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Mac awards: The best of Tucson theater in 2017

Mac awards: The best of Tucson theater in 2017

This year has been a tough one: politically divisive, lots of name-calling, scandals.

We here in Tucson, however, have had a great tool to help us cope: theater that illuminated, provoked, made us laugh, cry, think.

The first play of 2017 was Live Theatre Workshop’s funny and light “Buyer & Cellar,” about an out-of-work actor hired by Barbra Streisand to manage her basement-turned-mini-mall featuring a few of her favorite things. (Streisand actually has such a place in her home.) Ending out the year: Arizona Theatre Company’s breathtaking “Man of La Mancha,” the heartbreaking and hopeful musical inspired by Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.”

In between, there was Arizona Onstage’s knock-out production of “The Producers,” Arizona Repertory Theatre’s powerful “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Something Something Theatre Company’s very funny “Mrs. Mannerly” — the list goes on.

And it is from that list that we pull the winners of the 2017 Mac Awards. Now in its 17th year, the award is named for the late Mary MacMurtrie who, through her Tucson Children’s Theatre, spent much of the last century turning local youths into actors, directors and audience members. She taught that excellence was as important as heart, honesty and intent.

There was much of all those elements in our Mac nominees and winners:

Actor, comedy

  • Keith Wick fully inhabited the multiple characters he played in Live Theatre Workshop’s “Buyer & Celler.”
  • Also at LTW, Matthew Copley was a hoot as the manipulative boss in “Below the Belt.”
  • David Weynand was sublime as Johann Christoph Graupner, a neurotic who just wants to be everyone’s No. 1 in The Rogue’s “Bach at Leipzig.”
  • Josh Parra played multiple characters, from a young teen to a con man to a preacher in Live Theatre’s “The Voice of the Prairie.” He handled them all with aplomb.
  • Alec Michael Coles was a pure delight as the arrogant and foolish Malvolio in Arizona Rep’s “Twelfth Night or What You Will.” It’s a choice role and he made the most of it.
  • Christopher Younggren showed deep heart and roots in his role as the storyteller in Live Theatre’s “The Voice of the Prairie” He takes the Mac.

Actress, comedy

  • Carley Preston’s etiquette teacher was scary and heartbreaking in Something Something’s “Mrs. Mannerly.”
  • Lisandra Tena gave us delicious insight into her life as she performed the play she wrote, “Guera,” at Borderlands.
  • Jeanne Torres’ Samantha was seductive and funny in Invisible Theatre’s “Indoor/Outdoor.”
  • Vinessa Vidotto fashioned a cold and haughty, ridiculous and passionate Olivia in Arizona Repertory Theatre’s “Twelfth Night or What You Will.”
  • Samantha Cormier wowed with her performance of the blind Frankie in Live Theatre’s “Voice of the Prairie.” The character transforms from a rambunctious teen fleeing a cruel father to an adult keeping the flame of an old love alive, and she owned the role. She takes the Mac.

Director, comedy

  • Sabian Trout has an instinct for comedy, and she saw to it that Live Theatre Workshop’s “Buyer & Cellar” was infused with it.
  • Cynthia Meier directed the Rogue’s “Bach at Leipzig” with a visual eye and an obvious love of the material.
  • Live Theatre’s “Voice of the Prairie” could have been a gooey, sentimental piece, but Maryann Green made sure that did not happen.
  • Also at LTW: Eva Tessler gave us a fast-paced and very funny “Seminar.”
  • Something Something’s “Mrs. Mannerly” was infused with warmth and rhythm by Joan O’Dwyer.
  • Laughter flowed freely at Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production of “Twelfth Night or What You Will,” directed by Brent Gibbs.
  • Annette Hillman helmed Live Theatre’s “Below the Belt” and she made sure the humor punctuated the very dark aspects of the comedy. She takes the Mac.

