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The best of the year on Tucson stages

  • 10 min to read
Best actor, comedy

Steve Wood in Live Theatre Workshop’s “Every Brilliant Thing.”

Theater happened just about every week of 2018.

Sometimes it was a glut of plays.

Sometimes just one.

Really, how lucky are we in Tucson?

This year, comedy lifted our spirits, musicals made us giddy, dramas made us think.

And many were so good they deserve an award — a Mac Award. Now in its 18th 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 youth into actors, directors and audience members. She taught that excellence was as important as heart, honesty and intent.

These productions displayed all of those elements. Here are the contenders and the winners:

BEST ACTOR, COMEDY
  • Larry Bull made the brooding Anthony in Arizona Theatre Company’s “Outside Mullinger” memorable.
  • The character Kyle in Live Theatre Workshop’s “Best Brothers” has a big transition to make from a man full of resentment toward his sibling to one who can love him freely; Stephen Frankenfield did it with humor and honesty.
  • John Keeney’s professor in the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre’s “There is a Happiness That Morning Is,” was wild and passionate and perfect.
  • We loved Clark Andreas Ray’s slimy Hollywood director in Roadrunner Theatre’s “I Hate Hamlet.”
  • Taylor Rauscher was almost terrifying in his small role as the on-the-edge Ronnie with bombing on his mind in LTW’s “House of Blue Leaves.”
  • Physical actor Wolfe Bowart never spoke a word in Scoundrel & Scamp’s “Cloud Soup,” but what he said was eloquent and clear.
  • The Mac goes to: Steve Wood, who was charming and funny and had the audience in his hands in LTW’s production of “Every Brilliant Thing.” More impressive: it was a solo show. That’s has got to be a bit scary for an actor. But it was thrilling for audiences.


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India Osborne and John Keeney portray lovers with some explaining to do in the comedy “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is,” staged by Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. Osborne was restrained and unforgettable, Keeney passionate and perfect.

BEST ACTRESS, COMEDY
  • Cassandra Bissell was fierce as the acid-tongued Rosemary in ATC’s “Outside Mullingar.”
  • Arlene Chico-Lugo was full of heart and fury in ATC’s production of “Native Gardens.”
  • Rhonda Hallquist was a complete stitch as the bossy Irish maid in LTW’s “Death by Design.” In the same production, Missie Scheffman made us howl with her over-the-top actress yearning to make her husband jealous.
  • Lesley Abrams changed characters — and species — with an effortlessness and loads of humor in LTW’s “Miss Witherspoon.”
  • Shanna Brock’s wannabe actress in the dark comedy “House of Blue Leaves” was packed with energy and passion as she tried to woo Artie away from his ailing life to go to Hollywood with her.
  • The Mac goes to: India Osborn, who excelled as the angry and very restrained professor in Scoundrel & Scamp’s “There is a Happiness That Morning Is.” We have a hard time shaking her spot-on performance out of our heads. And that’s a good thing.


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Steve Wood digs into an orange, one of the brilliant things in Live Theatre Workshop’s “Every Brilliant Thing.”

BEST DIRECTOR, COMEDY
  • David Ivers infused “Outside Mullingar” with a rhythmic pace and a rich atmosphere; we were planted in the middle of Ireland and invested in the lives of the tortured souls.
  • MaryAnn Green found the heart and the humor in Live Theatre Workshop’s “The Effect,” about drug trials gone wrong.
  • Bryan Rafael Falcón’s direction of “There is a Happiness That Morning Is” made sure that the playwright’s take on relationships was as sharp as the comedy.
  • Hank Stratton’s direction of Arizona Repertory Theatre’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan” embraced the dark comedy while making the story sing.
  • The Mac goes to: Sabian Trout’s direction of “Every Brilliant Thing,” an intimate, humorous story about some painful subjects, was stellar. There’s just one actor in this sweet, thoughtful piece, and Trout saw to it that he embraced the audience while he told the story.
BEST COMEDY
  • Arizona Theatre Company’s production of John Patrick Shanley’s “Outside Mullingar” reeked of Ireland and was packed with charm.
  • Our laughter was constant at Live Theatre Workshop’s production of “Best Brothers” by Daniel MacIvor. The story of two feuding brothers trying to bury their mom had forgiveness and family at its heart.
  • LTW’s “Every Brilliant Thing” was a captivating one-man show that made you laugh while it touched on depression and suicide.
  • Arizona Repertory Theatre staged a most impressive production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” Martin McDonagh’s black comedy about a young disabled man who longed to flee Ireland.
  • The Mac goes to: Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre’s production of Mickle Maher’s smart “There is a Happiness That Morning Is,” about two college profs who have a very public liaison and must own up to it in their classes, was a complete hoot.


