Every September for as long as I’ve been writing about local theater, up to about a dozen local theater critics — we collectively call ourselves the Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum — have gathered in Old East Dallas over fried chicken and Playbills to come up with a consensus of the best that appeared on local stages in the preceding 12 months.
But this year has been different. No fried chicken. No stack of programs. No gathering, except via Zoom. And in may respects, no theater on local stages for half of the year. Live indoor plays haven’t been available since mid-March, though theaters have continued to improvise with streaming productions and outdoor shows. There was less content this year.
But that doesn’t mean less impressive. After we hashed out our roster, shows that aired exclusively by stream, shows put on in parking lots and traditional performances all made appearances. Theater finds a way. And we found a way to honor that (some are even still streamable, or will be coming up for a return engagement). Congrats to all of the laureates.
Direction: Kara-Lynn Vaeni, The Children (Stage West) and Noises Off (Theatre 3); James Vasquez, In the Heights (Dallas Theater Center); Susan Sargeant, Two by Beckett: Footfalls/Not I (WingSpan Theatre Co.); Kwame David Lilly and Jeffrey Colangelo, Everything Will Be Fine (Prism Movement Theater); Illana Stein, Hans and Sophie (Amphibian Stage); Tina Parker, a love offering (Kitchen Dog Theater); Marianne Galloway, The Lifespan of a Fact (Stage West); Ashley H. White, Lizzie (Imprint TheatreWorks); Sorany Gutierrez, Villa (Teatro Dallas).
Actor: Bob Hess, I Am My Own Wife (WaterTower Theatre), pictured above, and The Children; Tadeo Martinez, Noises Off; Michael Federico, Noises Off and Romeo & Juliet (Fair Assembly); McClendon “Mickey” Giles, Mlima’s Tale (Second Thought Theatre), pictured right; Christopher Llewyn Ramirez, In the Heights; Bill Bolender, Mrs. Haggardly (Ochre House Theatre); Sean Hudock, Hans and Sophie; Justin Locklear and Nick Leos, The Bippy Bop Boo Show (DGDG/T3); Zander Pryor, Andi Boi (Dallas Children’s Theater).
Actress: Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso, Queen of Basel (Kitchen Dog Theater) and Madame Bovary (Undermain Theatre); Susan Sargeant and Jennifer Kuenzer, Two by Beckett: Not I/Footfalls; Rebekah Brockman, Hans and Sophie; Rhonda Boutte, a love offering; Devin Berg, Lizzie; Jacquai Wade Pearson, Romeo & Juliet; Catherine Whiteman, Dot (Soul Repertory Theatre); Kelsey Milbourn, Everything Will Be Fine, Ada and the Engine (Stage West) and The Thanksgiving Play (Undermain Theatre).
Ensemble: Noises Off; The Children; Everything Will Be Fine; Mrs. Haggardly; In the Heights; Lizzie; Villas; Playwrights in the Newsroom (AT&T Performing Arts Center).
Touring Production: The Band’s Visit (Dallas Summer Musicals and AT&T Performing Arts Center), pictured left; Come from Away (Dallas Summer Musicals); Once on this Island (AT&T Performing Arts Center).
Creative Contributions: Mlima’s Tale for Nigel Newton’s score and musical performance and Mason York’s sound by design; Hans and Sophie, for its design team; Red Chariot (Undermain), for its design team; Swimming While Drowning (Cara Mia Theatre Co.), for Tara Houston’s scenic design; Lizzie, for Rebecca Lowrey’s music direction, the band’s performance and Jessie Wallace’s costume design; Noises Off, for Jeffrey Schmidt’s scenic design; The Children, for Will Turbyne’s scenic design;Villa and Two By Beckett, for Nick Brethauer’s scenic designs.
Special Citations: We also awarded citations of various kinds, to Alabaster, for the primitive artwork created for it; to Prism Movement Theater for returning us to live theater with the car-based Everything Will Be Fine; to Andi Boi for its augmented reality app; to Jeffrey Schmidt for Theatre 3’s creative virtual staging of The Immigrant; to Amphibian Stage for its year-long commitment to serving veterans and families; and to Amy Stevenson, for her enduring commitment to Mama’s Party, even during the pandemic.
Participating Critics: Me; Lindsey Wilson of CultureMap; Manny Mendoza of the Dallas Morning News; Cristee Cook of Dallas Art Beat; and Mark Lowry, Martha Heimberg, Jan Farrington, Janice L. Franklin and Jill Sweeney of TheaterJones.
— Arnold Wayne Jones