Best comedy

  • Live Theatre Workshop’s production of Jonathan Tolins’ “Buyer & Cellar” was an evening full of quick wit and frequent laughter.
  • Also at LTW: “Seminar,” which introduced us to writers hungry to learn and a writing seminar leader hungry for their money.
  • Something Something Theatre Company’s “Mrs. Mannerly,” Jeffrey Hatcher’s comedy about kids taking etiquette classes, was a stitch.
  • Lisandra Tena’s bio-play “Guera” at Borderlands Theatre had us laughing one minute, horrified the next. But the laughter won out.
  • LTW’s “Below the Belt” by playwright Richard Dresser provided laughter at the foibles of men whose universe is small but whose egos are big and who take a sort of vicious glee in playing the manipulative games that can define corporate life.
  • The Mac goes to The Rogue’s pitch-perfect production of Itamar Moses’ frothy, fugue-ish farce, “Bach at Leipzig.” It was a lightweight piece heavy with laughter.

Actor, drama

  • R. Hamilton Wright shaped a Watson with a warmth and a cleverness in ATC’s “Holmes & Watson.”
  • Alec Williams captured the geekiness of a clumsy Romeo in Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production of “Proof.”
  • The stage became almost electric when David Weynad’s King Duncan appeared in The Rogue’s production of “Macbeth.”
  • Bill Epstein impressed as Disney in the Scoundrel & Scamp’s “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney.”
  • Matt Bowdren was cold and cruel and perfect in The Rogue’s “Penelope.”
  • David Alexander Johnston gave distinction, and often gravitas, to his multiple roles in Invisible Theatre’ “Lebensraum”
  • Keith Wick wrecked our hearts with his portrayal of the broken, ill man in Live Theatre’s “Annapurna.”
  • The Mac goes to David Weynand, who was riveting in his often-funny portrayal of a hell-bent-for-destruction monk in The Rogue’s “The White Snake.” Weynand fully possessed the character — a common trait we find in the actor.

Actress, drama

  • India Osborne beautifully owned the guilt and determination that defined her social worker in St. Francis’ “Luna Gale.
  • Alba Jaramillo crawled into the skin of the Mexican human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa in the moving and upsetting “Digna,” staged by Digna Theater.
  • Kelly Hajek handled the officious Clare character like a pro in Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production of “Proof.”
  • Patty Gallagher breathed full life into to her snake transformed into a woman in The Rogue’s “White Snake.”
  • In the same Rogue play, Holly Griffith infused her character with humor and an impishness that was hard to resist.
  • Rhonda Halquist was compelling as the woman who returns to help her ill husband after leaving their lousy marriage 20 years prior in LTW’s “Annapurna.”
  • Marissa Medina Munter sank into Blanche DuBois’ southern belle with rawness and honesty in Arizona Repertory Theatre’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.” She made the character’s vulnerability, mental instability and deep loneliness palpable. She takes the Mac.

Director, drama

  • Hank Stratton’s insightful direction of “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Arizona Repertory Theatre underscored the tragedy and poignancy of the story.
  • Mark Klugheit directed the disturbing “Luna Gale” at St. Francis Theatre’s with a clarity and a kind of urgency that served the story well.
  • David Ira Goldstein finished out his 25 years at Arizona Theatre Company with a tense and mysterious production of “Holmes & Watson.”
  • Invisible Theatre’s “Lebensraum” had three actors playing about 50 characters. Susan Claassen’s smooth direction meant the audience was never confused.
  • Cynthia Meier’s direction of The Rogue’s “The White Snake” was as fantastical as the play.
  • Also at The Rogue: Christopher Johnson’s sharp, smart direction of “Penelope.”
  • The Mac goes to Bryan Rafael Falcón for The Scoundrel & Scamp’s “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney.” It was a simple production that rarely called for an actor to move out of his seat on the stage. Falcón made sure the audience’s attention never wavered and that the word-heavy script sang.

