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Sunday, December 28, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Theater
The year in theater: Productions leave an indelible impression

By Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic

CHRIS BENNION
Victoria Clark, foreground, with Celia Keenan-Bolger and Steven Pasquale in Intiman Theatre's heralded new musical "The Light in the Piazza." Clark was a standout as a well-heeled American tourist in Florence with her daughter.
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While the reality-TV "Survivor" franchise thrived in 2003, in Seattle theater a real-world survival struggle was the year's biggest story.

2003 began with ACT Theatre revealing it was broke and on the verge of closing. It didn't, thanks to tireless staffers and generous donors. What's more, ACT hung on to present its most consistently vital season in a while.

ACT wasn't the only popular local arts group facing a big cash shortfall due to a plunge in ticket sales, donations or both. Empty Space Theatre, UMO Ensemble, Seattle Fringe Festival, Seattle Children's Theatre, even the Tony Award-honored Seattle Repertory Theatre were among the companies singing the recession blues.

The long-term prognosis for the theatrical economy? Unclear. But in 2003 there was no shortage of local productions and certainly no lack of fine acting.

We also saw a fair number of world-premiere works — though none, save for Intiman's heralded new musical "The Light in the Piazza," caused much of a stir.

In 2004, let's hope local theaters get the support to focus more on what's onstage and how it connects to the wider world, and less on the drama of the bottom line. And if conservative programming seems the safest bet in tight times, remember that some high-risk 2003 ventures (such as "The Light in the Piazza" and Edward Albee's graphic drama "The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia?") prospered.

CHRIS BENNION
Jennifer Erin Roberts, left, with Adam Greer, was stellar in Seattle Rep's "The Triumph of Love."
Here, then, is an unscientific scan of last year's achievements in Seattle-area theater:

Best mainstage play productions: "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" (ACT Theatre); "A Moon for the Misbegotten" (ACT); "Misalliance" (Seattle Repertory Theatre): "Nora" (Intiman Theatre); "Breathing Lessons" (Book-It Repertory Theatre); "The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle" (Seattle Children's Theatre); "Twisted Olivia" (Empty Space Theatre).

Best local/touring musicals: "Bring in Da' Noise, Bring in Da' Funk" (Paramount Theatre); "Flower Drum Song" (5th Avenue Theatre); "Damn Yankees" (Village Theatre); "The Gingerbread Man" (Seattle Children's Theatre).

Best of the fringe: "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "The House of Yes" (Theater Schmeater); "Brent? Or Brenda?" (Ethereal Mutt).

Stellar acting : (in alphabetical order) Hans Altwies (in "Henry V" for Wooden O); Judy Blazer (in "My Fair Lady" at 5th Avenue Theatre); Victoria Clark ("The Light in the Piazza"); Robert Gallaher (in "All My Sons" at Taproot Theatre); Jane Jones and Michael Winters (in "Breathing Lessons," Book-It); Joseph Kamal (in "Omnium-Gatherum" at ACT); Brian Kerwin and Cynthia Mace (in "The Goat" at ACT); George Mount (in "The Taming of the Shrew," Seattle Shakespeare Company); Jayne Muirhead ("In Flagrante Gothicto" at Empty Space); Marianne Owen (in "Driving Miss Daisy" at Village and "Omnium-Gatherum" at ACT); John Procaccino and Jeanne Paulsen (in "A Moon for the Misbegotten" at ACT); Jennifer Erin Roberts (in "The Triumph of Love" at Seattle Rep).

Turn-on-a-dime ensemble comedy: "Absurd Person Singular" (ACT) and "Ming the Rude" (Empty Space).

Savvy Shakespeare: "Twelfth Night" and "The Taming of the Shrew" (Seattle Shakespeare Company); "Henry V" (Wooden O).

Design achievements: Scott Weldin (sets) for "Over the Moon" (Seattle Rep); Thomas Lynch (sets), Martin Pakledinaz (costumes) for "The Triumph of Love" (Seattle Rep); Carey Wong (sets) for "True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle" (Seattle Children's Theatre); Bill Forrester (sets) for "Annie" (Village); Greg Sullivan (lights), Matthew Smucker (sets) for "Nora" (Intiman); Matthew Smucker (sets) for "The Gingerbread Man" (Seattle Children's Theatre); Melanie Burgess (costumes) for "Ming the Rude" (Empty Space).

Guys in dresses: John Kelly in "Shiny Hot Nights" (On the Boards); Everett Quinton in "Twisted Olivia" (Empty Space Theatre).

Funny girl: Sarah Rudinoff, in "Ming the Rude" (Empty Space) and "Go There" (Re-bar). Now how about her doing Fanny Brice in that big ol' Streisand musical?

Ambitious, unwieldy and worth it: "The Light in the Piazza" by Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas, "Homebody/Kabul" by Tony Kushner (both at Intiman); "Continental Divide" by David Edgar (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); "Triumph of Love" (Seattle Rep).

Short, stark and worth it: Caryl Churchill's "Far and Away" (New City Theatre).

Magical monologuers: Mike Daisey in "21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com" (Intiman); Eddie Izzard in "Sexie" (Moore Theatre); Ellen McLaughlin in "Homebody/Kabul" (Intiman); Todd Jefferson Moore in "Underneath the Lintel" (Empty Space); Everett Quinton in "Twisted Olivia" (Empty Space).

Most surprising monologuist: Playwright August Wilson, in "How I Learned What I Learned" (Seattle Rep).

Cutting-edge comer: Marc Bamuthi Joseph in "Word Becomes Flesh" (On the Boards).

Keep it zipped: "Puppetry of the Penis" (Moore Theatre).

Best bloodsucker: Jerry Lloyd as Count D., in "Dracula: Jonathan Harker's Journal" (Book-It).

Wackiest witch: Irrepressible Lisa Koch, who stole 5th Avenue Theatre's "The Wizard of Oz" on her drive-by broomstick.

The kids are all right: Kennewick High students brought their banned version of "The Breakfast Club" to Seattle's Consolidated Works.

Better to rent the film: "The Wedding Banquet" (Village).

Better to read the book: "Red Ranger Came Calling" (Book-It).

ABBA overkill: "Mamma Mia!"(Paramount Theatre).

Baddest stage canine: Candy, fired from the pooch part of Sandy in Village Theatre's "Annie" after nipping the lead actress. Candy's understudy, Grizzly, took over the role.

Sore backside prize: Moore Theatre's seats.

Endangered species: Seattle Fringe Festival, UMO Ensemble.

Come back soon: Broadway leading lady Audra McDonald, Canadian stage auteur Robert Lepage.

Best stage-to-screen transfers: "Angels in America" (HBO) and "Oklahoma!" (PBS).

Theater angel: Boeing ex-CEO Phil Condit who, with his wife, gave $500,000 to ACT.

Rest in peace: Actors Glenn Mazen and Pauline Flanagan; hoofer extraordinaire Gregory Hines; playwright Herb Gardner ("I'm Not Rappaport").

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com


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