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As the title character in the Rogue Theatre’s production of “Galileo,” Joseph McGrath, with telescope, wouldn’t be broken.

BEST ACTOR, DRAMA
  • Connor Griffin’s Shylock in Arizona Repertory Theatre’s “The Merchant of Venice,” was, in short, remarkable. The character’s anger, anguish and thirst for revenge were all palpable and heartbreaking in his hands.
  • Also in “The Merchant of Venice,” Tyler West provided much-needed laughter as the clown, Launcelot.
  • Adam Denoyer’s Orpheus in Scoundrel & Scamp’s “Eurydice” was a preoccupied-with-music young man whose passion for Eurydice was palpable, as was his pain when he loses her. He was just as impressive as the young father-to-be in the theater’s production of “Lovers.”
  • Hunter Hnat gave a poignant performance as Christopher Boone, a teen with autistic-like symptoms in The Rogue’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”
  • The guilt and trauma suffered by Christopher Younggren’s character in the Tucson Labyrinth Project’s “Dogs of Rwanda” were so deeply rooted that it was impossible not to feel the weight of a man who witnessed a genocide. He was riveting.
  • The Mac goes to: Joseph McGrath, who possessed the title character in The Rogue’s “Galileo.” In one of his most nuanced performances, he gave us a man who comes close to being broken, but his inquisitive mind and commitment to scientific proof won’t let him break. It was thrilling and shattering.


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To-Ree-Nee Wolf, left, and Katherine Byrnes in Invisible Theatre’s production of “Black Pearl Sings!”

BEST ACTRESS, DRAMA
  • Marissa Salazar made the nun so real in Arizona Rep’s “Doubt” that we could almost feel the rulers smacking our fingers.
  • Cynthia Meier, Patty Gallagher and Holly Griffith as a woman at different ages in her life were vivid in Rogue’s “3 Tall Women.”
  • Cynthia Jeffrey portrayed a minister attempting to write a book and deal with a wayward son in Invisible Theatre’s “The Busy World is Hushed.” As Hannah, she exuded a warmth and a strength and we saw the desperation and manipulation of a mother’s love, and how that love can turn to fury.
  • Kathleen Cannon’s turn in the title character in Scoundrel & Scamp’s “Eurydice” was willful, smart and emotionally transparent.
  • In Winding Road Theater’s “Good People,” Maria Caprile’s Margie, a South Boston single mother desperate for a steady source of income so she and her daughter can survive, was funny, provocative and sad.
  • In that same production of “Good People,” Peg Peterson as Margie’s friend and landlady, was sometimes cruel, often thoughtless, but Peterson also showed the character’s soft side. And Toni Press-Coffman’s breathed full life into Jean.
  • Bryn Booth in Scoundrel & Scamp’s “Lovers, Part 1,” embraced Brian Friel’s glorious words and infused her young pregnant teen, Maggie, with an energy and an honesty.
  • In The Rogue Theatre’s “King Lear,” Patty Gallagher was a wonder as Lear’s Fool, the king’s voice of reason. Gallagher gave a tenderness to the character: We sensed her loyalty to the king even while she was disappointed and terrified at what his actions had wrought.
  • The Mac goes to: To-Ree-Nee Wolf in Invisible Theatre’s production of “Black Pearl Sings!” was so present, so completely immersed in the character, that there was never any doubt: That was Pearl on stage, not some actor portraying her.


