family Arts Center)

HFAC used the huge stage of the Berry Center to capture the sweep of this epic musical work. The setting is Anetevka, a small Russian village in 1905, where we learn to love the family of Tevye, his wife and his five daughters, but also to love the village itself. With a wonderful cast of 64 headed by Jeffrey Baldwin as Tevye, the production captured the humanity, and the love, sometimes contentious, that infused the community. Baldwin brought excitement to his role and a wonderful voice, and his characterization was flawless, whether he was negotiating with a tradesperson, his wife, his daughters or with God. Excellent sound, haunting lighting, enthusiastic choreography and compelling performances even in minor roles blended together to make this a truly remarkable musical triumph.

Finalists: Road Show (Stages Repertory Theatre), Sweeney Todd (Generations, a Theatre Company) and Sweeney Todd (Stage Door Inc.)

Best Actor:

Jay Sullivan in The Elephant Man

(Alley Theatre)

Strapping, handsome and near naked, actor Jay Sullivan stood sculpted under the white-hot light of a medical school lecture hall. His immense and gruesome physical deformities, like some sort of human nightmare, were described in scientific, unemotional detail. As each more horrible particular was mentioned — gargantuan, lumpy head; bony growths; pendulous flesh; finlike hand; misshapen, useless leg; a face incapable of showing emotion — Sullivan obliged. His head tilted off-kilter, too heavy to hold upright; one shoulder rose; his arm withered; his hip turned inward; his foot bent backward; his back went crooked. In a most magical coup de théâtre, frightening in its simplicity, Joseph Merrick, the infamous "Elephant Man," stood before us. Period photographs of Merrick's actual body were projected on the background, but what we reacted to was Sullivan's beauty transformed. Throughout the play, we never forgot those dreadful images of the real Merrick, but we lost our hearts because of the sublime transmutation from Sullivan. When Merrick spoke, Sullivan emitted a tiny bark beforehand, as if the very act were painful and ill-formed. His face a mask, Merrick couldn't relax; he could barely move. But inside, Sullivan sang. You know what they say about judging a book by its cover. Merrick's sad life is depicted in fascinating detail in Bernard Pomerance's 1979 Tony Award winner, but in his incandescent performance, Sullivan made each episode burst into flame, and us into tears.

Finalists: Jeffrey Bean in Clyborne Park (Alley Theatre), Greg Dean in Waiting for Godot (Catastrophic Theatre), Phillip Lehl in Macbeth (Stark Naked Theatre Company), Benjamin Reed in As You Like It (University of Houston's Houston Shakespeare Festival), Guy Roberts in Henry V (Main Street Theater/Prague Shakespeare Festival) and Colton Wright in Sweeney Todd (Stage Door Inc.).

Best Actress:

Detria Ward in The Nacirema ­Society

(Ensemble Theatre)

Detria Ward channeled a bit of Rosalind Russell from Auntie Mame for her performance as matriarch Grace Dunbar in the romantic comedy The Nacirema Society at The Ensemble Theatre, but just a tiny bit. Echoes of Russell's statuesque elegance were obvious, but Grace's steel-rod backbone and gritty resolve to make the world around her as genteel as possible — even if she had to connive and conspire with hilarious results to do it — were all Ward. It would have been easy to let Grace, a member of Montgomery, Alabama's African-American upper class during the civil rights era, become a caricature. After all, Grace made manipulation into an art form and spent her time happily imposing her formidable will on everyone around her. But Ward dug deeper. In her skilled hands, Grace became a three-dimensional woman with understandable reasons for her excessive — and comical — need for control. And the epiphany she had at the play's climax became more than just a device to move the action along; Grace grew.

Finalists: Danica Dawn Johnston in Wild Party (Bayou City Theatrics), Rachel Logue in Dollhouse (Stages Repertory Theatre) and Kim Tobin in God of Carnage (Stark Naked Theatre Company).

Best Supporting Actor:

David Matranga in ­Macbeth

(Stark Naked Theatre Company)

Winning the role of Macduff in Macbeth was just the first hurdle for David Matranga. Then he was faced with the task of breathing life into a complex and important character who spent only a relatively short amount of time onstage. Calling on his training, skill, talent, intelligence and not a little bit of instinct, Matranga did so brilliantly. In one crucial scene, Macduff learns that his wife and children have been killed on Macbeth's orders. Matranga underplayed the character's anguish beautifully, letting the audience feel Macduff's pain through his silence rather than by relying on tears or other physical signs of agony. There is a definite arc to Macduff, who goes from being a loyal and faithful follower of the king to being a ruthless avenger, reckless in his efforts to retaliate. Matranga had just a few scenes to show audiences each step in Macduff's improbable path. That was all he needed.

