Tucson theater this year has brought us to the brink of suicide (Invisible Theatre's "An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf"), the Vietnam War (Beowulf Alley Theatre's "Piece of My Heart"), and to pure evil (Iago in Rogue Theatre's production of "Othello").
It also brought us endless laughs (think Arizona Onstage's "Trailer Park Musical"), campy creepiness (Arizona Repertory Theatre's "Dracula"), and twice to Putnam County for a middle school spelling bee ("The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," courtesy of Arizona Repertory and Arizona Onstage).
How lucky are we? Tucson's vibrant, thrilling theater community isn't shy about presenting new works and classic ones, tragedies and comedies, musicals and straight plays. Directors, actors and scenic, costume and lighting designers all work tirelessly - many for little or no money - so that we can be entertained and provoked.
Ten years ago, we started handing out annual Mac Awards - named for the late Mary MacMurtrie, who with her Tucson Children's Theatre spent much of the last century turning Tucson children into actors, directors, stage technicians and audiences who appreciate courage, honesty and intent as well as excellence. That is exactly what we present the awards for - courage, honesty, intent and excellence.
This year's Mac awards:
Best Actor, Drama
Nathan Crocker was so strong in the title role of The Rogue's "Othello" that you almost forgot to pay attention to the manipulative Iago, who is often a scene stealer in this Shakespeare play.
Art Almquist gave you the creeps and broke your heart in the disturbing "Blackbird," staged by Beowulf Alley Theatre.
In another Beowulf production, "Shining City," David Greenwood had a mammoth job as John, a nonstop talker with a lot of problems. He handled it with grace and a flawless Irish brogue.
But it was University of Arizona student Connor Kesserling who wowed us the most with his fly-eating, brilliantly wacky Renfield in Arizona Repertory Theatre's production of "Dracula." Kesserling's Renfield was oily and quick and had a wicked sense of humor. The actor was electrifying; he gets the Mac for Best Actor in a Drama.
Best Actress, Drama
Veronica del Cerro was spellbinding as the young border crosser and storyteller in Borderlands Theater's "Arizona: No Roosters in the Desert."
Cynthia Meier gave heart and deep feeling to her Mrs. Alving in The Rogue's production of "Ghosts."
Barbra Wengerd's frail Laura in Arizona Theatre Company's "The Glass Menagerie" was heart-wrenching.
Elizabeth Leadon-Sonnenfelt nailed the difficult, complex character in Beowulf's "Blackbird." She was riveting, and she takes the Mac.
Best Director, Drama
Director Lou Bellamy shaped a powerful "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" at Arizona Theatre Company.
Juliette Carrillo showed courage and imagination in her direction of ATC's "The Glass Menagerie."
Cynthia Meier tackled a play rich with Indian symbolism and fables in "Naga Mandala (Play With a Cobra)" at The Rogue Theatre.
Henrik Ibsen's "Ghosts" at the Rogue was directed with clarity and tension by David Morden.
David Harrower's "Blackbird" needs a director with a sensitive touch and a keen intelligence to make the provocative piece palpable and moving. Laura Lippman did just that.
For her work and her courage on this difficult piece, she snags the Mac.
The Rogue's production of Ibsen's "Ghosts" reminded us of how powerful - and relevant - the playwright can be.
The Rogue also brought us Girish Karnad's "Naga Mandala (Play With a Cobra)," an exhilarating production that shimmered with joy, exuberance and storytelling.
Arizona Theatre Company's production of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" was riveting, as was "The Glass Menagerie," which was given a fresh and exciting interpretation.
Beowulf's thoughtful production of Harrower's "Blackbird" was a powerful, provocative piece of theater. It was proof that stellar theater doesn't necessarily need big bucks to make a big impact. It takes the Mac for Best Drama.
Best Actor, Comedy
Nic Adams and Lucas Gonzales took an acerbic piece of fluff by George Bernard Shaw and turned it into a delight in Rogue After Curfew/The Now Theatre's production of "Overruled."
Matt Bowdren and John Shartzer were intense and funny and very good in The Rogue Theatre's production of Itamar Moses' nonlinear comedy, "The Four of Us."
Brad Kula showed a flair for physical comedy and fine timing in Invisible Theatre's production of "An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf."
From the moment Keith Wick walked on the stage in Live Theatre Workshop's production of "Don't Dress for Dinner," you knew you were in for a treat. His frenzied character in the Marc Camoletti farce was over-the-top delicious. For whipping us into a belly-aching tizzy, we give Wick the Mac for Best Actor in a Comedy.