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Accusations are lobbed in Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt: A Parable,” when Alec Williams and Marissa Salazar, as Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius, come into direct conflict.

BEST DIRECTOR, DRAMA
  • Cynthia Meier’s direction of “Galileo” at the Rogue was clear, rhythmic and beautifully acted. She embraces Brecht’s plays and we are the better for it. Meier also wowed us with her creative direction of the theater’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”
  • Barclay Goldsmith came out of retirement to direct The Tucson Labyrinth Project’s “Dogs of Rwanda” and he gave us a production that moved swiftly and was felt deeply.
  • Holly Griffith’s direction of Scoundrel & Scamp’s “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing” was inventive and captivating, bringing the modern-day fairy tale to vivid life. We also loved her direction of the theater’s “Lovers, Part 1.” She shows a deep understanding of, and love for, playwright Brian Friel’s work.
  • Jasmine Roth infused Something Something Theatre Company’s “The How and the Why” with tension and deep contrasts, which helped make the play enthralling.
  • “Mr. Burns” is not an easy play to do — it involves an apocalyptic event, jumps seven years between the first and second act, and is wonderfully strange. Director Claire Marie Mannle saw to it that Scoundrel & Scamp’s production was tight, clear and clever and moved at just the right pace.
  • Susan Claassen directed Invisible Theatre’s “Black Pearl Sings” with an eye toward allowing the actors the space they needed to drive the story home. As a result it had the time to seep into our hearts and take hold.
  • The Mac goes to: Hank Stratton, who packed Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production of “Doubt: A Parable” with suspense and passion. He pulled sophisticated performances from his UA student actors. And the pace was languid, yet the 90-minute play felt much shorter.


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Christopher Younggren tells the story of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in the one-man play “Dogs of Rwanda.”

BEST DRAMA
  • Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” seems to get richer with time. The Rogue’s production of it delivered on all that richness. Also at The Rogue, “Galileo” glided across the stage, thanks to the solid acting and sharp direction.
  • “Black Pearl Sings” at Invisible Theatre kept audiences mesmerized and humming as they left the theater.
  • In “This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing” at Scoundrel & Scamp, the heroes are all heroines, love figures in but it isn’t the point, and bravery marks the main characters, as does generosity and heart. We were utterly charmed.
  • “The How and the Why,” Sarah Treem’s dense and challenging play staged by Something Something Theatre Company, kept audiences’ deep attention.
  • Scoundrel & Scamp’s “Lovers, Part 1” was funny, compelling and moving. And that theater’s “Mr. Burns” is a sci-fi-ish play with a cartoon as its center — and yet this production made it feel organic and urgent.
  • The Rogue’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” brought alive the world of an autistic teen with a large cast that embraced the theatricality of the production.
  • Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production of “Doubt: A Parable” showcased the impressive talent at the University of Arizona. The play about a priest who is accused of molesting a child by a nun without the proof but also without doubt, was devastating in the theater’s hands.
  • The Mac goes to: The Tucson Labyrinth Project’s “Dogs of Rwanda,” where we were easily transported into the middle of a genocide and a journey to forgiveness. It’s an important play and this production was astounding.


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Carly Natania Grossman and Matthew Osvog in the throwback musical “The Pajama Game” at Arizona Repertory Theatre.

BEST ACTOR, MUSICAL
  • The two clowns in Winding Road’s “The Fantasticks,” Eddie Diaz as The Man Who Dies and Chad Davies as The Old Actor, were downright hysterical.
  • Chach Snook commanded attention as the caddish Jamie in Roadrunner’s “The Last Five Years.”
  • Tyler West did not sing a note or say a word as Woodstock in LTW’s “Snoopy!!!” But oh, was he inventive — and quite, quite funny.
  • In Arizona Theatre Company’s “The Music Man,” Bill English’s transformation from an oily, scheming salesman to a man who sees a better path was seamless. And that voice. ...
  • Also in “The Music Man:” Danny Scheie as the dimwitted Mayor Shinn was charged with delivering such nonsensical lines as “ I couldn’t make myself any plainer if I’se a Quaker on his day off!” And he did it was such gusto. We waited for him to come on stage to make us laugh.
  • Tucsonan Nate Wiley made his acting debut as Winthrop in ATC’s “The Music Man” and he completely charmed. Watch that kid; he’s got a future on the stage.
  • The Mac goes to: Matthew Osvog, who was staggeringly good as the conflicted-and-in-love supervisor in Arizona Repertory’s “The Pajama Game.”