Finalists: Zach Averyt in I Capuleti e I Montecchi (Opera in the Heights), Ty Doran in Kimberly Akimbo (Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company), John Gremillion in God of Carnage (Stark Naked Theatre Company), Matt Lents in Body Awareness (Stark Naked Theatre Company) and Drake Simpson in Body Awareness/God of Carnage (Stark Naked Theatre ­Company).

Best Supporting Actress:

Josie de Guzman in The Hollow

(Alley Theatre)

Talk about someone going for it. Josie de Guzman was the brightest spot in the Alley Theatre's production of Agatha Christie's The Hollow. All eyes were on her as Lucy, the dotty Lady Angkatell, anytime she walked across the stage. Despite absentmindly misplacing things as well as forgetting why she'd entered a room, Lady Angkatell was a good judge of character and events and de Guzman made the most of the clever lines she was given. De Guzman threw herself into the role — not in a campy way, but in total belief in her character and what she was doing. As a result, she was the most believable actor onstage and rendered her part a triumph.

Finalists: Joyce Anastasia in The Nacirema ­Society (Ensemble Theatre), Elizabeth Bunch in Elephant Man (Alley Theatre) and Judy Frow in Company (Texas Repertory Theatre).

Best Breakthrough:

Kenn McLaughlin

(Stages Repertory Theatre)

Producing Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin took on a different kind of role when he acted the part of Martin Luther in David Davalos's seriocomic play Wittenberg. As one of two professors — the other being hedonist Doctor Faustus — vying for the heart, mind and soul of Prince Hamlet (Ryan Schabach) at Wittenberg University, McLaughlin played the moral leader with the requisite amount of religious fervor and justification, but with nuance as well. He might not approve of Faustus, but they were friends even in competition. McLaughlin hadn't planned to act in the play, but volunteered to read the Martin Luther part during auditions. Director Josh Morrison says the pairing of McLaughlin with Luis Galindo's Faustus clicked immediately and a star was born. "Louie is such a powerful actor, in order for the play to work, I needed to have someone who goes head to head with him," Morrison says. Speaking of heads, McLaughlin went all in for the role, getting his hair shaved in semi-tonsure, which certainly must have attracted attention when he went out into the streets, leaving behind his stage persona.

Finalist: Into the Woods (Bayou City ­Theatrics)

Best Costumes:

Alejo Vietti for Sherlock Holmes and the ­Adventure of the Suicide Club

(­Alley Theatre)

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:

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?

Finalist: Tim Thomson for Ravenscroft (­Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company)

Best Visiting Production/Touring Show: Peter Pan (Theatre Under the Stars)

Cathy Rigby was there not only to soar over the crowd but, thanks to new mechanical devices, to do the kind of flips and twirls that called on her gymnastic skills and delighted the audience. That she was doing it as she turned 60 years old only added to the timelessness of this rejuvenated musical version of J.M. Barrie's tale of the boy who would not grow up. With Brent Barrett as a tony, almost sexy Hook and an exasperated Mr. Darling, and a ­Vegas-inspired Tiger Lily (Jenna Wright) surrounded by Cirque du Soleil-like Indians, the show moved quickly along, never dull, often ­adventure-filled and poignant. Great songs like "Tender Shepherd," "I've Gotta Crow," "Flying" "I Won't Grow Up" and "Never Never Land" retain their enduring appeal. And when audience members clapped their hands, it wasn't just to save Tinker Bell.

Finalists: A Chorus Line (Theater Under the Stars), Jersey Boys (Gexa Energy Broadway at the Hobby Center) and Spamalot (Theater Under the Stars)

Best Honorary Houstonian:

Guy Roberts (Prague Shakespeare

Company and Main Street Theater)

Guy Roberts says he has been approached countless times after a Shakespeare play in which he's performed and/or acted and been thanked by audience members for finally making William Shakespeare's work understandable. "I never change a word," he says with a grin. The Texas actor, who fell in love with Prague and started an English-language Shakespeare theater company there, has paired well in repeated visits to Houston with Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden's Main Street Theater. After last year's Richard III (and appearing in Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia triology), Roberts returned this year with a Henry V complete with taiko drums and bloody battle scenes. Directing and playing the lead role, he once again produced compelling, exciting theater. The bad news is that he's not due back till February 2014, when he is bringing a production of Macbeth to Main Street Theater.

Finalists: Writer/actor Stephan Fales (Confessions of a Mormon Boy, Missionary Position at Theater LaB Houston) and visiting director Gus Kaikkonen (Paradise Hotel, The Crucible, Wild Oats at the University of Houston).