Best Actress, Comedy
Maxine Gillespie and Rhonda Hallquist were memorable in Live Theatre Workshop's production of "Clean House" - a play we aren't sure should be a comedy, but their performances were very funny.
Jennifer Rose Hijazi was a stuffy philanderer in the very funny "Overruled," a Rogue After Curfew/The Now Theatre production.
Kristi Loera took David Sedaris' "Seasons Greetings to Our Friends and Family" and ran with it, making the dark comedy at Live Theatre a shocking treat.
Danielle Hecht's sense of comedic timing and terrific physical comedy helped make "Overruled" a laugh-fest. She takes the Mac for her fine work in the The Rogue After Curfew/The Now Theatre production.
Best Director, Comedy
Christopher Johnson is proving to be quite a gifted director. He shaped "Robots vs. Fake Robots" and "Killer Joe" at Etcetera, the late-night arm of Live Theatre Workshop, and both comedies were over-the-top hoots.
Chris Wilken returned to the theater after a long absence with his direction of Live Theatre's "Cloud Nine." The production made it clear that he still has the touch.
University of Arizona student Daniel Thomson tackled his first directorial job with George Bernard Shaw's "Overruled." He did a spirited job with the one-act comedy.
Cynthia Meier's turn with The Rogue's "The Four of Us," a complex two-character comedy, showed a keen hand and a playful touch.
But it is Samantha K. Wyer's direction with Invisible Theatre's "An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf" that wins the Mac. The story of a man who has decided to starve himself in the best restaurant in the world sang with comedy without ever losing its pathos.
"Don't Dress for Dinner" at Live Theatre Workshop was a stitch, made even more so by the work of actor Keith Wick.
Rogue After Curfew/The Now Theatre's production of "Overruled" was an energetic and ridiculously fun hoot.
Rogue's "The Four of Us" was a delicious look at jealousy and friendship.
Invisible Theatre's "An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf" made us laugh in spite of the central theme - suicide by starvation. It takes the Mac for Best Comedy.
Best Actor, Musical
Jay C. Cotner's turns in "Gutenberg! The Musical!" and "Trailer Park Musical" - both staged by Arizona Onstage Productions - were classics. Cotner had a way with a song, and especially, a funny line. He died in May from complications of diabetes, and his big heart and generous acting will be missed.
Max Nussbaum's Barfee, in the Arizona Repertory Theatre's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," was memorable. He is an inventive and gutsy actor with a keen ability to transform himself into a gawky, geeky preteen with serious sinus problems.
Ryan Nearhoff played a young Woody Guthrie with a down-home smoothness and strong voice in Arizona Theatre Company's production of "Woody Guthrie's American Song."
The Mac goes to Nick Gallardo, who squeezed into the skin of the quirky Leaf in Arizona Onstage Productions' "Spelling Bee." He nailed every tick, every gawky nuance of the kid who makes his own clothes, is mocked by his siblings, and who has an imagination that won't quit. He was irrepressible.
Best Actress, Musical
Amy Erbe, Ellie Jepperson and Jacinda Rose Swinehart made up a sublime Greek chorus in Arizona Onstage's hilarious "The Great American Trailer Park Musical."
Samantha Cormier's comedic charms were clear in her Columbia in Etcetera's "Rocky Horror Show."
But it was Jennifer Rose Hijazi who completely stole our hearts as the shy and lonely Olive in Arizona Onstage's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Her sweet and impressive performance wins her the Mac.
Best Director, Musical
Samantha K. Wyer had a mammoth job directing two casts in Arizona Repertory Theatre's production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," and she handled it well.
Christopher Johnson's direction of Etcetera's "Rocky Horror Show" was intuitive and strong.
Annette Hillman tackled Arizona Onstage's production of "Gutenberg! The Musical!" with gusto.
David Ira Goldstein shaped a solid production of "[title of show]" at Arizona Theatre Company.
Randal Myler's "Woody Guthrie's American Song" at ATC was a solid, sometimes-singalong production.
"The Great American Trailer Park Musical" was directed with the appropriate reverence and humor by Kevin Johnson and Debbie Runge. They take the Mac.
ATC's "[title of show]" was funny and beautifully performed.
"Gutenberg! The Musical!" at Arizona Onstage was a nonstop howler.
"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" received strong productions from both Arizona Repertory Theatre and Arizona Onstage.
Etcetera's "Rocky Horror Show" was gutsy and outrageous.
But we can't seem to get the trashy and terrific "Trailer Park Musical," from Arizona Onstage Productions, out of our minds. It takes the Mac for best musical.
Reporter Kathleen Allen is married to actor Roberto Guajardo, who was in several local productions last year, including Invisible Theatre's "An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf." Contact Kathleen Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4128.