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From left, Peggy O’Connell, Manna Nichols, Nate Wiley and Allison Jennings in Arizona Theatre Company’s “The Music Man.”

BEST ACTRESS, MUSICAL
  • Elena Lucia Terry was mesmerizing as the Mute in Winding Road’s “The Fantasticks.”
  • Oh, the voice on Manna Nichols in ATC’s “The Music Man!” Her soaring soprano was matched by her subtle acting.
  • Felicia P. Fields’ Big Mama in ATC’s “Low Down Dirty Blues” commanded the stage and owned every note she sang.
  • Jodi Darling made palpable her character’s heartbreak in Roadrunner’s “The Last Five Years.”
  • Adia Bell, the sassy nun in Arizona Rep’s “Sister Act,” owned the stage.
  • Liz Cracchiolo belted out ABBA tunes with an expertise in Arizona Onstage Productions’ “Mamma Mia.”
  • The Mac goes to: Peggy O’Connell who played the Irish mother of Marian and Winthrop in “The Music Man.” She was so deeply rooted and just so wonderful. We could watch her forever.


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Director David Ivers watches the cast go through a sing-in for the early days of the Arizona Theater Company’s production of “The Music Man.”

BEST DIRECTOR, MUSICAL
  • “Snoopy!!!” should not be as fun as the Live Theatre Workshop made it — it’s a thoroughly silly piece. But director Samantha Cormier gave us a play packed with humor and set at a pace that was so fast you didn’t notice that the play was so thin.
  • Christie Kerr upped the physical humor, had seamless scene changes, and never let the action lag in Arizona Rep’s “Sister Act.”
  • Maria Caprile directed Winding Road Theater’s “The Fantasticks” with gleeful abandon.
  • Danny Gurwin’s visual cartoonish take on the Arizona Repertory Theatre’s “The Pajama Game” dulled the impact it might have with a #MeToo generation. And he coaxed impressive performances from his student actors.
  • The Mac goes to: David Ivers, who corraled a cast of 30 and took us back to River City, Iowa, in ATC’s “The Music Man.” The musical practically vibrated with expertise and feel-good energy.


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Arizona Theatre Company’s “The Music Man” is big and boisterous, with a cast and sets that will continue to wow Tucson audiences through Dec. 30.

BEST MUSICAL
  • For some reason, “The Fantasticks” never gets old, and Winding Road Theater Ensemble’s heartfelt production reminded us why.
  • ATC’s “Low Down Dirty Blues” was more a concert than a play, but oh what a concert; packed with gritty blues and moving spirituals, all sung with deep soul and expertise.
  • “Snoopy!!!” at LTW is not a great play, but the cast made it great fun.
  • “Gutenberg! The Musical” is a totally ridiculous piece sort of about the man who invented the printing press. Brothers Carson and Tyler Wright mounted a production that kept the audience in stitches.
  • The Mac goes to: “The Music Man,” the ultimate feel-good musical with songs that stick and a story of transformation for a town and its people. ATC’s production wowed us with the expertise, the sets and its incorporation of so many talented people with ties to our state. It takes the Mac.


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Borderlands Theater’s “Sanctuary” was staged at Southside Presbyterian Church, where the Sanctuary Movement was launched in 1982. Pictured are David Grijalva and Leticia Gonzalez.

SPECIAL AWARD
  • Borderlands Theater has abandoned the traditional theater format and is producing site-specific works, as it did in “Sanctuary,” staged at Southside Presbyterian Church, where the Sanctuary Movement began in the early 1980s, and the powerful, art-rich Barrio Anita project, which took over that tiny neighborhood. The company is doing exciting, important work.

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