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2017 Theater in Review

Angie LaPaglia / KO Rinearson
"Constellations" (left) from Next Stage and Knockdowndragout Productions and West Side Story (right) from Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma.
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It turns out 2017 was a fairly satisfying year in theater. Per usual, no remarkable new work was done here, but theatergoers did see some “new to us.” Of the 50 theatrical productions I saw this year, the outstanding achievements are as follows.

Best Play: Constellations (Next Stage and Knockdowndragout Productions). Granted, this play is more style than substance, but it is the type of provocative, fairly new work we need more of around here.

Best Musical: West Side Story (Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma). It says a lot about our theater when the best musical is a 1957 show. But Lyric’s new production introduced younger theatergoers to this classic and was a refreshing reunion for those who have seen the show many times.

An honorable mention goes to The Producers (Pollard Theatre Company). The staging of this big, brassy show in the small Pollard never felt scaled down. Assassins (Lyric) unquestionably deserves an honorable mention. Strong material, a top-notch cast and a new conception by director Michael Baron made this show a highlight of the year.

Jon Haque gets Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for Laughter on the 23rd Floor (Pollard). In fact, Haque’s performance as comedy writer Ira Stone saved the show. His achievement is more remarkable when you consider the other outstanding performances by actors in leading roles this year, so honorable mentions go to Matthew Alvin Brown (I Am My Own Wife), Todd Clark (Constellations), W. Jerome Stevenson (Fences) and Don Taylor (A Behanding in Spokane).

Emily Etherton pretty much had Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role to herself for Constellations. But her performance in this two-hander would be worthy of laurels anytime. If you missed Etherton and Todd Clark in this play, you really missed something.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role goes to Timothy Stewart for Laughter on the 23rd Floor. As TV-star Max Prince, Stewart may have had more lines and stage time than Best Actor Haque, so the hair-splitting between their performances is done here at the molecular level. David Burkhart gets honorable mention for A Behanding in Spokane. He’s an actor I’d like to see on stage more often.

Rodney Brazil earns the award for Best Direction of a Play for Constellations. His spare staging in the IAO Gallery was a tutorial on how to do theater in a non-traditional setting. And his outstanding work with the actors on this script fraught with emotional twists garners special recognition.

Matthew Sipress gets Best Direction of a Musical for The Producers (Pollard). Sipress has the extraordinary ability to stage big shows in limited settings without making them seem lessened. Actually, Sipress’s fresh approach to musicals often reveals something new about them. Theatergoers hope to see more of his work next year.

Best Valedictory Performances go to Matthew Alvin Brown and Renee Anderson for what likely was their last Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Pollard). Brown has done this show in several productions since 2002 and with Anderson for the past seven years. If this is their last Hedwig, they’ve gone out on the highest of notes.

The award for "Best What the Heck Was That?" goes to Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s Mr. Burns, a post-electric play. City Rep wasn’t taking much of a risk with this strange 2014 play. It’s been staged in several productions around the country and is a proven product. But this is the type of challenging work theatergoers want from City Rep. The first act included a sound effect that could have been distant thunder or bombs. The ambiguity had to be intentional.

If theater companies and artists set 2017 as a baseline and strive to move up from there in quality productions of worthy scripts, they could make 2018 one of our best years, theatrically speaking, in a long time. With it being the second year of the Trump administration, we’ll need all the reactionary comedy and drama we can get.

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Larry Laneer

Larry Laneer has reviewed theater for...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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