Best drama

  • The young Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre staged an intimate production of the dark and delicious Lucas Hnath play, “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney.”
  • Digna Theater’s one-woman show, “Digna” by Patricia Davis, powerfully told the story of Mexican lawyer Digna Ochoa, who was assassinated for her human rights work. It is an important story and it was told with grace.
  • Little St. Francis Theatre hit it big with its production of the disturbing Rebecca Gilman play, “Luna Gale.”
  • Live Theatre Workshop’s poignant “Annapurna” was dark and funny and moving.
  • It’s hard to think of a play that features men in Speedos as a drama, but The Rogue’s production of “Penelope” was thick with it.
  • Arizona Repertory Theatre took on a big project with Tennessee Williams’ devastating “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The cast of University of Arizona students was not intimidated and gave us a powerful theatrical experience.
  • The Rogue staged a breathtakingly beautiful production of Mary Zimmerman’s “The White Snake.”
  • Arizona Theatre Company’s world premiere of Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Holmes & Watson” was packed with suspense, atmosphere and first-rate acting — and plenty of surprises. It takes the Mac.

Actor, musical

  • Dennis Tamblyn and Matthew Holter as Bialystock and Bloom respectively in Arizona Onstage’s production of “The Producers” were a dream team. We loved every minute they were on stage, and they were on stage practically every minute.
  • Monte Ralstin made Uncle Fester in Arizona Rep’s “The Addams Family” silly and vibrant and so much fun.
  • Matthew Osvog’s Che in Arizona Rep’s “Evita” was powerful and nuanced. He was hard to turn away from.
  • Carlos Lopez was captivating and provided much of the lighter moments as Quixote’s man servant, Sancho, in ATC’s “Man of La Mancha.”
  • There is no denying the riveting performance Philip Hernandez gave as Cervantes/Quixote in ATC’s “Man of La Mancha.” He was deeply rooted in the characters, and the audience was deeply invested in him. He takes the Mac.

Actress, musical

  • Liz Cracchiolo’s Ulla, the sexpot who revs up both Max and Leo’s engines in Arizona Onstage’s “The Producers,” conveyed the sultriness and innocence of the character with complete honesty.
  • Kelli Workman showed her impressive comedic chops — and voice — in Roadrunner’s “Triumph of Love.”
  • Flamenco dancer Amelia Moore was Aldonza’s alter ego in ATC’s “La Mancha.” She brought her stately grace to the role, allowing us to see another facet to the woman Quixote loves.
  • The Mac goes to Michelle Dawson, who took on the role of Aldonza just before opening when the actress originally cast fell ill. She tightly embraced the character with heartbreaking grace.

Director, musical

  • “The Addams Family” isn’t a great musical, but Danny Gurwin, who directed the Arizona Repertory Theatre production, made it great fun. Gurwin also directed Arizona Rep’s stellar production of “Evita.”
  • Annette Hillman had a big job directing the 27 cast members of Arizona Onstage’s “The Producers.” She was up to it, giving us a musical that was smooth and funny and a joy to see.
  • José “Chach” Snook fashioned a clever production of Roadrunner’s “Triumph of Love.” That’s doubly impressive when you consider he had a hefty role in the chamber musical.
  • David Bennett gave new life to ATC’s “Man of La Mancha,” taking creative chances that paid off in a big way. His direction revealed new layers in the play. It is among the best ATC has done. He takes the Mac.

Best musical

  • Roadrunner Theatre Company’s “Triumph of Love,” was seductive, silly, and a giddy evening of theater.
  • Arizona Rep staged a vivid production of “Evita” in the intimate Tornabene Theater on the UA campus.
  • Johnny Cash fans were in heaven with Arizona Theatre Company’s production of “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash.”
  • Arizona On Stage completely wowed with its rollicking production of “The Producers.” It was a huge undertaking and the cast made it look effortless.
  • It is Arizona Theatre Company’s profound production of “Man of La Mancha” that takes the Mac. In a twist on the classic musical, the actors played instruments, sang and danced. This musical never felt dated; in fact, it eloquently spoke to today and the toxic, often dangerous, state of affairs in the world.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128. On Twitter: @kallenStar

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Kathleen has covered the arts for the Star for 20 years. Previously, she covered business, news and features for the Tucson Citizen. A near-native of Tucson, she is continually amazed about the Old Pueblo's arts scene and feels lucky to be covering it.

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