Misha Berson and Dusty Somers spent a lot of time in theater seats around Seattle in 2016, and here, they list the people and productions that made them sit up and take notice.
As the curtain rings down on 2016, let’s applaud some highlights of this year’s Seattle theater scene.
There were disappointments, and a noteworthy absence of keen political satire/commentary, but also a spread of worthy productions and performances. And as issues of racial privilege and black-white relations resurged on the national landscape, we saw an unusually numerous and very welcome array of meaningful dramas by African-American playwrights.
Here, freelance theater critics Misha Berson and Dusty Somers highlight 2016’s best and brightest on local stages:
FOOTLIGHT AWARDS (MISHA BERSON)
Best in Show
“Assassins” (ACT Theatre): In a U.S. election year this mordant Stephen Sondheim musical profiling a rogue’s gallery of presidential assassins (and wannabes) felt eerily timely in director John Langs’ riveting revival.
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“A Tale for the Time Being” (Book-It Repertory Theatre): A vividly staged and acted adaptation of Ruth Ozeki’s coming-of-age novel, “a contemplation of war, grief, despair and time, artfully folded like an elegant piece of origami into a wry and hopeful comedy laced with Zen Buddhist wisdom.”
“Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White” (Intiman Theatre): A hidden gem by Alice Childress, set in the segregated South a century ago. It shone in Valerie Curtis-Newton’s staging — capturing the ferocity and tenderness of an interracial couple caught in the crossfire of love and bigotry.
“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” (STG Presents): The National Theatre of Scotland beguiled with “a snowy midwinter bash of spooky tales and Scottish ballads, riotous partying and metaphysical romance.”
“The Royale: A Play in Six Rounds” (ACT): Inspired by the first black heavyweight boxing champ, Jack Johnson, this propulsive, hard-hitting rendition of Marco Ramirez’s drama transcended “autobiographical melodrama to register the Richter-scale impact” of the fighter’s feat.
“Vietgone” (Seattle Repertory Theatre/Oregon Shakespeare Festival): Qui Nguyen’splayful, wrenching romance between guilt-ridden Vietnamese refugees told us a different American story with insight, snappy wit and sexy sizzle.
Ghostlight Theatricals’ “King Kirby,” about a formative Marvel Comics artist; and Annie Baker’s “The Aliens,” an affecting study of a teenager learning life lessons from two loitering misfits (ReAct).
“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (5th Avenue), with a great cast featuring romping Eric Ankrim as a shameless corporate climber.
Roger Guenveur Smith’s deep, roiling solo portrait, “Rodney King” (STG); Pamela Reed as a burned-out-but-caring social worker in the provocative “Luna Gale” (Seattle Repertory Theatre); Suzanne Bouchard as a haunted mother in “Ghosts” (ArtsWest); Darragh Kennan in “The Winter’s Tale” (Seattle Shakespeare Company); and Amy Thone in “My Name is Asher Lev” (New Century Theatre).
Conner Neddersen, who popped up in “Asher Lev,” “Hamlet” (Seattle Shakespeare) and “9 Circles” (Strawberry Theatre Workshop).
Kudos to Seattle’s cadre of superior sound designers, whose work enhanced many a production.
FOOTLIGHT AWARDS (DUSTY SOMERS)
Best in Show
“The Pride” (Theatre22): Two parallel gay love stories, told with exacting emotional control by director Corey McDaniel, and the year’s best acting ensemble.
“Wedding Band”: Love and hate were both deeply felt in Alice Childress’ searing Jim Crow South drama, masterfully orchestrated by director Valerie Curtis-Newton.
“Duels” (amador/stokes): Fresh dirt, fresh vegetables and a fresh take on structural inversion in this absurdist tragedy, a new work by local duo Nick Stokes and José Amador.
“Parade” (Sound Theatre Company): Abilities matched ambition in this impressive staging of a musical that stares deep into America’s dark history of racial violence and bloodlust.
“Caught” (Seattle Public Theater):A clever nesting-doll of a play with delightfully chameleonic performances from Keiko Green and Kevin Lin.
Standout Lead Turns
Pamela Reed, with a delicate display of terse weariness in “Luna Gale”; Trevor Young Marston, whose raw-nerve vulnerability was harrowing in Theatre22’s “The Pride”; Dedra Woods, righteously angry and bitterly resigned in Intiman’s “Wedding Band.”
Memorable Supporting Turns
William Hall Jr., oscillating between memory loss and lucidity in Thalia’s Umbrella production of “Sorry”; Jessica Skerritt, tiptop as Lina Lamont in Village Theatre’s “Singin’ in the Rain”; Adam Standley’s whirling, twirling screw-up Bud Frump in the 5th’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”; Molli Corcoran as a ham actress but talented banterer in Taproot’s “Joyful Noise.”
Nova Payton’s jaw-dropping bluesy belt in the 5th’s “A Night With Janis Joplin”; Sara Porkalob’s take-no-crap diner owner in Village’s “Pump Boys and Dinettes”;Diana Huey’s vocally soaring Ariel in the 5th’s “Little Mermaid”; Jeff Church’s opera-loving widower in Reboot’s “Fly By Night.”
Julia Welch’s unsettling architectural impossibility in WET’s “The Things Are Against Us”; Tim Mackabee’s furniture whirlwind in Seattle Rep’s “Roz and Ray”; Matthew Smucker’s magical and menacing apartment complex in Seattle Children’s Theatre’s “Brooklyn Bridge.”