Best New Theater Company:

Bayou City ­Theatrics

An incredible and dynamic first season in a variety of venues and under the artistic direction of Colton Berry brought us delight after delight. On Halloween week, the nightclub Vue served up The Rocky Horror Show with Tye Blue lighting up the stage in heels and fishnet stockings. New Year's Eve had a one-night performance of Rent at the Stag's Head Pub, followed in January with two weeks of Into the Woods, with its huge cast and intriguing sets successfully shoehorned into the Midtown Art Center's intimate venue. We met Audrey, the carnivore plant in Little Shop of Horrors, for two weeks in February and March at Frenetic Theater. In May we were given two weeks of Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida, this time at the Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex, and Bayou City Theatrics returned there for a two-week run of a rarely produced musical, Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, with a powerful and haunting performance by Danica Dawn Johnston as Queenie.

Best Choreography for a Musical:

Luke Hamilton for Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof creates a sense of family, but equally important is its creation of a community, one struggling with conflicts, rivalries and an ever-present threat of oppression while revered traditions butt head-on with innovative expressions of freedom. The gifted choreography of Luke Hamilton captured this sense of community as the stage filled with lovers courting or villagers celebrating an event. The colorful costumes by Lisa Garza swirled in peasant arabesques, and even in scenes of conflict, the movements were graceful and compelling. The vitality of the good-at-heart emerged in triumphant sweeps, and the ­fiddler himself leaped from rooftop to center stage to join in the ebullience. And "If I Were a Rich Man" combined a star turn with backup dancers in a delightful blend. With a talented cast of 64, Luke Hamilton had his hands full and succeeded brilliantly where a lesser choreographer might have ­faltered.

Finalist: Mitzi Hamilton for A Chorus Line (Theatre Under the Stars)

Saddest Theater News:

The Closing of ­Theater LaB

We knew it had to come eventually to 1706 Alamo, intimate home to Gerry LaBita's Theater LaB Houston. We just weren't prepared for the heartache and the void. The property has been sold, leaving scrappy, innovative TLH scrambling for a home. We've spent countless evenings at the tiny venue on Alamo, almost bumping our head on the lighting grid hanging from the low ceiling, never knowing what wonders LaBita would present. As one of Bayou City's most impressive impresarios — our own theatrical Diaghilev — LaBita showcased the most memorable of new works, golden nuggets he found on his many trips abroad or in New York City. He mined theater's underground and came up with surprising treasures, turning the cramped 65-seat house into the Hippodrome. With its adult fare — musicals, dramas, monologues, revues — TLH consistently sold out, ran in the black for 19 years (an unprecedented record) and presented more than 120 Houston premieres. Just a cursory inventory reveals the depth of its vision: My Children! My Africa!; The Kathy & Mo Show; Assassins and Passion; Box Office of the Damned; Eating Raoul; Shopping & Fucking; My Queer Body; Die! Mommy! Die!; The Tale of the Allergist's Wife; Kiki and Herb; Spymonkey's Stiff; Killer Joe; Top Gun! The Musical; Mrs. Farnsworth; Fat Pig; China: The Whole Enchilada; The Little Dog Laughed; Confessions of a Mormon Boy; and, lest we forget, Debbie Does Dallas. There was definitely something for everybody at 1706 Alamo. Once you saw a show at TheaterLaB, you never forgot it. Provocative and edgy as a razor, Theater LaB was the best of the best. It will be sorely missed. Please reappear soon.

Best Artistic Director:

Enrique Carreón-­Robledo

(Opera in the Heights)

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.

Finalists: Jeffrey Bean (Alley Theatre) and Drake Simpson (Horse Head Theatre Co. and Stark Naked Theatre Company).

Best Season:

The Ensemble Theatre

Putting together a cohesive season is an arduous task. It takes the right mix of new and old, daring and safe, comical and dramatic. Organizers have to consider the whims of their public, the range of their actors, the size of their bank account and even the choices of their competitors. This year the Ensemble Theatre scored on all accounts. Pearl Cleage's riotous comedy The Nacirema Society delivered a poignant message wrapped in a punch line. Its large, mostly female cast was a finely tuned ensemble. The show also continued the Ensemble's tradition of bringing new works to Houston. Next was the family musical Cinderella, a much-needed alternative to the seemingly endless Christmas-themed productions. That was followed by Charles Smith's Knock Me a Kiss, a smart show that deftly explored an episode in the life of W.E.B. Du Bois and his family. Then it was Nathan Louis Jackson's family drama Broke-ology and David Mamet's provocative Race, before the season ended with the jukebox musical From My Hometown by Lee Summers, Ty Stephens and Herbert Rawlings Jr.

Finalists: Alley Theatre, Stages Repertory Theatre and Stark Naked Theatre Company.

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