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.

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Olivia Flores Alvarez
D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover
Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing